Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Where politicians and academics converge on climate change

It’s Getting Hot in Here: …Global warming warnings are being trumpeted for all to hear, but the latest studies find that might be the last way to get people to listen. According to an unpublished handbook from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University (CRED), the most common ways for communicating environmental problems are often the most ineffective.

Part of our research verifies an old truth: newborn babies cannot eat gourmet food no matter how well prepared, and the average American cannot process information on climate change as is, in its highest academic jargon-ridden form.

Claims like “twenty thousand tons of carbon emissions can be reduced by cogeneration of energy” will make a lot more sense to most voters and the public if explained through the illuminating power of metaphor, analogy, vivid imagery, and comparison. These are persuasion devices that hit us in the heart, make us feel and connect what we see to our own story, our past. Ultimately, we base most of our decisions on what we feel, according to the research of CRED’s Tony Leiserowitz and his colleagues.

The common “gloom and doom” alarmism is not sustainable. Humans have a finite pool of worry, and the mind can only handle so much “gloom and doom” before it learns to move on. In the case of global warming, most people take one action – donate to a green fund or start recycling – and then they take the problem off the radar.

How do we put global warming back on the radar? Firstly the message needs to be local.

Among the most notable participants at the C40 were those with the gift of gab, and when they speak it puts into practice another important find: Just as important as the way we send the message is who sends the message.

The closer to home the advice hits, the more likely people are going to think about their decisions for two reasons. One, because it is easier to listen to your neighbor than a national government campaign. Two, because anyone in a room brimming with policy makers and money pushers will assuredly think a little harder about the decisions they are about to make as they will be called to account.

…There is no silver bullet to climate change. Its effects are already happening, went the chorus of NASA climate scientist Cynthia Rosensweig “adaptation is as critical as mitigation”.

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