Communicating the complexity of climate change

Communicating the complexity of climate change

The effects of a changing climate will significantly affect the way that people live. For some, it will decrease their ability to farm and feed themselves. For others, it will mean changing what they consume and how they consume it. Persuading people to change the habits of a lifetime is not easy, but it is increasingly the role that governments and companies affected by climate change need to adopt.

Designing and delivering communication products that aim to change behavioural patterns at a community or larger societal level is challenging, particularly when the motivation for the change seems obscure. It is often difficult to link the effects of climate change to our individual and everyday actions because the causes are not visible; we can’t see greenhouse gas emissions, for example. In addition, the effects often unfold in distant locations, such as the Arctic regions. People tend to focus on immediate and pressing challenges like finding and keeping jobs and feeding, schooling and housing their families. Moser, in Communicating climate change: history, challenges, process and future directions (2010), notes that people have a “deep-seated psychological need to deny and suppress existential threats.”

Different groups also see the world in different ways, according to their culture, gender, age, geographical location and religion. Climate change messaging needs to be framed according to particular world views and resonate with different groups, inspiring them to take action. Framing is an essential first step in designing communication strategies based on climate science and hoping to bring about behavioural change.

The framing of the messaging needs to appeal to the desire to gain from a change in behaviour, and it must outline the benefits that will accrue in the present and future. It needs to present the problems associated with climate change, their implications and possible solutions in an accessible and understandable framework. Only if the framing is perceived as being relevant and legitimate are people likely to decide to change their consumption patterns and way of life