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Tips for Communicating Climate Change

blackboard_windowLast week the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) published a concise guide for “scientists, journalists, educators, political aides, and the interested public” on the challenges of communicating climate change. Below are some common excuses that lead to a lack of action on climate change and tips from the CRED guide that explain what effective communicators can do to improve communication.

EXCUSE 1. “A global average surface temperature increase does not seem too troublesome to me. Besides, who wouldn’t want a few more degrees of warmth on a chilly winter morning?”
Solution: See CRED’s guide, Section 3: Translate this scientific data into a relevant experience that appeals to your audience. For example, in New York City, climate change will lead to increased precipitation, which without proper infrastructure improvements, could equate to more transit delays and backups of the city’s combined sewage overflows. When talking about climate change, make it personal. All New Yorkers can commiserate over subway problems. Imagine these problems increasing in frequency.

EXCUSE 2. “I am too concerned with keeping my job and health insurance to consider the impacts climate change.”
Solution: Understand that humans have a “finite pool of worry”, as explained in Section 4, Beware the Overuse of Emotional Appeals. We have a limited capacity for how many issues we can worry about at once, therefore climate communicators must decide what is most important to an audience. One example might be to explain the spread of insect-borne diseases into new regions. Climate change is making scenarios like this a reality in the southwest United States, as was recently reported by the NRDC.

EXCUSE 3: “Climate change is a worldwide concern, so why should I be bothered?”
Solution: Section 6, Tap Into Social Identities and Affiliations, explains the idea that everyone’s problem is no one’s problem. This is called the “tragedy of the commons,”conflicts that result from unrestricted demand for resources. In seeking change on the environmental front, an effective technique is encouraging group participation. Cooperation is much more likely when a neighborhood understands the value in protecting their local parks or waterways.

EXCUSE 4: “I care about the environment. I recycle!”
Solution: CRED explains this reasoning in Section 4, Beware the Overuse of Emotional Appeals, as “the single action bias,” a feeling that one action is doing enough to protect the environment. An effective strategy to combat this is to first make your audience aware of the bias and then list a few longer term actions, such as conserving less energy or switching to renewable options. Lifestyle changes do not have to happen overnight, but emphasize that recycling is only one step in the move towards more environmentally responsible behavior .

Interested in learning more about how to fight climate change ambivalence? Find many more examples in CRED’S guide.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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Joseph Conrad
13 years ago

4 classic examples of how we justify our actions or, more importantly, lack thereof.

Man’s instinctive tendency to be ambivalent.

Interesting post, Andrea.

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