This month Urban Green will be holding a conference on climate change communication with the goal of bringing together some critical thinkers for a candid discussion about climate change messaging and action. The topic of this conference derived from a few questions that have been nagging environmentalists for some time now. Why don’t some people believe climate change is happening? Or for that matter, that it’s caused by humans?
This of course excludes those with a vested interest in denying the science (“big oil” etc.). Instead I’m talking about those individuals who actually aren’t convinced by the overwhelming scientific evidence, not those who are pretending not to believe it for financial or political gain. A recent poll released by the Brookings Institute in July reveals that “belief” in climate change is literally changing with the weather. Of the 62% of Americans who believe global temperatures are rising, approximately half of those came to this conclusion because of weather changes or warmer temperatures.
What does this mean? It means talking about climate change is more complicated than just explaining the science. In a recent New York Times article, Beth Gardiner spoke to leading researchers in the field of climate psychology about the inherent difficulty we have engaging “with the more abstract, global dangers posed by climate change.” It’s a fascinating article that concludes that the pitch is as important as the message. To reach the roughly 40% of Americans who don’t believe and those who will no longer believe when the mercury falls, we’ll want to adjust our narrative.
There’s been a swell of research into this topic from a variety of highly focused academic centers over the last few years, including American University School of Communication, The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC), and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication (4C), among others. A collaborative report from the YPCCC and 4C, Global Warming’s Six Americas in March 2012 and November 2011, argues Americans can be described as part of one of six groups in terms of belief in climate change: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, or Dismissive. Nearly 40% of American adults fall into the two most concerned groups while only 25% are in the least concerned groups. Understanding these categories and the values of these individuals will help us communicate more effectively about climate change.
Once we’ve sorted this out, we’ll have to move on to the next and more challenging question. If we all agree climate change is happening now and is a significant threat to our well-being, why aren’t we taking more action? What specifically and practically can the green building industry do to combat climate change? How do you fight climate change when you’re primary role is not a climate change warrior?
To hear more about these ideas and to participate in the discussion, join us for “Cooling on Climate Change: Designing the Message” on September 18 at Bloomberg. For more information and to register, please visit our website.