By Sean Zucker –
Global warming and its associated climate change are undeniably major concerns for current and future generations. Yet despite what seems like irrefutable evidence of a looming environmental disaster, a healthy portion of Americans remain unconvinced of the present and impending dangers. This leaves climate advocates and those simply concerned with the alarming environmental prospects facing the frustrating proposition of dealing an unresponsive and probably unmotivated hunk of citizens who may wind up blocking necessary changes that would improve conditions.
It seems, though, there may be ways to move the unmotivated.
The concerned at least have leading evidence-supplying agencies like NASA on their side. These groups readily confirm the world is changing for the worse and that can help change minds. “Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner,” NASA reported. In fact, the agency notes that the negative consequences of global climate change that scientists had envisioned for decades are now commonplace. These include rising sea levels, deteriorating sea ice and more intense heat waves.
NASA goes on to warn that conditions will only get worse without proper action. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, adds that temperatures will continue rising in the coming decades, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. It forecasts an increase of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, which will lead to changes in precipitation patterns, bring about more droughts and heat waves, generate stronger and more intense hurricanes and dramatically raise sea levels.
In spite of this type of evidence, a surprising number of Americans still believe the threats presented by global warming are overblown or downright fallacious. Late last year, the Center for American Progress released a report detailing the vast contrast in opinion on this subject. The research categorized the population as falling into six groups when it comes to global warming attitudes—alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful and dismissive. It found the majority of the country was at least cautious, concerned or alarmed over deteriorating environmental conditions. However, 18 percent were either disengaged or doubtful with seven percent being entirely dismissive of the concept. That means at least a quarter of the population either doesn’t believe in climate change or doesn’t give a fig about it.
The center did offer some hope, noting that while the percentage of people who deny or ignore climate change is surprisingly high, it’s trending in the acceptance direction, albeit slowly. “There has been a significant change in the distribution of the Six Americas over the past five years. The Alarmed segment has more than doubled in size (from 11 percent to 26 percent of the U.S. adult population), while the Dismissive segment has decreased by nearly half (from 12 percent to 7 percent),” it detailed. Ultimately, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, engaged with the issue, and supportive of potential solutions.
Frustrated warriors take heart. Changing minds and encouraging support among the nonbelievers and unmotivated is possible. One leading environmentalist may have found a way to accelerate the shift.
The Messenger Matters
John Marshall, founder and CEO of Potential Energy Coalition, a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition that brings together America’s leading creative, analytic and media agencies to shift the conversation on climate change, recently identified three strategies during a remote TedTalk.
First, he advises to keep any discussions simple. Use plain, obvious and universal language. He explains that many terms like carbon emissions and other textbook verbiage alienates people that don’t understand them, which won’t help convert them. Additionally, some of the larger concepts can appear either underwhelming or far too daunting for people unfamiliar with the topic. “Frankly, to the uninitiated, much of it doesn’t really sad that bad. Two degree warmer in 50 years? Or it sounds so bad, you can’t even get your head around it—1.2 trillion tons of ice? Confusion and hopelessness are the enemies of understanding,” he warns.
Next, make the impact personal so it resonates. “Nobody has an epiphany about policy proposals,” Marshall states. “Awakenings are personal. They have local relevance. They’re about your life and your concerns.” Living with the threat of local flooding mean more to most people than the general concept of climate change or worrying about how healthy the world will be for their children or grandchildren. Make the impact real and relatable.
Lastly, the messenger and not just the message has to connect to the unconvinced. “Most people don’t see themselves as environmentalists, per se, and they see climate change as an environmentalist issue. But messages that break away from those narrow identity markers make the issue relatable,” Don’t talk at people, Marshall explains. Talk with people so they have a reason to care. That’s essential, not just to the individual but the future of the planet.