4 Indispensible Resources Every Climate Communicator Needs

Image credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/UK DFID (Climate Visuals)

Image credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/UK DFID

We’re very proud of the communications and values research we do here at ecoAmerica – but we’re far from the only ones working to better understand the climate beliefs and attitudes of the public, and how to engage people more effectively on climate issues.
To follow are some of the most valuable resources available for gaining insights into human behaviors and viewpoints, and the factors that influence them.
George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication
The GMU Center for Climate Change Communication wants to know what makes Americans tick when it comes to climate change. They concentrate on three main areas: conducting social science research; helping government agencies and other organizations develop successful communication approaches; and training students and professionals on methods of engagement.
Their research reports, compiled here, are fascinating, offering insights on topics like how American media covers climate change impacts, and how well the American public understands the scientific consensus on climate change.
2016-six-americas-hero-768x350One particularly in-depth project, developed in partnership with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, is Global Warming’s Six Americas. The first survey, conducted in 2008, broke Americans into six groups based on their climate attitudes and beliefs: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive. Subsequent surveys delved into a variety of areas, exploring how well these audiences understand the health impacts of climate change, how receptive they are to certain types of framing, and most recently, how they are likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Another compelling report, also conducted in partnership with Yale, explores how Pope Francis’ teachings on climate change have influenced Americans. Titled The Francis Effect, it shows that the Pope’s widely publicized climate encyclical, Laudato Si’, along with the visit His Holiness paid to the U.S. last year, led to a significant increase in public engagement and conversation about the topic in America.
Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED)
Based at Columbia University and affiliated with the Earth Institute, CRED specializes in the study of decision-making, particularly the gap between society’s awareness of environmental problems and their failure to effectively address them. Their projects span the globe and cover a variety of topics, such as how personal biases affect energy conservation, and how glacier communities are responding to climate change.
4resourcesIn 2014, CRED partnered with ecoAmerica to produce an in-depth report titled Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Communications. The report included findings from a range of social science fields, including psychology, anthropology, communications, and behavioral economics.Designed to help people in any field be more effective climate messengers, the report featured 10 guiding principles:

  • Put yourself in your audience’s shoes
  • Channel the power of groups
  • Emphasize solutions and benefits
  • Bring climate impacts close to home
  • Connect climate change to issues that matter to your audience
  • Use images and stories to make climate change real
  • Make climate science meaningful
  • Acknowledge uncertainty, but show what you know
  • Approach skepticism carefully
  • Make behavior change easy

It’s a must-read, if we say so ourselves.
Climate Outreach
Americans are famously polarized when it comes to climate change – but our neighbors across the pond face similar challenges. Climate Outreach are the foremost climate communication experts in Europe, putting out reports, guides, podcasts, webinars, videos, and other materials filled with valuable insights and best practices for engaging hard-to reach audiences. Though designed primarily for communicating with British citizens, their value-based approach is highly applicable to Americans.
climate-outreachFrom communicating flood risks, to managing psychological challenges, to talking with people of different faiths, Climate Outreach’s tools are useful in a wide range of circumstances. One of the richest is the Climate Visuals resource, which offers a report featuring seven key findings about effective climate imagery (such as show “real people,” not staged photo ops), along with a webinar exploring the findings and a dedicated website containing an interactive image library.
Climate Outreach also has a new book coming out, Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement In their words, the book is intended to “outline how public engagement with climate change can shift out of second gear” – putting all the pieces of the puzzle together into one coherent agenda. Sign up here to be notified when the book is released.
How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate
unnamedSpeaking of books, this one by Andrew Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, is well worth a read. Hoffman helps explain some of the reasons why there is so much public conflict over climate science and policy (misinformation campaigns by fossil fuel companies is one reason). He examines how our psychological biases and cultural identity affect the way we process information, and argues that the best way to reach audiences is through “brokers” who understand and share their values. Taking lessons from other cultural shifts, he then offers ways to make the climate dialogue less polarized and more thoughtful and productive.
For more resources on climate communication, visit our research page.

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