Useful messaging

What’s Behind the Six Americas?


The Six Americas study of US opinions on climate change uncovered six typical levels of concern about climate change. Climate change is a top-tier election issue only for the Alarmed group, and a top political priority is to reach the Concerned and Cautious groups. Various polling in early 2016 revealed a recent step up in the Alarmed group and drop in the Doubtful and Dismissive groups. One conclusion is that “messaging about the moral necessity of climate action from key influencers — and “facts on the ground” like record warming and extreme weather — matter. The public is increasingly alarmed and concerned about global warming. They should be.”

Climate activists are good at passionately communicating with the Alarmed group, but more scientific evidence and increased urgency tends to just bounce off the other groups, especially the least concerned. In analyzing this paradox, psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes describes five psychological mechanisms we use to avoid climate threat messages, thus preventing us from attracting enough concern to make climate a high priority. Then he illustrates how to craft climate messages to navigate around these five defenses.

5 layers of denial

It turns out that messages including “climate” have been so derailed by the fossil fuel industry that tribal behaviors set in to help people deny their actual culpability. By contrast, “clean energy” and “renewables” poll much higher than any phrase including “climate”. For example, 72% of Republicans support accelerating the development of renewable energy sources.

Climate Messaging Without Saying “Climate”

Thus we are left with non-climate messages as a more productive means to communicate climate risks than climate messages. This bizarre state is the result of the fossil-fuel disinformation campaigns, but fortunately there are many advantages of clean energy beyond cutting GHG emissions. These include:

US DOE chart clean tech costs 2008-14 from CSI report

  • Costs of toxic pollution are even higher than climate change costs. Toxic air pollution leads to hundreds of premature deaths annually in Oregon, and this problem is not distant in time or experience like climate change since everyone knows someone suffering from respiratory ailments such as asthma.
  • Costs of land-use degradation.
  • Many other costs.

Videos and Documentaries

Per Espen Stoknes on building support for climate policy:

Merchants of Doubt is a great book By Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, also made into an eye-opening movie, that exposes the companies and their tactics for sowing climate change denial.

Or the short and funny version in 7 minutes.