People tend to seek out information that confirms what they already believe. That's why Democrats and Republicans respond differently to new information about climate change.
- If a Democrat reads a story about someone hurt by climate change, he will likely identify with the victim in that story, and he will be more likely to support government action to stop climate change.
- If a Republican reads the same story, he will likely not identify with the victim. In fact, he will be less likely to support government action than he would have if he had never read the story (Hart & Nisbet, 2012).
People think about their political identity when evaluating new information about climate change. Climate change is a polarizing issue. When conservatives learn about melting glaciers and rising sea levels, they often become more dismissive of climate change. Why? Because popular solutions to climate change conflict with their values (Kahan, 2010). How can you deal with this?
Focus on the local impact of climate change. Show how climate change is hurting people in the communities where they live. Do your best to show how climate change poses a threat to them and their families. Conservatives are more likely to have a change of heart when they can see how climate change affects them personally (Hart & Nisbet, 2012).
Appeal to conservative values.
Conservatives dismiss evidence of climate change because the solutions don't comport with their values. They fear that addressing carbon pollution would mean more regulation on businesses, and they see this as a threat to free enterprise. Reframe arguments to appeal to conservative values (Feinberg & Willer, 2015). For example, conservatives might accept evidence of climate change if they knew the possible responses included
nuclear power and carbon sequestration, symbols of American ingenuity and resourcefulness (Kahan, 2010). Point out that dealing with climate change is necessary to preserve our American way of life and that it is patriotic to conserve our natural resources (Feygina, Jost, & Goldsmith, 2010) and that acting on climate will benefit everyone (Jylhä & Akrami, 2015).
Emphasize sanctity. When speaking to progressives, explain how we have harmed harmed the environment. Emphasize the need to care for our home. When speaking to conservatives, explain how we have contaminated our surroundings. Emphasize the need to purify our air and water. Conservatives care about purity and sanctity (Feinberg & Willer, 2012).
Talk about efficiency. A conservative may purchase a high-efficiency lightbulb if the package says it will save him money, but he will be less likely to purchase that same light bulb if the package says it will save the climate. Listing the environmental benefits of a product can backfire with conservatives because they tend to see climate change as a liberal cause (Gromet, Kunreuthera, & Larrick, 2013).
Talk about the past. Conservatives respond to messages focused on the past—messages that show how environmental action would return nature to its previously unblemished state (Baldwin & Lammers, 2016).
Forget national security. Focus on public health. Climate change threatens national security, but reminding conservatives of this fact can backfire. If the messenger lacks the credibility to speak to this issue, conservatives may respond with anger rather than concern. When it comes to national security, enlist a member of the military to do the talking for you. Otherwise, focus on public health (Myers, Nisbet, Maibach, & Leiserowitz, 2012).
Never condescend to your audience. We are more likely to acknowledge facts that conflict with our views when we feel good about ourselves. We cling to falsehoods because it hurts to admit we are wrong (Cohen, Aronson, & Steele, 2000). We will modify our views in the face of overwhelming conflicting evidence, but doing so may stir feelings of anxiety (Redlawsk, Civettini, & Emmerson, 2010).
Talk about clean energy. Even if conservatives don't believe that climate change is happening, many are still concerned with air pollution and support investment in clean energy research. Conservatives especially like solar panels, because solar panels allow homeowners to disconnect from a central power grid (Echelon Insights, 2015). Conservatives are less likely to trust scientists who study the environmental impacts of industry, but they are more likely to trust innovators (McCright, Charters, Dentzman, and Dietz, 2015).
Messengers matter. People take cues from members of their own group on how to feel about climate change (Markowitz & Shariff, 2012). Deploy messengers who can reach conservatives. Here are a few examples:
- Military Brass: General Anthony Zinni, former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Central Command under George W. Bush says, "It's not hard to make the connection between climate change and instability or climate change and terrorism."
- Business Leaders: Greg Page, executive chair of agricultural giant Cargill, recently wrote that farmers should "participate in the ongoing conversation about climate change, politically fraught as it may be."
- Conservative Christians: Katherine Hayoe is a Texas climate scientist and a conservative christian. She asks, "What’s more conservative than conserving our natural resources, making sure we have enough for the future, and not wasting them like we are today?"
- Republican Politicians: Former South Carolina Congressman Bob Ingliss has been a stalwart champion for action on climate change. Like Katherine Hayoe, he believes "it's conservative to conserve."
Bridging the Divide: Case STudy In South Florida
In 2010, four counties in Southeast Florida came together to form a climate action plan. To guard against rising sea levels and storm surges, they would construct protective barriers for hospitals, power plants and other key infrastructure elements. The plan was devised by a group of Republican and Democratic leaders working together.
Even though many people disagreed about the risks and and causes of climate change, they overwhelmingly agreed that the local government should take steps to reduce risks posed by rising sea levels. Leaders appealed to group values and avoided partisan language. As a result, they were able to act swiftly to protect their community (Kahan, 2014).