Now What? Scaring people doesn’t lead to action, here is what does

“In order to get people to take action against risks, such as climate change – you can’t just scare them into action, you can’t just talk about the threat, but you also have to talk about the ways in which their actions can make a difference in reducing that risk.”

John Kotcher, Ph.D. is a Research Assistant Professor at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication where he conducts research on science, environmental, and risk communication. His work focuses on how people respond to public remarks from scientists, how to effectively communicate about the public health implications of climate change and air pollution, and how civic organizations can most effectively recruit, organize, and mobilize citizens — especially political conservatives — to demand action on climate change.

John also works on the Climate Change in the American Mind project, a series of national public opinion surveys carried out in partnership with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication to investigate and track public attitudes toward climate change and support for climate policies in the United States.

This week on the podcast, I spoke with him about the role of academic research in informing advocacy strategies, and the best ways to communicate climate change.

“The research dispels the idea that there are only two types of people when it comes to climate change – those who believe in it, and those who don’t. The reality is much more complicated, especially when taking into account people who actually take political action.

Even among Americans who understand the issue and are doing a good job of altering their personal behavior to be more sustainable, when it comes to political advocacy and contacting their elected officials to express concern over the issue, only about 25-30 percent of those individuals most concerned about climate change actually do so.”

It is critical not only to understand the ways in which people perceive the issue of climate change, but also how they view climate friendly policy, too. Research shows that most people, even Republican voters, have a favorable view of policies that are climate friendly, regardless of how they think about the issue of climate change. There is also a big opportunity to make linkages between public health and climate impacts. Most people have been shown to care more about issues of air pollution when informed about the health consequences they have on communities.

Listen to the episode to learn more about John’s work, what we can all be doing better, and what makes us hopeful about the future of bipartisan climate policy.

Behind this episode:

Global Warming’s Six Americas

Yale Climate Opinion Maps

Does engagement in advocacy hurt the credibility of scientists? Results from a randomized national survey experiment

Research for Impact