Monday, May 25, 2009

Speaking to Americans about Climate Change

On the back of the report into the six different 'types' of Americans (when it comes to climate change), I found an article in the Huffington Post called Speaking with Americans about Energy and Climate: From the Think Tank to the Kitchen Table. [The report is by Drew Westen, Ph.D., who is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University; and Celinda Lake who is President and Founder of Lake Research Partners].

It examines a new report called "Climate Truths: Making the Necessary Connections".

It is based on research undertaken in collaboration and under the sponsorship and guidance of ecoAmerica and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). For a description of the complete study and results (entitled, Climate Truths: Making the Necessary Connections), contact, or

It looks good, so I have asked for a copy of their report. Anyway, here is what the study found:

What we found is that when we talk in plain, values-oriented language, we solidly move people, motivate them to action, and beat the industry's well-crafted messages by 20-40 points. What resonates with people are not specific fuel standards or the mechanics of how a cap and trade system would work or the precise tonnage of carbon emissions per year. What moves them is a set of themes that bring the issue home to them: economic prosperity and jobs; energy independence and self-sufficiency; clean, safe, natural sources of energy that will never run out; getting pollution under control and making polluters pay for their own messes so we protect our health and the health of our children, preserve the majesty of our land, and reverse the deterioration of our atmosphere; harnessing American ingenuity and restoring American leadership; and protecting our legacy to our children the way our parents and grandparents protected their legacy to us.
And we learned that one striking fact that gets people to sit up and take notice -- for example, that the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1990 -- is worth a thousand policy descriptions.

So rather than trying to push 'scientific facts' at people and expect them to undergo some sort of amazing behaviour change. [Note: 'now they have the facts, they will see the light' does not work.] It is much better to use "plain, values orientated language" that "brings the issue home to them" if you want to achieve some real behaviour change.

They also have a lovely climate change narrative concept-map figure which looks at the often contradictory network of associations (blue positive and red negative) held by the public and illustrated below (see Figure 1 - below). So for solar power, the industry should be pushing the message that they are "clean", "safe", "never run out" and will "help build jobs for the future" rather than "will save x amount of CO2". Makes sense, as people often seem to just tune out when science or mathematics starts been discussed. Much better to include them in the conversation by making it about them, by using their values and what is important to them a part of the conversation.

Figure 1: Emotional connections and a possible climate narrative.

** If you enjoyed this post please also check out:

Six Americas - which one are you?

Americans and climate change

Splitting: 'jobs' versus 'the environment'.

New Green Jobs ??.

Top 10 Environmental Posts

please, tell us what you think.

1 comment:

jaywfitz said...

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