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Monday, January 30th, 2012 . 10:00 am | No Comments

The Psychology of Climate Change Communica­tion

The useful guide by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions “The Psychology of Climate Change Communica­tion: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public” examines why people aren’t more concerned about climate change. Climate science information is more likely to be effective if it contains the right, non-technical language, is expressed as narrative storytelling with visual imagery, and is conveyed by trusted, preferably local, messengers in a group setting. Using the right words to reach the orientations and perspectives of the greatest number of people, bringing the issue “home” by using local examples, focusing on immediate vs. future threats, and emphasizing avoiding losses rather than seeking gains will make people more likely to behave in an environmentally responsible manner. In addition, the message should preferably be broadened, i.e. climate change is not just an environmental issue, but affects the economy, national security and human health. Experience-based (metaphors, personal accounts) vs. analytically framed information (graphs, statistics) is retained longer and prompts people to act.
A bearded seal rests on shrinking arctic ice
Visual imagery such as this one of a bearded seal that rests on shrinking sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is more likely to be effective than analytically framed information © Paul Nicklen

However, this more emotional response may be short-lived, and too much worry can cause emotional numbing . Thus, targeting both processing systems, analytical and experienced-based, works best. Confronting people’s tendency to use single actions, rather than several precautionary measures, to respond to a threat, also makes for a more effective response against climate change. The correct amount of uncertainty in climate change science needs to be carefully communicated. Using the default option (e.g. double-sided printing set as default) makes it easier for people to make environmentally wise decisions. Overall, people need to feel a personal connection with climate change while not feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem.

Download “The Psychology of Climate Change Communication” Guide

Blog author: Lindy Weilgart, Okeanos – Foundation for the Sea

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