A major issue for America is the lack of public interaction and engagement on the matter of climate change. Although most people are educated in climate changes’ causes, impacts, and solutions, many still refuse to take action and instead ignore the problem at hand. Communication researchers believe that outlining climate change in terms of public health could be a more effective method for convincing the community that climate change truly is a serious concern.
In 2010, a study was conducted to evaluate the most successful way to reach out to American citizens about climate change. The test involved dividing subjects into six different categories ranging from most concerned and motivated subjects to the least concerned and least motivated subjects. The six categories were labeled as alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive. Subjects were classified by their previous knowledge and reaction to climate change. The testing itself required the subjects to read three distinctly framed news articles that highlighted the risks to either public health, environment, or national security due to climate change and the benefits of taking action. The subjects were then asked to underline which sentences in the article made them feel hopeful versus angry.
The results of the testing indicated that when public health was introduced as the primary issue at hand, subjects usually found the information convincing and valuable. This positive emotional feedback stands as a promising strategy for climate change communication.
Interestingly, the authors mention how negative emotions, such as anger or fear, can also motivate people to get active and seek clarification on the issues at hand. However, these negative emotions can backfire and instead result in less concern and more hopelessness. For example, highlighting how national security is at risk due to climate change actually angered some subjects and left them more doubtful or dismissive about climate change.
Overall, the health frame created the most feelings of hope and is thus the most promising method for engaging the public in the issue of climate change.
Myers, T., Nisbet, M., Maibach, E., Leiserowitz, A. “A public health frame arouses hopeful emotions about climate change.” Climatic Change 113, 3-4,1105-1112. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-012-0513-6