Is Climate Change Too Scary? How Best to Talk About It

Just thinking about climate change can be pretty overwhelming. Weíre currently on a terrible trajectory and itís hard not to feel despair for the future given all that we know.

Even some scientists, who damned well understand the consequences we face, have cautioned against talking about climate change with too much alarm. Their fear is that people can only handle so much bad news and theyíre liable to shut it out if they feel helpless to act.

Amidst new research, that school of thought is receiving a serious challenge. Environmental psychologists Daniel Chapman, Brian Lickel and Ezra Markowitz from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst conducted a study in which they determined that people can probably handle the reality and magnitude of climate change a lot better than experts are willing to give them credit for.

The study, “Reassessing Emotion in Climate Change Communication,” looks at whether or not certain emotions trigger certain reactions. From their research, the team concluded that itís an oversimplification to say that fear cannot be a motivating factor. Emotions and people are complex, and thereís no reason to suggest that saying too much about global warming is liable to push them away.

There are ways to maximize the impact of having a conversation about climate change, however. In an interview with Bloomberg, Chapman shared a few additional takeaways from his research:

SHOOT IT TO ĎEM STRAIGHT, BUT DONíT LEAVE OUT THE ACTION

While itís understandable why giving lots of information about climate change would be perceived as pessimistic, that doesnít mean the message has to be entirely a downer. In fact, Chapman thinks itís best to follow up these details with suggestions on how to counter the devastation with action.

Presumably, when weíre talking about climate change, weíre hoping to build a community of people willing to take action, not just depress them. So explore both avenues in your conversations.

FOCUS LOCALLY

Itís called global warming because it affects the entire planet but that can be too large and abstract for people to comprehend. People are more likely to take the message to heart and act accordingly when they have a better understanding of the consequences that will and are impacting their immediate communities.

Local environmental examples, as well as local solutions, will go a long way toward leaving people motivated rather than just overcome with fear.

MINIMIZE THE AGENDA AND SPEAK HONESTLY

People donít respond well to being pitched a perspective, so even though itís important to get more people concerned about climate change, you donít want to make it obvious that youíre trying to make an environmentalist out of them.

In a world of polarized news sources, that may seem counterintuitive, but Chapman insists that most people still prefer unbiased, balanced sources. Stick to the facts and the consequences and people will use that information they deem trustworthy to inform their own opinions moving forward.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

51 comments

Paulo R
Paulo R11 days ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R11 days ago

ty

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Jerome S
Jerome S13 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S13 days ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim V13 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim V
Jim V13 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan B14 days ago

JT S.,
Many folks will just believe what they want to believe. The real funny part is when they misuse science to try to support their argument. Climate change is not an exact science, and much of what we know has considerable uncertainty. Many do not realize this, and post quotes or articles from an extreme side of the uncertainty umbrella, passing them off as facts. We can have very meaningful debates on this topic, if only people would be open-minded.

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JT Smith
JT S15 days ago

What's truly disturbing is the sheer number of people who willfully remain ignorant of the science involved. What's worse is when you try to explain the dwindling resources and they try to tell you that there's still plenty of it in the ground.

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John B
John B16 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Margaret G
Margaret G17 days ago

Trump supporter Deborah W wrote "QUIT TALKING AND DO YOUR PART ... " Great advice! What actions does Deborah W think we should be doing?

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