Tired of polar bears, apocalyptic scenarios and dry statistics? You are not the only one. Here are a few tips for making your climate communication more engaging, effective and fun. Never forget the context: depending on what you are trying to do, some strategies might work better than others. Mix and match – and learn and listen as you go.
1) People vary
Also known as: You are not your audience
What it is about: If there’s one thing we know about humans, it’s that we are a diverse bunch. We vary not just by age, gender, education, wealth and culture, we also carry very different values and motivations that drive what we do. Learn as much as you can about your specific audience – and avoid ‘one size fits all’ communications.
2) Cut the technical detail
Also known as: Less is more
What it is about: Ever read an IPCC report? As a scientific compilation, it is full of numbers – and uncertainties of what might happen. When communicating to non-scientists, focus on what we do know. It is much more important to get the big picture of the story across than all the details. Most of us are too busy to remember them anyway…
3) Local impact, local action
Also known as: Reduce psychological distance
What it is about: While climate change is a global issue, it is often perceived as distant – it has nothing to do with me. You can counteract this tendency by focusing on the local impacts of climate change and the specific challenges in your area: make it tangible and visible, and make sure that there’s a meaningful way to contribute to the solution on the local level.
4) Paint a positive future
Also known as: Things we love
What it is about: We all know tales of the climate apocalypse. Unfortunately, stories of doom only inspire despair and defeat – not a great foundation for change. Instead, talking about the positive future you are working towards will energise your work. Bonus points if you can highlight where you are restoring valued things from the past, e.g. habitats for a species or a community gathering spot.
5) Give people agency and choice
Also known as: Let freedom reign
What it is about: People are smart, and they don’t like to be told what to do. Instead of providing a full solution, consider providing small opportunities to engage and customise the experience. The more people have contributed to a solution, the more they will take ownership of it in the future.
6) Tell stories, use visuals, speak to the gut
Also known as: Emotion anchors
What it is about: Human behaviour is less rational than we think. Facts often matter only when they support an opinion we already have. To make change last, we need to find the feeling: stories and visuals communicate the effects of climate change better than a thousand numbers – and in the best case, let the audience become the hero.
7) Foster belonging and identity
Also known as: People like us
What it is about: Who we think we are determines our behaviour: “I am someone who does X”. Often, this behaviour is determined by our tribe, by people like us. We aim to belong. Behaviour that doesn’t fit our identity is less likely to stick – if it does, we will happily promote it to our peers.
8) It’s not (just) about the environment
Also known as: Let’s get out of the niche
What it is about: Climate change impacts our health, economy, urban planning, everything. Whenever we frame it in environmental language, we diminish its importance. To break out of the niche of environmentalism, we can make our communication more relevant for our audience by framing it in terms of issues they care about more.
9) Use human connection and social networks
Also known as: Social proof
What it is about: If people we know and like are engaging in a behaviour, we are more likely to participate. We can harness this in our climate communications in two ways: we can tap into existing networks and ask people to spread the word using word-of-mouth – and we can build community and connection into our activities so that people will want to come back.
10) Walk the talk & foster cooperation
Also known as: Competition separates
What it is about: To sustain engagement, we need to ensure that our methods match our overall objectives. This starts with using environmentally friendly means of communications and transport, but also covers the type of action we’re asking people to take. Shallow incentives (like prizes or competitions) are unlikely to deliver the ongoing behaviour change we need to make a difference.