Should information the only currency in the debate over climate change, or is savvy marketing and emotive language more important?
Yale University this week published a survey on beliefs and attitudes to climate change. Researchers ‘segmented’ the respondents, in much the same way as marketers segment their target markets. They divided them into six groups:
The Alarmed, (18 percent of the population) are most convinced that global warming is happening, caused by humans, and a serious and urgent threat.
The Concerned (33 percent) believe global warming is a serious problem and support an active national response, but are less personally involved and have taken fewer actions than the Alarmed.
The Cautious (19 percent) believe global warming is a problem, but are less certain it is happening. They neither view it as a personal threat nor feel a sense of urgency about it.
The Disengaged (12 percent) do not know much about global warming or whether it is happening and have not thought much about the issue.
The Doubtful (11 percent) are not sure whether global warming is happening, but believe that, if it is, it is caused by natural environmental changes and is a distant threat.
The Dismissive (7 percent) are actively engaged in the issue, but believe that global warming is not happening and does not warrant a national response.
“One of the first rules of effective communication is to “know thy audience,” the study’s authors wrote.
On a similar theme, Drew Western and Celinda Lake, a professor of psychiatry and a pollster respectively, argue that public support for measures to avert climate change could be raised by using the right choice of words: they found “plain, values-oriented language”, narrative structure, and imagery were all more effective than facts and figures.
The best scientific evidence suggests that the best way to win public support for comprehensive energy and climate reform is not by presenting the public with the best scientific evidence. It is to talk with Americans in plain, emotionally compelling language that speaks to their values and concerns.
Too often, they say, “we tend to speak to voters in our language — the language of parts per million, carbon emissions, carbon sequestration, and the like — and expect them to make the translation.” They argue it is not about dumbing down, but increasing the “emotional intelligence” of the public. The piece has a defensive tone, which is perhaps not surprising: simplifying information is abhorrent to many experts (as any reporter knows). The risk of getting the facts wrong makes some of the most knowledgable researchers uncomfortable . But in an information-drenched world, are facts enough?
Americans’ energy-saving behaviours: think locally, be depressed globally (FT Energy Source, 11/02/09)