Climate Change Messages Are Hitting The Mainstream – But They Could Be Much Stronger

blog-olympic opening ceremony-8.12.16Over the past twelve months, governments have made enormous progress in working towards climate change solutions. The historic international agreement reached in Paris at COP 21, unprecedented bilateral agreements made between China and the United States to reduce emissions, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan focusing on transitioning to renewables in states and regions, and even local and citywide measures – like the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative — all mark tremendous movement on advancing potent climate action.
Climate change is even making its way into pop culture. This year’s Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio used his acceptance speech to spotlight the dangers and urgent need for climate action. Oscar winning director James Cameron used his celebrity platform at the Democratic National Convention to draw attention to the devastation that climate change is already unleashing worldwide. And most recently, the opening ceremony of this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro highlighted how climate change is already affecting a growing number of nations, and that global problems require global solutions.

“Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It’s the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.” – Leonardo DiCaprio

While all of these developments are nudging Americans in the right direction, and putting climate change in the spotlight, it is important to ensure that such messages are not wasted opportunities to do more. After all, raising awareness is not enough – action is what is needed.
Research tells us that merely focusing on the impacts of climate change, on the doom and gloom, can make people feel helpless. Providing statistics, facts, and figures can turn off listeners, who may feel confused or as though they are being lectured at. And abstract messages can often leave respondents feeling alienated, with no real idea how they are supposed to address the problems of a warming planet.
Fortunately, research also points to some simple ways that all of us can effectively talk about climate. Most importantly, climate messages must start with people, and stay with people. Climate leaders must connect with their audience, and show that acting will improve their lives, make their communities better, healthier places to live, and help create stable, well-paying jobs. Leaders must empathize with the difficulties of acting, and recognize the local impacts that we are all seeing – but quickly pivot to what can be done to prevent these consequences. By showing the benefits of action, leaders can inspire members of their community or organization to act.
ecoAmerica has put together a range of guides, based on extensive marketing and psychological research as well as real-life experience, that help climate communicators connect with their audience on shared values, and show the benefits of solutions. From Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate Americans, which offers four communications themes for strengthening support for climate solutions, to the newly released 15 Steps to Create Effective Climate Communications, which provides a simple but comprehensive process for engagement, these guides make it easy to start and maintain productive discussions.
Mayors and other community and local leaders, who are on the frontlines of climate action, are often the most trusted public officials that residents interact with in their everyday lives. Because of this, it is important that whenever leaders are given a platform to speak about climate, they ensure their message is as potent and effective as possible. Hone your climate communication skills by joining with leaders at Path to Positive Communities.
Image Credit: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil/Wikimedia Commons
Stuart Wood, writer and Social Media Manager for Path to Positive Communities, holds a PhD in Politics and Political Philosophy, and focuses on issues related to climate change, misinformation, and political behavior. He teaches courses in environmental politics, justice and sustainability, and American government.

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