Shifting the Conversation about Climate Change |

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Shifting the Conversation about Climate Change

Strategies to Build Public Demand for Action

Matthew Nisbet is associate professor of communication at Northeastern University and a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry scientific consultant. From 1997 to 1999, he was public relations director for CSI.

Late last year at the United Nations climate change summit in Paris, world leaders reached a historic accord committing their countries to lowering greenhouse gas emissions over the next two decades and beyond.

The combined commitments by countries fall short of what many scientists say is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but the Paris accord marks an essential first step. World leaders pledged to revisit their commitments every five years with the goal of ratcheting up efforts to rapidly reduce emissions.

Yet over the next decade, as the United States joins with other countries in a quest to decarbonize the world economy, it will be essential to also ratchet up U.S. public opinion.

The challenge is to move the majority of Americans who remain ambivalent about the issue toward greater support for government action.

Recent studies, including several that I have conducted, suggest a portfolio of related communication strategies that can help shift the conversation about climate change, building public demand for solutions.

Talking Up Consensus

As simple as it might sound, perceptions of scientific consensus on climate change serve as a key “gateway belief,” influencing other beliefs about the issue, which in turn shape support for policy action, report Sander van der Linden and colleagues (2015) in a recently published study.

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