The following was blogged live from our Fall Conference on September 18, 2012 – Cooling on Climate Change: Designing the Message.
In this first panel discussion this morning, speakers outlined a few key points that we can all use to capture the attention of varying audiences.
Elliot Diringer, C2ES says climate change is complicated by a number of conflicting characteristics. Because it is a global phenomenon that affects cultures and landscapes in different ways, our message must be adaptable to different audiences around the world. This, he says, is further complicated by the fact that the effects of climate change are still somewhat uncertain and being experienced sporadically and in different forms (if at all), making it difficult for individuals to understand the importance of taking immediate action.
Lisa Fernandez, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication shares her research showing that in the US, surveys show that the public perception of climate change has declined over the past few years as a result of the economy and unemployment, decreased media coverage, unusual cold weather, an effective “denial industry” and increasing political polarization. She goes on to say these studies have also demonstrated that there are six different levels of climate change perception (alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, dismissive), all of which require tailored engagement strategies. Each audience interprets facts differently to construct their own understanding of the issue.
David Ropeik, Author and Consultant at David Ropeik and Associates, wrapped up the powerpoint presentations with a summary of the science behind how our brains actually process information. He outlined the five components of risk perception, only one of which addresses the conscious, which is our ability to reason. All other components come from our subconscious and deal with how we use mental shortcuts, circumstantial generalization, and common social influences to assess the risk associated with a certain event. In summary, Ropeik illustrated that risks will not seem applicable to the individual if they don’t concern the individual on a level that is personal, local, and immediate.
Speakers agreed that effective messages must maintain credibility for the movement by staying close to facts outlined by current scientific research but counting on science alone won’t work. Spreading this knowledge is important, but that appealing to an individual’s (or a culture’s) emotions, values, and ideology also play a critical role in messaging effectively. Finally, the message must appeal to the current social, political, and economic forces that are impacting an individual’s current perspective.
If you’re taking notes, write this down for tips to create and effective climate change message:
- Present scientific data and consensus that climate change is real
- Convey the real risks and impacts that climate change has on humans and focus on health consequences.
- Portray linkage to recent extreme weather conditions
- Avoid referring to climate change as an idea
- Remind your audience that it’s solvable through immediate action
More to come in the next panel (The Role of the Green Building Industry) as we look to our “non-scientist validators” to speak out to other key audiences. Stay tuned for an update!