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

Just thinking about climate change can be pretty overwhelming. We’re currently on a terrible trajectory and it’s 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 they’re 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 it’s an oversimplification to say that fear cannot be a motivating factor. Emotions and people are complex, and there’s 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 ‘EM STRAIGHT, BUT DON’T LEAVE OUT THE ACTION

While it’s understandable why giving lots of information about climate change would be perceived as pessimistic, that doesn’t mean the message has to be entirely a downer. In fact, Chapman thinks it’s best to follow up these details with suggestions on how to counter the devastation with action.

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

FOCUS LOCALLY

It’s 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 don’t respond well to being pitched a perspective, so even though it’s important to get more people concerned about climate change, you don’t want to make it obvious that you’re 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

58 comments

Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R6 months ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R6 months ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R6 months ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R6 months ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R6 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Paola S
Past Member 10 months ago

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Paulo R
Paulo R11 months ago

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Paulo R
Paulo R11 months ago

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Jerome S
Jerome S11 months ago

thanks

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