Climate Change Communications: On Feeling Affected and Effectual

Posted by on Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

On a Monday morning, I scanned the headlines to see news stories about record smog days in Southern California, the Zika virus, and the extended wildfire season we’re facing. Climate change was noted as a factor in each story.

Then I saw a post on a new study about the effectiveness of climate news coverage (The Influence of Climate Change Efficacy Messages and Efficacy Beliefs on Intended Political Participation”). This led me to find another recent study on how Americans feel powerless in the face of the climate crisis (“Social norms and efficacy beliefs drive the Alarmed segment’s public-sphere climate actions”).

No real surprise there. I read a lot of climate news and the gloom and doom can get you down. When it comes to climate change, reality sometimes bites. The impacts of climate change are far-reaching and can be catastrophic. Is this the end of the world as we know it? How are we supposed to feel fine?

More to the point: How do we help empower people to fight climate change?

When I first started working at Climate Resolve, I was given valuable direction from our Executive Director, Jonathan Parfrey: “It’s not about icebergs and polar bears,” he said. Yes, melting icebergs and endangered polar bears represent impacts of climate change. The point he was making was these problems are remote and do not personally resonate with us. We don’t have icebergs or polar bears in our backyard.

We need to understand we’re impacted. We need to feel affected.
Good communication on any subject starts with making connections. Our friends at ecoAmerica offer good points on how to engage people on the subject, including the fact that we need to start with people. How are people affected by climate change?

At Climate Resolve, we focus on local impacts. It’s why we teamed up with the City of Los Angeles and UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) in 2012 to publish a series of climate studies that localized data from global climate models. The study shows how climate change will directly affect us here in Los Angeles, so you can see impacts on your neighborhood, including how hot it will be and how much precipitation we expect — with or without climate mitigation. Understanding how we expect to be impacted, and seeing that climate action can make a difference is powerful.

We need to understand there are solutions. We need to feel effectual.
It’s not enough to feel impacted — we have to also feel empowered to make a difference. You can read a story about local climate impacts — say, a story about the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and smog and asthma. A news story might hit close to home, but you have to know you can do something. You have to know there are solutions.

After those gloomy, doomy headlines on that Monday morning, a tweet by NASA caught my eye. “We’re over being bummed about climate change and ready for solutions.”

nasa climate tweet1Yes, solutions! It’s why I’m proud of our work at Climate Resolve to find local climate solutions that improve people’s lives. That connection is key. There is a problem and we are working on solutions.

On Tuesday, good news came. California lawmakers passed climate change legislation that will safeguard Californians for years to come. Here’s the empowerment we’re looking for — and the solutions.

It’s an election year. Yale’s Program on Climate Communication has studied American views on climate change, and they report a majority of Americans now understand climate change is an issue we need to face. Still, the issue remains a low priority for voters. There is work to be done here, in making people see the connection between good policies and outcomes. We need to show how Californians have already been helped by climate policies that have cleaned our air and created jobs. This is how we can be effective — by voting for lawmakers who support climate solutions and by celebrating good climate news.

This story was originally posted on the Climate Resolve blog by Stef McDonald on August 26, 2016

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