According to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications, two-thirds of Americans think that citizens need to act on climate change – more than those who think it’s the job of the President, Congress, or local elected officials to take climate action. But while the majority of Americans are in agreement that we need to take climate action, another study finds that almost 75 percent of Americans rarely talk about climate change.
What is causing this discrepancy, and how can higher ed help fix the communications gap? Many Americans say that they feel inadequate to discuss climate change because they need more information. Only a small percentage of Americans are aware that scientists overwhelmingly agree on human-made climate change.
Knowledge is power when it comes to making changes that will help us overcome our climate change challenge, and higher ed is the largest knowledge-generator that we have. By crafting messages that share climate change knowledge in credible, actionable, relatable ways, we can help the majority of Americans who believe that we need to take climate action, take climate action. Tools like the Global Calculator, developed by researchers and scientists around the world, also help make climate change relatable to our every day lives. To see more on how higher education can help shape productive climate conversations, please visit www.ecoamerica.org.
Climate change talk with little action isn't exactly new in the United States - but this time, the talk has centered on the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline,on the upcoming COP21 talks in Paris, Pope Francis, even the new President Obama Facebook page, which launched this week with a climate theme. But as you scan the headlines you might think that Americans themselves haven't paid much attention. Not one but two recent polls suggest that Americans don't care about climate change and don't worry about it.
That wouldn't be a first either -- Americans also sounded oblivious in the polls last year after the White House released some dire warnings in the National Climate Assessment. But is it really true that so many ostensibly smug, entitled consumers don't even care and don't think it matters if they do? That's not necessarily the case. One study suggests two-thirds of Americans think it is citizens themselves, not just politicians or corporations, who must act and adapt to earth's environmental realities and the future of its people. The odd thing is, they don't actually talk about climate change with the people they trust the most: their family and friends. Maybe the best strategic choice Americans can make is not just ride a bike to work, turn down the heat, dramatically reduce meat consumption or compost the abundant food waste.
Maybe it's just talking -- to each other at first.
How climate change is communicated can be as important as the facts themselves, and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication is one of many academic research institutions, nonprofit groups and other stakeholders focused on messaging. Each year, Yale releases "Climate Change in the American Mind," and this year's report finds that 64 percent of Americans do, indeed, think it's the responsibility of citizens to do more. That's more than those who think it's the job of Obama, Congress, or their local officials.