The Psychology of Climate Communications

EA flag The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at
Columbia University and the American Psychological Association have both
recently released comprehensive research reports on the psychology of climate
change.  Both of these pieces of
research can inform and enhance any communications on climate. Those of us who
work to change awareness, attitudes and values on climate change, will find them
both interesting, informative and helpful in our work.

The more approachable one is “The Psychology of Climate
Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political
Aides, and the Interested Public,” by CRED.  It goes beyond the psychology and provides context and
examples that make it a useful communications guide for climate solutions
advocates.   You can download
a copy of it here.

“Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted
Phenomenon and Set of Challenges,” is a report by the American Psychological
Association’s Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate
Change.  It is more abstract – a
compendium of research that digs much deeper into people’s psychological
ability to understand and act on climate problems and solutions.   You can download a copy of it
here.

It is important to recognize that different Americans have
different psychological backgrounds, and that communications are made much more
effective by targeting specific audiences rather than trying to reach out to
the general public.  Some segments
of the American public are much more receptive to messaging on climate
solutions than others, and framing and messaging that might work well with some
segments is counter productive with others.

ecoAmerica conducts research to determine which segments of
the American public are best to target for psychological and other
reasons.   “The American Climate
Values Survey,” released in October 2008, provides targeting information along
with messaging guidelines for various groups.  A summary of this report is available here.  The summary puts climate into the
context of personal, social, economic, political and other values and enables
communicators to better relate climate to other priorities. 

ecoAmerica also released “Climate Truths: Making the
Necessary Connections,” in May 2009. 
“Climate Truths” is highly tactical communications research involving thousands
of mainstream American voters, and provides specific guidance on climate
communications.  You can get a copy
of “Climate Truths” here.

Years from now, when we look back on our work to solve the
climate crisis, we will realize that a stronger focus on mainstream Americans
would have accelerated our progress. 
Fortunately, the legislation in Washington, DC and the agreements that
may be reached in Copenhagen are only steps – albeit big ones – on the path to
the ultimate solutions.  Shifting
our focus and using communications research to inform our work of engaging
Americans in climate solutions will be a big part in the next step of the
process.

By Bob Perkowitz

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