The Psychology of Climate Change
Talking shop on climate change and making sure people understand what you’re trying to convey–and more importantly that they care about what you’re trying to convey–is not an easy feat. This last part–the caring about what you’re saying component–proves even more difficult in a weak economy. When President Obama first took office in 2009, while we were still in economic free fall mode, environmental protection and climate change ranked at the bottom of the list of concerns of most Americans. And just last month, Pew published shocking results that fewer Americans see solid evidence of climate change or that the problem is serious. In April of 2008, 44% of those surveyed believed it was a serious issue. This fall, the number went down to 35%. This less than 10% drop might not seem that significant, but what if we lose 9% again this time next year? As the climate crisis deepens, public support becomes more shallow.
Thanks to the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, a new guide has been published on “The Psychology of Climate Change Communication.” Part cognitive science based, part climate science, this publication serves as a guide to researchers, educators, journalists and really anyone who wants to teach anything about climate change. It is divided into a natural progression of sections, beginning with Know Your Audience and ending with Make Behavior Change Easier. And while we certainly have seen plenty of go green tips from everyone including Exxon-Mobil, this guide really tries to help educators break through the barriers they may unknowingly be creating, while trying to each.
For example, in the Know Your Audience section, we learn that part of the climate change comprehension problem is that we have certain mental models that help us to understand the world and situations around us. Massive barrier number one: we don’t have a mental model that climate change fits into. And since we tend to shy away from things we can’t make sense of–rather than create a new paradigm, framework or mode of operation–we can’t engage with it. Quite often, we come up with questions, games, visualizations for people to better understand climate change, but we haven’t yet constructed–or pondered–a new mental model for it which enables these answers to be meaningfully processed.
While the publication is based on climate change communication, there are plenty of other disciplines that could use help in turning the scientific into something publicly palatable. You can download the report for free or request a paper copy. But check it out. Let’s not get to a point where only 26% of Americans take climate change seriously.