In the Toolkit --


  • Guide to the Toolkit
  • Leagues in Action
  • I. Choosing a Role for Your League

    II. Grassroots Action Priorities

  • Climate Action
  • Price on Carbon
  • Our Children's Trust
  • Energy Efficient Buildings
  • Renewable Energy
  • Adapting to Climate Change
  • III. Basics of Climate Change

    IV. Engaging Individuals

  • Communicating About Climate Change
  • Preparing for a Meeting on Climate Change
  • Engaging Groups in Your Community
  • V. Promoting Public Policy

  • Community Action Models
  • Organizing For Community Action
  • Tips for Building Grassroots Support
  • League Action on Climate Change
  • International Action
  • VI. Resources


    Beliefs about climate change vary widely among different audiences and affect their inclination to support public policies aimed at curbing global warming and their willingness to change personal behaviors. Understanding our audience, therefore, is key to framing the climate change issue in ways that will connect with, and engage, our fellow citizens.

    Researchers at George Mason and Yale Universities, analyzing a large nationally representative survey of American adults conducted in fall 2008, identifed six distinct perspectives on climate change, ranging from alarmed to dismissive.

    The researchers have continued to track these six audiences with a series of national surveys. In an update in January 2010, they reported that the Dismissive group -- those who believe that global warming is not happening -- had more than doubled in size to 16 percent. The Alarmed, on the other hand -- those who believe that global warming is a serious and urgent threat -- had dropped from 18 percent to 10 percent.

    In a sixth report from data collected in September 2012, they noted that there had been a rebound in public concern about global warming, with the Alarmed, Concerned, and Cautious groups once again comprising 70 percent of the American public.

    The Special Challenge of Climate Change Communications

    Climate change presents a much greater communications challenge than do other issues that require citizen and government action. First of all, as the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) notes, the topic of climate change is "complex, confusing, uncertain, sometimes overwhelming, and often emotionally and politically loaded."

    Moreover, it is difficult for many people to grasp the immediacy and the urgency of the climate change problem. As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert points out in a 14-minute video, Responding to the Threat of Climate Change --

    Communicating Effectively About Climate Change

    Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication explains how to communicate with and engage the American public on climate change. It includes research from a range of social science fields, strategies to boost engagement, common mistakes to avoid, and best practices that organizations have used successfully. A joint project of the CRED and ecoAmerica (2014), the guide presents 10 Principles of Climate Change Communication --

    1. Put yourself in your audience's shoes.
    2. Channel the power of groups.
    3. Emphasize solutions and benefits.
    4. Bring climate impacts close to home.
    5. Connect climate change to issues that matter to your audience.
    6. Use images and stories to make climate change real.
    7. Make climate science meaningful.
    8. Acknowledge uncertainty, but show what you know.
    9. Approach skepticism carefully.
    10. Make behavior change easy.

    Connecting on Climate is a follow-up to CRED's 2009 guide, The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public.

    Another helpful resource is Climate Change Risk Communication: The Problem of Psychological Denial, an online column by Peter Sandman. He discusses strategies that are needed to reach people who are "in denial" about climate change -- in denial "because it threatens the way they see the world or because it arouses intolerable levels of fear, guilt, sadness, hopelessness, or other emotions."

    Sandman suggests the following strategies:

    Framing the Issue

    The concept of framing has received more attention lately as it has become clear that public opinion has become less accepting of climate change science and solutions. The CRED authors note that "framing is the setting of an issue within an appropriate context to achieve a desired interpretation or perspective.... Indeed, since it is impossible not to frame an issue, climate change communicators need to ensure they consciously select a frame that will resonate with their audience."

    Even within the same audience, some frames work better than others for different people. The CRED authors suggest that some people respond better to promoting a positive result while others respond to preventing something bad from happening. It also helps to 'bring the message home' by including local examples of climate impacts -- and to make it matter now. In addition, research has shown that people are motivated more by potential current and future losses than by current and future gains.

    In light of these findings, it can be helpful to prepare several different frames and be ready to use them as appropriate. Framing approaches that polling data and research suggest are likely to be particularly effective include:

    And of all these frames, 2010 polling results showed energy independence is the top environmental and economic goal for Republicans and Democrats alike. The polling also found the following message to be effective with audiences across the political spectrum.

    If we do it right, we get cleaner air. We get less dependence on fossil fuels and enhanced national security. We get more innovation in our economy, more jobs and more sustainable jobs.

    And that's if the scientists are wrong.

    If the scientists are right, we get all of those things, and begin to solve what could be the most catastrophic environmental problem that any of us have ever faced.

    That's a pretty good bet to make -- because it's a 'No Regrets' strategy. It doesn't mean it's easy. But it means if we do it, and do it right, we get all of those benefits out of this policy approach. We think that's why it's the right thing to do.

    Communications Resources

    Last updated: 1/14/2015