Communicating Climate Change

Climate change isn't just a hot topic, it's something that affects the work of many environmental professionals. Learn the do's and don'ts of communicating climate change issues and how to develop an effective communications framework.
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If you work within the environmental sector you’ll likely touch upon issues relating to climate change at some point. Read on and learn how to frame your messaging effectively to resonate with your audience.

If communicating climate science, impacts, or mitigation is part of what you do, we’ve outlined some best practices to follow. These best practices draw on principles outlined by Climate Outreach that are applicable to everyone, not just environmental communicators and media pros.

Your message should be based on values, not numbers. Numbers, facts and figures play an important part if you’re communicating scientific information, but people’s attitudes will be shaped based on their values first before they find the facts that mesh with them.

Talk about “when” instead of “if”. There’s a consensus that climate change is happening; your messaging should avoid uncertainty and focus more on the risk factors. Find a way to ‘show’ your important info as well as tell and there are many images and stories that can help you illustrate this.

Use influencers. Your audience is more likely to be receptive to an idea if they respect the scientists and influencers behind it. Can you find a quote from a prominent figure in the scientific community that supports your message? If so, use it to add credibility to the ideas you’re communicating.

It’s a difficult message to digest. People don’t want to believe in something that threatens their quality of life. Make your message clear but keep the tone positive.

Know what works and what doesn’t. Poor campaigns prey on people’s fears. Good campaigns give people hope! To do this effectively, you’ll need to “place negative information in a narrative arc that leads to a positive resolution” – George Marshall, Climate Outreach.

Handle skepticism like a pro. Many people are reluctant to talk about climate change, and misconceptions abound. As communicators, and as environmental professionals in general, we tend to “over-estimate skepticism and under-estimate support for climate policies” – George Marshall. Keeping in mind that there will always be skeptics, a good practice is to aim your message towards those who are still on the fence.

This group – the undecided middle – is the most likely to be won over to your cause.

Use the ‘sandwich strategy’. Think of your audience and ways to frame your message for a wider appeal. Build your message keeping these 3 parts in mind:

  • Avoid aggravating the opponents
  • Build support in the middle
  • Maintain support of the base*

Test, test and test again. Test your message on a variety of audiences. If you’re working on a big campaign, test geographically and demographically. Remember the sandwich technique!

If you employ the principles outlined above, you’ll be on your way to communicating climate issues in a way that will resonate with a variety of audiences.

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