7 Top Evidence-Based Climate Communications Tips

“Global Warming” vs. “Climate Change”? Studies find “global warming” creates more ‘hot’ feelings of passion and alarm and is good for motivating supporters. “Climate change” evokes ‘cooler’ responses and less skepticism from conservatives.

Identify and find your right audience: Many advocates spend time and money blasting messages to everyone equally. Stop doing this! To win on climate we must segment audiences and speak their language. Marketers and political campaigns learned this a long time ago. But traditional demographics (age, sex, race, etc.) don’t tell you much about people’s climate views or propensity to take action. Luckily there are free tools for you to use to help. Audience segmentations such as the Six Americas of Climate Change1 or “Conservative Conservationists” & “Energy Patriots”
clusters2 offer more useful groupings. To find these people, there are mapping tools such as the Yale Climate Opinion Maps3, micro-targeting models4 for the voter file, and audience-targeting features on social media platforms.

Prepare for battle: If you expect opposition messaging, prepare your supporters by exposing them to those arguments first and debunk—this inoculation5 strategy has repeatedly proven effective. You can also preemptively define the issue (counterframing6)— for example, make the issue about corporate greed so it’s harder for opponents to frame it around cost.

Emphasize scientific consensus: Many people—including our supporters—don’t know there’s a scientific consensus, and research shows that simply informing people that 97% of climate scientists are in agreement can change minds, particularly for moderate conservatives7. But highlighting the consensus works because it’s not actually about science; it’s about trusted people (scientists). Generally, mentioning the actual climate science per se won’t change minds or motivate action. Climate
skepticism actually, has little to do with a lack of knowledge8.
• Peer pressure: Humans are social animals—emphasize public support. Study after
study confirms that we generally want to conform, not be outliers—despite what
people may say or think about themselves. What we believe about what others do
and think (social norms) has a powerful effect on our own climate attitudes and
actions. But it turns out most people underestimate how many others care about
climate change (pluralistic ignorance), which can lead to a spiral of silence;
correcting this myth leads to higher engagement9. Emphasize the true level of
support (especially among people like your audience), and encourage supporters to
speak to their networks. Show, don’t just tell: examples of people just like them
acting, implementing, changing behaviors and attitudes.
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• Balance hope & threats: When you read a story about ice caps melting faster than
before, do you feel empowered or deflated? Exactly! But when you read a story
about a town that just went 100% renewable how do you feel? Exactly! Help people
to know success is achievable (efficacy) and feel that it is likely (hope). Show them
they can take action, their actions matter, collective action can work, decision
makers will listen, and solutions are effective10. Balance this with the need to
generate attention, urgency, and concern by showing that climate is a threat to
things people care about. Focus on impacts close to them (in terms of space, time,
and people, identity, and values). But be careful not to overdo it and create fear,
which can trigger avoidance of the issue. In other words, if your audience is
unconcerned about climate, highlight that it is happening now, nearby, and to people
(not just polar bears and power plants). If they lack inspiration, underline it’s a
manageable, bitesize issue that they can meaningfully help to address.
• Frame in terms of health: Relatively few Americans understand the public health
impacts of climate. Positioning climate as a health issue garners greater interest than
other frames11, and even conservatives see it as a hopeful message. Be careful to
still mention climate and not focus exclusively on health, as this has been shown to
maximize activism12. For example, talking about air pollution, asthma and premature
death makes the climate crisis real and relatable. “Hey, I don’t know much about
climate science but I know my family would be healthier if we took electric buses
every day instead of breathing fumes.”
10 http://bit.ly/2wx2s7M 11 http://bit.ly/2wyurny 12 http://bit.ly/2wz6yfy