Who should talk about climate change? For some people, climate change will never be a personally relevant issue, no matter how convincing the story. It’s the storyteller that lends the message its credibility. The messenger must be knowledgable and trustworthy (Chaiken, 1987). Consider these seven messengers, ranked from most to least effective.
FRIENDS & FaMILY
We trust peers who share our values and speak a common language.
The more we trust the messenger, the more concerned we will feel about climate change (Malka, Krosnick, & Langer, 2009).
Americans say their friends and family are capable of persuading them to act on climate change (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Feinberg, 2013).
Everyone can speak to their friends, family and neighbors about climate change.
"Toxic air pollution, dangerous heat waves and high food prices are a threat to your health and well-being. Support politicians who are working to curb carbon pollution. Think about installing solar panels—which will shrink your power bill—or buying an electric car—which will help you to save money on gas."
Four in five Americans trust scientists for information on climate change (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Howe, 2013).
But scientists can be polarizing (Hmielowski, Feldman, Myers, Leiserowitz, & Maibach, 2013). Democrats and Independents tend to trust scientists. Republicans tend to distrust scientists (Malka, Krosnick, & Langer, 2009).
Scientists can speak to the facts of climate change.
"Like my colleagues at NASA, NOAA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, I believe that humans are causing dangerous climate change. Carbon pollution from cars, planes and power plants is warming the planet, spurring heat, drought and powerful storms. We can protect the climate by shifting to clean sources of energy."
TV weather reporters are widely trusted for information about climate change (Placky et al., 2015).
People who watch TV weather forecasts are more likely to believe extreme weather is becoming more frequent, and they are more likely to feel concerned about climate change (Bloodhart, Maibach, Myers, & Zhao, 2015).
Weather reporters can connect local weather patterns to global climate change.
"Climate change is driving severe heat, prolonged drought, supercharged storms and destructive flooding in your community."
Primary care doctors are widely trusted for information about climate change (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Rosenthal, 2015).
Most Americans have given little thought to the public health implications of climate change (Maibach et al., 2015).
Americans respond to messages about climate change that emphasize public health (Maibach, Nisbet, Baldwin, Akerlof, & Diao, 2010).
Doctors can explain how moving to clean energy will improve public health.
"Pollution from cars, trucks, factories and power plants is fueling asthma, bronchitis and other illnesses in your community. Rising temperatures are causing plants to produce more pollen, making allergies worse. Transitioning to clean energy will improve public health."
Military leaders are trusted less than scientists and doctors when it comes to climate change (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Rosenthal, 2015).
Americans are marginally more likely to care about climate change when they learn how rising temperatures threaten national security (McCright, Charters, Dentzman, and Dietz, 2015).
Explaining this can backfire with conservatives (Myers, Nisbet, Maibach, & Leiserowitz, 2012).
Military leaders can explain how climate change threatens national security.
"Heat and drought are crippling farms in parts of Africa and the Middle East. This is leading driving up the price of food, destabilizing vulnerable regions, and turning otherwise peaceful countries into hotbeds for extremism."
People are more likely to trust someone arguing against his own interest (Walster, Aronson, & Abrahams, 1966).
Many business leaders, such as those working for oil companies, stand to lose something by dealing with climate change.
Business leaders, particularly those invested in fossil fuels, can speak to conservatives.
"Buy up wind and solar to save money and guard against volatility in the price of coal and natural gas. You will help curb climate change, which is fueling severe storms that shut down businesses and disrupt supply lines."
Religious leaders can speak to the moral dimension of climate change (Nisbet, 2009).
They can reach religious American who believe humans must protect God’s creation (Wardekker, Petersen, & Van Der Sluijs, 2009).
Many U.S. Catholics say Pope Francis's encyclical on climate change influenced their view of the issue (Maibach et al., 2015). However, many conservatives don't see Pope Francis as a credible messenger on climate (Richler, 2017).
Religious leaders can speak to their followers.
"We have a moral and spiritual duty to protect God's creation, to keep it healthy and vibrant for our children and grandchildren."
The large majority of Americans trust weather reporters when it comes to climate change.
Americans are split when it comes to trusting mainstream news media on climate change (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Howe, 2013).
TV meteorologists are trusted sources on climate (Placky et al., 2015).
Journalists can report the views of scientists.
"Some 97 percent of climate scientists find that humans are causing dangerous climate change. We can protect the climate by generating less electricty from coal and natural gas, and more from wind, solar and hydropower."
Trust varies by politician and party.
People are more likely to trust politicians who share their views. That is, Republicans trust Republicans. Democrats trust Democrats (Malka, Krosnick, & Langer, 2009).
Politicians can speak most effectively to their supporters.
"By investing in wind and solar energy, we can create good-paying jobs that can't be outsourced. We can boost the economy and do right by our children at the same time."
Celebrities can raise public awareness (Leas et al., 2016).
They lack expertise. They can hurt the credibility of environmental groups.
Celebrities are better at mobilizing people than at changing public opinion (Anderson, 2011).
Celebrities can speak to those already concerned about climate change.
"Climate change is the defining issue of our time. I will continue to urge our elected leaders to invest in clean energy, and I hope you will do the same."