The Role of Psychology in Climate Communications

blog-psychology and climate communications-1.25.16With global heat records being shattered each year, the reality of climate change is increasingly evident – so why aren’t more people willing to take action? Much of it has to do with human psychology. As people grow aware of the damage to the climate, they often experience a sense of loss and grief that they feel deeply but can’t fully process. This feeling then turns to paralysis or even denial because they don’t know how to address the problem.
Social science offers valuable insights for breaking through those emotional barriers. As this Huffington Post article explains, communicators need to go beyond just providing facts about climate change – we also need to acknowledge the complicated emotions this information brings up. In addition, we should avoid focusing on grim scenarios or hugely ambitious solutions, neither of which are effective messages on their own. Instead, the message should balance the urgent risks of climate change with tangible ways we can fight it. Telling people about the progress that’s already being made and showing them how they can make a difference can help spur them to action.
We’re firm believers in the value of social science here at ecoAmerica. In recent years we’ve conducted extensive psychographic research to better understand certain behaviors and attitudes regarding climate change, and devise the best methods for motivating action. Susan Clayton, who is mentioned in the Huffington Post article, co-authored our 2014 report Beyond Storms & Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change.

Why Psychology Should Be A Part Of The Fight Against Climate Change

By Carolyn Gregoire, contributor to The Huffington Post
By understanding emotional barriers to action, we may be able to devise better guidelines for communication, advocacy, and policy.
Climate change isn’t just a political, social and economic issue. It’s also a deeply psychological one – and now, behavioral scientists are using psychology to better understand the complex relationship between people and nature.
An increasing number of psychologists are arguing that in order to tackle the growing threat to our environment, we need to understand people’s emotional and cognitive responses to this new reality, which can run the gamut from denial to indifference to outrage to anger to grief.
Scientists in the burgeoning field of environmental psychology are working hard to bring psychological insights into discussions about climate change.
“Most people who acknowledge that climate change is occurring feel that the public response has been inadequate,” said Dr. Susan Clayton, a conservation psychologist at the College of Wooster in Ohio. “Psychologists have been looking at how it is that people process this information about risk and come to their understandings – so that’s useful to know in terms of thinking about how you can create messages that are more effective for people in terms of getting them on board.”
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Image credit: Soren Hald/Getty Images

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