This time it’s personal

A nice little paper was published last month in Nature Climate Change, which needs to be taken seriously by anyone campaigning on climate change.

The paper draws on the 2010 poll by the Understanding Risk Group, and shows that “those who report experience of flooding express more concern over climate change, see it as less uncertain and feel more confident that their actions will have an effect on climate change”, and that “these perceptual differences also translate into a greater willingness to save energy to mitigate climate change”.

That is, people who’ve had first-hand experience of something that could be attributed to climate change, care more about it and are more willing to act to stop it.

The difference in views between those who’d experienced flooding and those who hadn’t is clear:

Firstly, on the question, “How concerned, if at all, are you about climate change, sometimes referred to as ‘global warming’?”

And secondly, on the questions: ‘I can personally help to reduce climate change by changing my behaviour’; ‘I am uncertain that climate change is really happening’; and ‘My local area is likely to be affected by climate change’:

(Reproduced with permission)

Nowhere is the gap vast, but it’s always statistically significant. The message is clear: personal experience of the impact of extreme weather makes people more likely to think that climate change is worth tackling, and that it can be tackled.

All of which is a pretty clear lesson for anyone campaigning on climate change.

But a selection of campaigning videos raises questions about this:


Rather than encouraging the viewer to think that climate change will hurt them and their family, these videos are trying to trigger concern about other people and vulnerable animals. I wonder how many people who are moved by this kind of campaign aren’t already worried about climate change.

Maybe these videos are unrepresentative, but I’m not sure of that. Has any major organisation put its weight behind a campaign video that tries to persuade its audience of the impact that climate change will have on them? Forget the impact it’ll have on other people, and make it personal.

I’m reminded of this safe driving video. Unusually, it doesn’t try to target reckless drivers by making them think about how terrible it would be for someone who was hurt by their driving. It makes it personal, going straight for the impact it would have on their own life:

No doubt a climate change equivalent could be controversial. Climate scientists would, rightly, argue that it’s impossible to say with certainty that any single event, like a particular flood, was caused by climate change. The video would need to avoid taking advantage of anyone’s suffering, so it couldn’t draw on a specific flood like, in the UK, Boscastle or the 2007 floods.

But if the evidence demonstrates that people are more moved to action on climate change when they are prompted to think about the impact it could have on them personally, it seems self-destructively high-minded for climate campaigning to ignore this and instead spend its time focusing on the impact climate change will have on distant people and creatures.

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