New Report and Survey Demonstrate Evolving Perceptions on Climate Change

By path2positive

With inaction on climate policy at the federal level, hope can at times be at a low ebb for those who care about public health and the environment.  However, in a recent article on Phys.org, a new report by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and Climate for Health partner George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication is discussed, showing how public perceptions of the problem of climate change are evolving.  According to the report, only 13 percent of Americans believe that climate change is not happening while 30 percent believe that if it is happening it is mostly caused by natural, as opposed to human, causes.  This is an improvement compared to four years ago when 23 percent of Americans believed climate change was not happening and 33 percent believed it was caused mostly by natural causes.

In addition to the report, an informal survey conducted by the social media site Reddit earlier this year also provided some insight into the reasons for people’s resistance to accepting that climate change is happening as well as reasons why people change their perspective on the issue.  Among the reasons for people’s resistance are societal pressures from family and community.  But other reasons relate to the economic influence of those who have an interest in denying climate change’s impacts. 

However, evidence from the survey also shows that these barriers are able to be overcome through improved knowledge about climate change through both formal education and influential sources in the media, such as popular and effective documentary programming like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and the Planet Earth series.  Awareness of the consensus among climate experts can also be an effective component as one survey participant shared, "I realized that many of the other people denying anthropogenic climate change were being funded by the fossil fuel industry and that almost everyone else—most importantly, the vast majority of climate scientists—agreed on the human cause." 

Often, however, the most effective strategy for influencing someone’s perspective on climate change is not to focus explicitly on the issue itself but on the common ground one has with the person being influenced- as well as on solutions that reflect common values.  For example, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, suggests connecting with people by "identifying what you have in common, then connecting the dots between what both of you already care about and the issue of climate change." And Ed Maibach, director of the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication, emphasizes “if the goal is to build public support for policies that will limit climate change, it may be more effective to simply give a range of reasons why the policy makes sense, including but not limited to—and not leading with—climate changes."

In the end, as the experts agree and as Climate for Health’s own communication resources make clear, taking a positive approach by emphasizing the shared benefits of solutions and meeting people where they are can often be the most effective approach to meeting the challenges posed by our changing climate.

For more information on the Yale University and George Mason University report and the Reddit survey, as well as expert opinion on influencing perceptions on climate change, please read the full article on Phys.org here.

Tim Kelly is the Climate for Health Program Manager at ecoAmerica.  He has over six years of experience working within the health sector conducting outreach and education on the impacts of environment on our health.  If you have comments, questions, ideas, or would like to submit a blog of your own, feel free to contact Tim at [email protected]

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