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Communicating Climate Change: Strategies for Connecting with Diverse Audiences

From jargon to empowerment: practical tips for effective climate communication by using insights from behavioral science to engage and empower people.

Effective communication is crucial when discussing climate change with others, be it friends, colleagues, customers, or the public. By utilizing insights from behavioral science, we can make these conversations more effective and engaging, and inspire people to take action and work together to address the climate crisis. These are the eight principles that can help us achieve this goal:

  1. Making Climate Action Personal: Connecting Climate Impacts to People’s Lives
  2. Accessibility is Key: Avoiding Jargon and Framing Climate Change in a Relatable Way
  3. Empowering Through Solutions: Shifting From Doom and Gloom to Optimism
  4. Making Climate Action Doable: Giving People Agency and Encouraging Gradual Steps
  5. The Power of Collective Action: Building Collaboration and Avoiding Blame
  6. Normalizing Climate-Friendly Behaviors: The Importance of Social Norms
  7. Trustworthy Messengers: The Role of Relatable and Diverse Voices in Climate Communication
  8. Climate Communication for Everyone: Focusing on Commonalities and Avoiding Debate

The first principle is to make the conversation personal by connecting climate change to people’s lives, homes, families, and communities. It is more effective to discuss how climate change is affecting people’s lives rather than distant ice sheets. It is also essential to highlight personal benefits such as health, cost savings, and cool technologies like electric vehicles or solar panels. Focusing on local impacts that are affecting people’s lives, such as flooding or high air conditioning bills, can motivate action.   

2. ACCESSIBILITY IS KEY:The second principle is to make the conversation accessible. Finding creative ways to talk about climate change can help make the conversation more engaging. Using humor or satire, while still treating the issue seriously, can help. Avoid using cold jargon and numbers because they can cause people to disengage. Different audiences may respond better to certain frames such as ‘clean and healthy air,’ ‘protecting family and community,’ ‘protecting nature,’ ‘job creation,’ ‘national security,’ and ‘faith and stewardship.’   

3. EMPOWERING THROUGH SOLUTIONS:The third principle is to make the conversation empowering. Using emotions like anger, hope, amusement, and pride constructively can empower people to face the climate crisis. It is essential to acknowledge the severity and urgency of the issue, but it is equally important not to focus too much on doom and gloom. Instead, it is about painting a complete picture that connects emotions to action.

4. MAKING CLIMATE ACTION DOABLE:The fourth principle is to make the conversation doable. Giving people agency is key to making climate action doable. Pointing people towards high-impact climate actions they can take as individuals and as part of their communities can help build self-efficacy and response efficacy. Meeting people where they are and helping them take gradual steps is also important.

5. THE POWER OF COLLECTIVE ACTION:The fifth principle is to make the conversation collective. Collaboration at all levels of society is required to address the climate crisis, from individuals to governments. People must see themselves as part of a larger group taking action that, collectively, can make a difference.

6. NORMALIZING CLIMATE-FRIENDLY BEHAVIORS:The sixth principle is to make the conversation normal. People are more likely to engage in climate-friendly behaviors when they think they are socially normal. Giving examples of people already engaged in the behavior, showing that more and more people are engaging in the behavior, and demonstrating that society wants people to engage in the behavior can make climate-friendly behavior feel socially normal.

7. TRUSTWORTHY MESSENGERS:The seventh principle is to make the conversation trustworthy. Choosing messengers wisely is essential. Trusted, beloved, relatable, and diverse messengers can help people see themselves as part of the movement. Messengers are particularly effective when they ‘walk the talk.’ Climate scientists and immediate family members, including children, are regarded as the most trusted messengers on climate.

8. CLIMATE COMMUNICATION FOR EVERYONE:The eighth principle is to make the conversation for everyone. Focusing on commonalities rather than differences can engage all audiences in climate change. Avoid giving climate change denial arguments an unnecessary spotlight. Instead, mention climate misinformation by preemptively warning that only a small percentage of people believe it.

 This post is based on Eight Principles for Effective and Inviting Climate Communication by the Behavioral Insights Team , Potential Energy Coalition and Rare

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