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April 5 2019

Evidence-based Advice for Talking about Climate Change

By Barbara Gottlieb, Director for Environment & Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Talking to people about climate change can feel like a tightrope act.  You need to snag their interest, and you want them to understand why it’s so urgent to take action.  Yet if you are really frank about the extreme danger our planet faces, you may drive them away screaming.

That’s why research-based guidance for talking about the climate emergency is so important.

Physicians for Social Responsibility partnered recently with ecoAmerica on a webinar where Meighen Speiser, the organization’s newly named executive director, presented just that. 

Meighen opened by sharing some detailed findings from ecoAmerica’s recent research on how Americans view climate change and climate change policy.  Among them:

  • 66% of adults polled believed that taking steps to prevent future climate change will benefit their health. That’s 80% of Democrats, 64% of Independents, and 50% of Republicans.
  • However, only 35% recognize a connection between climate change and health. (Wow, we have more educating to do!)
  • And, while 73% of Americans are concerned about changing weather patterns, only 57% think that others around them are concerned.  We need to let people know they are not alone! 
  • Almost three-quarters of Americans favor “speeding up” the transition to clean sources of energy, like wind and solar.
  • But they are far less comfortable with a hard target like generating 100% of our electricity from clean sources within 10 years.

Meighen then talked us through a kind of roadmap for crafting an effective climate change message.  It begins with, “Start with people, stay with people” and connecting on common values.  Health is one value that is universally shared, so it’s a great starting point.  Another is love and concern for our children and grandchildren. You may want to invoke that too.

Subsequent steps include “acknowledge ambivalence” and “make it real.”  Give one or two examples of climate change effects that your audience has seen and felt. But keep it to two examples.  Americans, we are warned, have a thin tolerance for bad news.

In all, there are 15 points in this step-by-step, evidence-based instruction. To learn how to do it, watch the webinar, “Messaging the Climate Emergency.”  Then, go forth and connect!

Upcoming conference

Finally, if you like what you’ve seen from ecoAmerica, you might want to join PSR at their American Climate Leadership Summit, May 1-2, 2019 in Washington, DC.  If you watch the webinar, ecoAmerica will also offer a special 30% off the registration price. Use the code ACLS19_30OFF during check out.

Physicians for Social Responsibility is a partner of Climate for Health, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health.  Founded by ecoAmerica, Climate for Health offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering health leaders to speak about, act on and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about our partnership and the resources available to you here.

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