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Five ways to communicate about climate change - part 2

In the previous post, you got to know the primary psychological defenses to coming to terms with climate change. It's important to now what defense you are up against. I played basketball in college and it was always important to know the kind of defense the other team was playing. There are different ways of attacking different defensive sets. In the same way, to communicate effectively, it helps to know what defense you are up against.

In our case we are facing down a lethal combination of distance, doom, dissonance, denial and identity. Any one of these alone could put the kabosh on your plans.

Fortunately, Per Espen Stoknes provides us with five communication strategies that research and best practice have proven work:

  • Make it social - people are strongly influenced by the behavior of their neighbors, peers and colleagues. Look for ways to provide what Robert Cialdini has called "social proof" that a particular behavior is preferred by the peer group.

  • Supportive framing - rather than scaring the heck out of people with "end of times" scenarios, provide a hopeful message that presents climate change as an opportunity for innovation that is already being taken advantage of (note: research suggests that a mix of fear and hope is needed and that both negative and positive emotions can be motivating; it's the balance that is key and most climate change communication is too fear-driven)

  • Simple - it is a frustrating paradox that something as complex as climate change must be simplified in our communications. Many spend their careers or if not some significant time understand its many complications, then we need to "dumb it down" when we talk to a general audience. Yes. But I prefer to say that we must "essentialize" the message without dumbing it down.

  • Storytelling - you know the saying, "People decide with their emotions and then rationalize it with their mind." This is true and we can incorporate stories of people, communities, businesses doing the right thing. Choose stories that your audience will connect with.

  • Signals - there is a problem with data: most climate data is global but actions must be personal (or at least organizational). The disconnect between the data and the actions can cause confusion or disempowerment. "How can I possibly do anything about it!?" Global data is important but it must be paired with data, what Stoknes calls "signals", that are calibrated to our actionable reality. For example, O Power's electricity bills that show your electricity consumption compared to your neighbors.