Breaking the climate fear taboo

Read the full story from the Sightline Institute.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen a huge proliferation of research, workshops, conferences, strategy sessions, and articles about climate change communications. Why? Because how we communicate about this issue will determine how effective we are at mobilizing people to take actions.

We know about the barriers ranging from how the issue itself is complex and abstract, to the ways in which political ideologies may inform how people perceive the problem from the fields of behavioral and social sciences devoted to climate change communications. To date, we have tended to focus more on changing behaviors than actually engaging people with how they feel, make sense of, and experience the threat of climate change and its profound implications.

After teaching climate change communications and psychology for several years and working with many organizations and initiatives, I have noticed that how we think about climate change engagement tends to fall into four main categories, or what I call “quadrants.” They include a behavior change approach (let’s get people to do x and y), a values or social psychology orientation (focusing on values and attitudes people have towards these issues), a social innovation or solutions approach (let’s design the solutions), and finally a focus on the emotional and experiential dimensions, or what I would also call “affective” (the feelings associated with specific practices, actions or issues).

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