Reframing Climate Change – What Works Best
Our goal here at ecoAmerica is to find the best ways to engage Americans on climate issues. One of the approaches we advocate is to frame climate issues in new ways that grab people’s attention and strike a chord. But does it work? This Vox article seems to say no – but only at first.
The article mentions a study that tested people’s willingness to support climate action based on four different frames: risk reduction (the traditional frame), economic advantages, health benefits, and community building. The non-standard frames did not increase the likelihood of support.
Our own research (and many other studies) has found those non-standard frames to resonate. But a combination of messages might be more effective than a stand-alone frame. For example, once people are aware of the health impacts of climate change, they’re more likely to see the health benefits of solutions. And when people understand the potential costs of climate impacts like extreme weather, they’re more likely to appreciate the economic advantages of fighting climate change.
The author goes on to say that climate frames can be effective if they a) resonate with people’s existing worldviews, b) come from a trusted source, and c) are repeated often enough to break through the clutter. As it happens, those are the very approaches we endorse.
Climate solutions are more likely to be embraced if they are framed in terms that align with people’s personal values and concerns (talking to conservatives about national security, for example, or to parents about ensuring a healthy future for their children, or to communities of color about reducing asthma-causing pollution). Climate messages should be delivered by someone the audience respects and trusts, which is why our MomentUs programs help empower leaders from various sectors to advocate for climate action within their communities.
Would a single, large-scale climate message be effective at motivating the majority of Americans? Maybe not. But multiple efforts by leaders around the country, with messages targeted specifically to their audiences, could have a very big impact.
By David Roberts, contributor to Vox
The danger of climate change does not arouse much public passion, certainly nothing like what the facts would warrant. This drives climate campaigners crazy. Always has.
So how to get people’s attention? One strategy might be to talk about climate change differently — to “frame” it differently, in the current jargon.
Over the years, climate scientists, campaigners, and policymakers have returned to this strategy (or, rather, this hope) again and again. And again.
The alternate framings are familiar by now: global warming as an economic opportunity, a way to spur technological innovation, a national security threat, a way of reducing local pollutants, a religious or moral imperative.
These other ways of describing climate change are more visceral than long-term, slow-moving, incremental risk (zzz…). It seems like they ought to be more effective in getting people to pay attention and support action.
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