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Climate Change Outreach: Sensible and Logical

By November 2, 2014November 10th, 2014Psycho

(Author’s note: Although this report focuses on the 18 to 25 year age bracket, these things appear to include communications techniques that are ageless.)

From the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science we have a new detailed look at young people and climate change. Little research has been conducted on the 18 to 25 year-old age group. This is possibly the single most important age group when it comes to climate change as they are the ones who are currently alive that will be subjected to the greatest impacts from climate pollution.

This report looks at four “frames” to more effectively communicate climate information to this age group. These four narratives are meant “to shed light on more general principles for communication about climate change with young people.”

Adam Corner, Director of the Climate Outreach and Information network (COIN) Research Director, said:

Our research suggests that many young people care deeply and passionately about climate change. However, there has been a collective failure to talk to young people about climate change in a way that inspires them. Too many assumptions have been made by communicators, which haven’t been tested. Working directly with young people we have been able to trial a series of narratives about climate change, providing valuable insights for anyone interested in improving communication about climate change with this group.

Young people are most concerned about there being fewer jobs and opportunities and the economy. They are disenchanted and alienated. Political engagement is low. The 18 to 29 age group made up only 13 percent of the electorate in 2014, compared to 12 percent in the previous midterm in 2010. Twenty-one percent of the age group voted in 2014 compared to 20 percent in 2010. Contrast this to 51 percent who voted in Obama’s first election in 2008.

The highest youth turnout ever was in 1972 when 55.4 percent of the 18 to 29 year old age bracket voted. The last six midterms have all seen young people as between 11 and 13 percent of the electorate (about 20 percent of young people).

The report tells us that in general young people are very concerned about climate change, but they feel it will not meaningfully impact their lives. Even so, very large majorities support alternative energy and limits on climate pollution.

Yet in Great Britain (Opinium Poll), only 7 percent believe 2 degrees C of warming would be dangerous. Their largest bracket is 12 percent at 5 degrees C is the dangerous climate change threshold, but  a full ten percent believed it would take 10 degrees C (18 degrees F) to cause dangerous climate change. Discouragingly, the percent of older Britain’s who believe differently is only slightly lower (by 2 or 3 percent). In the U.S.? We haven’t quite progressed to the state where American’s understand there has even been a defined limit to dangerous climate change.

We do have polling that shows we are concerned. Gallup’s April 2013 poll says 34 percent believe climate change will be a serious threat to them in their lifetime, up significantly from 25 percent in 1997.

All of these numbers are appalling considering the fundamentals. So how do we communicate the reality of climate change to the masses? More importantly, how do we communicate it to those who will be most heavily impacted so that they can stand up for their rights to an unimpaired global environment?

America’s kids, may not be Britain’s kids, but if music in the 1960s can tell us anything, the kids are the same. COIN can help us increase awareness, and with increased awareness comes increased action. The report tells us:

  • For young people, climate change is fundamentally about the ‘here and now’ – describing the effect it will have on future generations, as campaigners and scientists often do, undermines the urgency of the problem.

  • Young people want to hear how climate change relates to (and will affect) those aspects of their everyday lives that they are passionate about – but communicators must take care not to ‘trivialise’ the issue by failing to link the ‘personal’ to the ‘political’.

  • Fighting organized skepticism is mostly seen as a waste of energy by young people – skepticism is relatively uncommon among the young and talking ‘solutions not science’ is a much better approach.

  • Young people often find it hard to talk about climate change with their peers – there was a fear that talking about climate change would set them apart as ‘preachy’ or ‘un-cool’.

  • There is widespread doubt that there is a ‘concerned majority’ among the general public who support action on climate change – communicating a ‘social consensus’ on climate action may be just as important as the scientific consensus.

  • Young people have very little faith in mainstream politicians – so it makes more sense to ask young people to challenge (not support) politicians on climate policies. Campaign messages should clearly set out what needs to be done – who, when, where and what young people can do to make a difference – and which policy prescriptions support this.

  • Climate jargon is unfamiliar and off-putting – phrases like ‘managing climate risks’, ‘decarbonisation’ and ‘2 degrees’ are seen as hollow and vague. People want to hear about specific policies and how these relate to protecting the things people love and are passionate about.


Suggestions for appropriate communications:

Don’t talk about us and them; impacts in developing nations will be greater, etc. Instead, “Maybe you should say climate change does not only affect poor people, it affects everyone.” Connect, don’t isolate.

Arguments based on guilt are unlikely to be persuasive or empowering.

Challenge politicians for doing nothing.

Don’t use guilt.

And I can’t say it any better than the participants of this study:

“Say it’s our moral duty to  challenge our government because the popular perception is that they’re money grabbing, self-interested, in the pockets of business. I think that antagonism would work better than support.”

“Climate change is happening ‘here and now’ and it affects everyone.”

“Emphasize that this is a problem for the current generation.”

“Focused on ways of making climate change relevant to people’s everyday lives – either through the mention of impacts such as flooding, or by invoking the principles of protecting the ‘things people love’.”

“The important aspect of the scientific consensus is not that it is happening, but that it has consequences.”

“Another common theme was a desire for clear instructions about what to do next.”

“It is hard for people to intuitively grasp what sort of actions someone should take (beyond behavioral changes), and that messages that seek to compel action in an audience should be specific in what they ‘ask’ for.”

“People need to know what policy change is needed, how to support its progress and how to challenge policy.”

“Climate change is REAL. It affects you! What are you going to do about it?”

”Climate change is relevant and happening now. We need to stand up and make change. The more you do, the quicker this will no longer be a problem but a solution. This affects your jobs, homes, power, lifestyle.”

“Climate change is everyone’s problem. It demands immediate transformation of the way we live, from the bottom up. And responsible, effective policies from our representative governments on clean energy, independence, smart technology and innovation in the sustainability agenda, by people like you.”

“97% of scientists agree that climate change isn’t just a problem for the future – it’s happening here and now. Our current generation needs to support effective climate policy to lower our carbon footprint and protect those we love from the risks of climate change.”

“The effects of climate change on your daily life are more significant than you think. The flooding in your back yard, the changing food prices in the local market and so on. And it will become more extreme with the temperature increase. Take action now to reduce the global emissions. Talk to your local authority to see what you can do for a more sustainable future.”




Press Release COIN:

How do young people engage with climate change_towards more effective communications with 18-25 year olds, COIN, October 2014.

Opinium op3092_carbonbrief_Great Britian Poll, July 2013.
Full poll results:

Gallup April 2013

March Gallup Poll 2014

Pew center security concerns 2013 and 2014