“The ultimate solutions to climate change are workable, cost-effective technologies which permit society to improve living standards while limiting and adapting to changes in the climate. Yet scientific, engineering, and organizational solutions are not enough. Societies must be motivated and empowered to adopt the needed changes.
For that, the public must be able to interpret and respond to often bewildering scientific, technological, and economic information. Social psychologists are aware, through their painstaking scientific research, of the difficulties that individuals and groups have in processing and responding effectively to the information surrounding long-term and complex societal challenges.
This guide powerfully details many of the biases and barriers to scientific communication and information processing. It offers a tool—in combination with rigorous science, innovative engineering, and effective policy design—to help our societies take the pivotal actions needed to respond with urgency and accuracy to one of the greatest challenges ever faced by humanity: global-scale, human-induced environmental threats, of which the most complex and far reaching is climate change.”
—Jeffrey Sachs, Director, The Earth Institute, Columbia University
Why Aren’t People More Concerned
About Climate Change?
Research shows that most Americans do not feel a personal connection to climate change.1 They are aware of it, they may even rank it as a concern, but according to a 2008 Pew Research Center for People and the Press, they do not perceive it as a near-term priority on par with, say, the economic downturn or the need to reform health care. In fact, despite scientists’ calls for urgent action, climate change has slipped to the bottom of the list of American priorities.2
Many people can recite at least a few things they could do to help mitigate global climate change, but are not. Why not? Somehow, and despite a lot of media attention following the release of An Inconvenient Truth, messages about climate change and what people need to do to help prevent it seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
There are many theories about why awareness of climate change does not inspire the kind of behavior changes it should. Addressing all of them goes beyond the scope of this guide. What this guide does provide are principles derived from the social sciences concerning how to communicate effectively about a topic that is complex, confusing, uncertain, sometimes overwhelming, and often emotionally and politically loaded.
CRED research shows that, in order for climate science information to be fully absorbed by audiences, it must be actively communicated with appropriate language, metaphor, and analogy; combined with narrative storytelling; made vivid through visual imagery and experiential scenarios; balanced with scientific information; and delivered by trusted messengers in group settings. This guide combines laboratory and field research with real-world examples. It blends information from the broad spectrum of disciplines that CRED encompasses: psychology, anthropology, economics, history, environmental science and policy, and climate science.
Intended for anyone who communicates about climate change, from scientists, journalists, educators, clerics, and political aides to concerned citizens, the guide’s purpose is to assist communicators in reaching two key audiences—the general public and decision makers from government and business—more effectively. The principles found in this guide should help make climate change presentations and discussions more effective.
1 Leiserowitz, A. (2007a) American opinions on global warming. A Yale University/Gallup/ClearVision Institute Poll. New Haven, CT: Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
2 Economy, jobs, trump all other policy priorities in 2009. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. (2009, January 22). Retrieved from http://people-press.org/report/485/economy-top-policy-priority