Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Messaging and Climate Change

One of the most interesting guides that deals with psychological behavior and climate change is Columbia University's Earth Institute's "The Psychology of Climate Change Communication," published by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED); (to download see: This insightful guide covers the main areas that educators, journalists and activists, etc. need to pay attention to in order to be effective in conveying their ideas, especially about climate change.

The topics include: knowing your audience; the role of mental models; getting their attention; how to use effective framing of issues; translating data in experiences that the audience can relate to; when to include emotion in the message and/or factual information; the impact of scientific uncertainty; the role of "the tragedy of the commons" regarding climate change; and how to effectively work with groups. All of these psychological factors are imperative in order to make the case for climate change and effectively persuade people about making changes in their lifestyle in order to reduce the impact from climate change.

Elke Weber, a professor at CRED, has done some really interesting research of negative vs. positive messages. It turns out that if we use negative messaging, it has a greater impact, but it doesn't stay with people and then they move on to something else. Positive messaging, on the other hand, is slower to take root, but has a much greater chance of sticking for a longer period of time. So, many of the negative adds such as those showing melting icebergs and scrambling polar bears have limited effect in the long-term. And positive messages that give people tangible steps to make a difference are more powerful. It's encouraging how research shows that positivity wins out in the end.