Should the term climate change be used or not when the issue tends to be polarizing and there are other ways into the conversation such as focusing on clean energy, health, economic and job opportunities? Leaders working to build support for climate policies and programs have debated this issue for years with many avoiding the use of climate change or global warming altogether. This approach has its benefits particularly when aiming to engage Americans who don’t prioritize action to address climate disruption.
At the same time, we know that when government leaders in particular talk about climate change, it influences media coverage and can shape public attitudes by reinforcing the immediacy and urgency of the challenge, building a sense of efficacy, and emphasizing benefits of action. Talking about the issue with friends and family can accomplish these same things and make it more socially acceptable to care and take action but unfortunately climate conversations amongst peers don’t often often take place.
With the Trump administration limiting the use of climate-related terms in federal agency communication (i.e. Department of Energy) and working to roll back climate and environmental policies and programs; government, nonprofit, academic and community leaders with the freedom to talk about climate change need to do so more than ever with media, decision makers, and personal networks. Some tips for gearing up:
Don’t Shy Away From the “C Word”. American acceptance and concern over climate change is at high point and in most cases, there is no need to avoid speaking directly about the issue. For some audiences, it may be more strategic to open climate conversations through related topics yet linking to climate disruption and deliberately using climate-related terms is still important.
Reinforce that Scientists Agree and We Know Enough To Act. The manufactured debate about scientific uncertainty has some new influential spokespersons. Americans largely trust scientists but question whether there is scientific consensus so look for opportunities to repeat the theme that “scientists agree” the climate is changing in communication efforts.
Advance Proactive Frames. Responding to rollbacks can be all consuming yet it often takes more resources and efforts to counter negative frames than to advance proactive framing efforts that can help shape political and cultural narratives. Communicate the need for accountability while still carving out time to highlight that climate action and the transition to low-carbon economics and communities is underway and delivering benefits.
Create Conversation Spaces. The majority of Americans understand we have a problem yet often don’t see the relevance to their daily lives and/or are unclear on the best pathways to collective or personal action. Others may be part of professional or peer groups where they feel constrained from talking about climate change. Creating opportunities for people to process the implications of climate disruptions and explore responses through dialogue sessions or peer-to-peer outreach programs can help increase comfort with talking about and addressing the challenge.
Talk about climate change and as importantly; take time to build the relationships needed to increase trust and confidence in our ability to advance action even during uncertain political times.