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2018 APS Congress

The 2018 APS Congress will be held in Sydney from Thursday 27 to Sunday 30 September 2018

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Climate change communication

Communicating effectively about a topic like climate change that is complex, confusing, uncertain, sometimes overwhelming, and often emotionally and politically loaded, is challenging.

In order for people to become motivated and empowered to adopt the needed changes to reduce environmental threats, they must be able to interpret and respond to information. The impact of communications on behaviour varies dramatically based on how the communication is developed and delivered.

Key points

  • Surveys show that many people don’t talk about climate change with anyone at all. Sociologists refer to this as a socially constructed silence. A collective silence is dangerous, however. A problem as large and urgent as climate change needs to be talked about and acted on. People need to speak up about climate change to break the collective silence.
  • Be clear about the scientific consensus. Research shows that telling people that 97% of scientists accept the science on climate change is very important in terms of increasing public awareness of human-caused climate change and support for climate solutions.
  • Use social norms to show that people like you and me are taking action on climate change. People are very sensitive to cues about what is normal behaviour, and like to follow suit. Generally, people want to be like everyone else.
  • Inspire positive visions. Let people know that we already have concrete, plausible solutions which can drastically reduce carbon emissions and counter feelings of helplessness. People listen better to optimistic messages. Doom messages can backfire because people switch off.
  • Use vivid, emotive and personal stories, particularly those that elicit positive emotions – these are more memorable and also a stronger motivator for action.
  • Make climate change here, now and for sure. Bring climate impacts close to home to show people that climate change is relevant to them, and that it threatens their health, families, communities, jobs or other things they deeply care about. People are more likely to heed risks they see as relevant, personal and salient.
  • Understand your audience’s values. Look for the overlap with values such as ‘protecting the environment’, ‘helping others’ and ‘caring about your kids’. Build a bridge between their values and those of a more sustainable society. Show them how their core values are linked to other values that are about restoring a safe climate, and that caring about these issues actually reinforces their core values.

How the APS is involved