How do we apply what we've learned? Here is a model appeal. This statement is aimed at an audience with weak political leanings that knows little about climate change. They belong to what the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication would describe as the "The Cautious."
Right now, we can choose to improve public health, strengthen national security and invigorate the economy by investing in clean energy. We can stop burning dirty fossil fuels imported from overseas, and in doing so we can provide for the safety and well-being of our children and grandchildren.
If we submit to the status quo, allowing climate change to continue unchecked, rising temperatures will bring more droughts like those in California and Texas, hurting farmers and driving up the cost of food. Hotter weather will put Americans at risk of heat stroke and deadly disease, while growing levels of carbon dioxide will cause plants to produce more pollen, meaning more people will suffer from allergies and asthma.
Climate threatens every facet of American life, harming business and imperiling national security. Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs and Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush, has warned the looming climate crisis "while not financial in nature... threatens our economy just the same." Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said climate change "will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict." This puts Americans at greater risk of terrorism and war.
Scientists at NASA and NOAA agree that humans are causing climate change. By burning fossil fuels like oil and coal, we are contaminating the atmosphere with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. These gases act like a blanket, trapping heat from the Sun. Over time, the accumulation of greenhouse gases has led to a rise in the average surface temperature of the Earth. The ten hottest years on record all came in the last 16 years. 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded.
Rising temperatures are changing our climate, leading to more droughts, heat waves and dangerous storms like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Warmer weather is also melting the polar ice caps, causing the oceans to rise. At the current pace of warming, scientists expect sea levels will climb by two to six feet before the end of this century, enough to flood coastal cities like New York, Boston, Charleston and Savannah.
The good news is that just as we are the cause of climate change, we can also be the solution. But we must act now. We must urge our leaders to limit carbon pollution. We must move from dirty fossil fuels to clean sources of energy like wind, solar and nuclear power. And, on an individual level, we must make every effort to limit our carbon output. That could mean driving a more fuel efficient car or truck, turning down the heat in the winter or eating a little less meat.
Climate change is a deeply moral issue. We have a responsibility to protect our children. That's why from Colorado to Florida patriotic Americans are taking steps to reduce the risk of climate change. They know this problem won't go away on its own. But, by weaning off fossil fuels and moving to clean energy, we can foster a safer, healthier world.
- Begin with solutions. Offer a vision of a world that runs on clean energy.
- Focus on local impact of climate change.
- Highlight the health risks.
- If possible, show the impact of climate change. People feel more concerned when they see depictions of human suffering.
- Highlight the economic impact of climate change.
- Invoke unlikely experts (namely business leaders and conservatives).
- Explain how climate change threatens national security.
- Highlight the work of American scientists.
- Describe pollution as "contamination."
- Use figurative language to explain difficult concepts ("These gases act like a blanket...")
- Use graphs that are easy to understand.
- Focus on the local impact of climate change. Highlight events your audience may have some personal experience with.
- Show how climate change will impact your audience where they live.
- Once you have described the problem, offer a solution.
- Sound a call to action. Make it clear.
- Use "Carbon pollution" and "clean energy."
- Highlight solutions that would appeal to conservatives, like nuclear power.
Show the solution. People feel empowered when they see images of solutions to climate change.
- Speak to the moral dimension of climate change.
- Appeal to social norms ("...from Colorado to Florida patriotic Americans are taking steps...").
- Use the language of preservation ("protect our children") and advancement ("foster a safer, healthier world").