The Biggest Mistake We’re Making On Climate Change

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s no secret that the climate situation is desperate.

Practically every other week, new reports come out telling us that global temperatures have reached a new, dangerous high and the window to stop climate change is getting smaller and smaller.

This has translated into environmental activists focusing on more alarmist messaging, trying to use fear to spur citizens and politicians to action, but that may not be the best idea.

Credit: Citizens’ Climate Lobby

This graphic shows the attitudes of Americans on climate change. 18% are either “doubtful” or “dismissive”, meaning they don’t believe it’s real or doubt the science surrounding it in some way. These people aren’t going to take action no matter what you say, but they’re a small minority of the population.

The other 88% of Americans do think it is real, and these are the people who we need to have pushing for climate solutions.

So far, environmental groups have mostly been using messaging that targets the 29% of people who say they are “alarmed” by climate change. While these people do need messages that speak to them, you have to remember that they are already the most motivated to solve the problem — they don’t need convincing.

To create real change, you need the majority of Americans supporting you, and while alarmist messaging works great with alarmists, it turns off everybody else.

The 30% who call themselves “concerned” and the 17% who are “cautious” are the real people we need to be focusing on with our messaging. If we got these people to join in the push for environmental regulations and other climate change policies, that would be 76% of Americans all working together toward that cause, which would make it a lot more likely it would happen.

That’s not to say it’s a set in stone guarantee, as evidenced by this paper, but it would make it more likely than it is right now.

So, the question is, if we can’t be alarmist, how do we get these people to more actively push for environmental policy? The answer is positive messaging.

Instead of focusing on the consequences of inaction, we should focus on the hope. We should project our vision for the future, a world run by renewable energy, with a thriving environment, clean air and clean water. This is the type of messaging that research has shown to be more persuasive.

We also shouldn’t focus on the drawbacks of climate policy, but instead, the benefits.

Most of the proposed climate change solutions would be quite expensive in the short term, a major reason they haven’t been enacted yet, but they have also been found to have major payoffs in the long term.

Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, most climate solutions would also be more cost effective overall, and they would result in other societal benefits.

Unfortunately, when we talk about climate solutions now, we tend to focus on what we’ll have to give up.

When the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal was proposed, a lot of pundits started claiming that it would ban cars, cows and your home. This brought the focus away from the benefits of lower carbon emissions and instead made us focus on all of the things we would have to lose, even when it wasn’t even true.

A simple shift that focuses on the positives on climate solutions will make people far more receptive to it.

Also, we need to stop blaming fossil fuel companies.

If you ever attend a climate rally, you will quickly notice that a lot of blame is going on companies like Shell and Exxon for messing up the environment and covering for it.

While all of that is undoubtedly true, we also need to recognize that they are very influential in our government. A major reason environmental regulations have been stalled this far is because corporate lobbyists from fossil fuel companies are lobbying against them.

The public continuing to blame companies for climate change isn’t helping matters either.

If we want to get environmental regulations, we have to stop alienating fossil fuel companies. Instead, we need to include them in the fight for renewable energy, and encourage them to lead it, not hold it back.

This will turn some of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington from the biggest roadblock to the greatest asset when it comes to policy on climate change.

All of these changes are so simple, but they will make such a big difference.

In the world of politics, messaging is just as important as substance, if not more important. For too long, we’ve focused on alarmism and hate, and while it’s justified, it isn’t productive.

If we want to come together to find solutions and halt the march of climate change, we need to put all of that aside, and focus on our vision for a green future.

--

--

--

The home of opinions on American politics and policy.

Recommended from Medium

How to face Climate Change with Hope?

Drive on the bright side: LED light swap saves state money

Climate risk management: a tipping point to celebrate

Taking Responsibility for the Planet

Economic Growth Theory: Discounting the Future

It is not too late to save the world — but we need the right diagnosis first!

When can we secure water, food, shelter and peace for all?!

The path towards peace and sustainable development

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jonah Woolley

Jonah Woolley

Angry opinions from an angry writer on an inconsistent basis.

More from Medium

Do you enjoy being screwed?

The environmental crisis is a social crisis — we need to dismantle this damaging divide

Hands of a citizen reporter holding a mobile camera surrounded by a stabilising rig and a microphone attachment. In the camera viewfinder is an image of a Sierra Leonean man waiting to be interviewed.

Towards a Carbon-Neutral World

Our Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Leaves Us Exhausted