Supporting Policy

There are countless ways for ordinary citizens to take action on climate change.

  • On the National Level, you can call your member of Congress or join a protest in support of climate-friendly policy (e.g. taxing carbon pollution or eliminating subsidies for oil companies).

  • On the Local Level, you can petition your university or your city government to plant more trees, expand public transportation or divest from fossil fuel.

If you are urging people to take action at the national level, show how climate change is hurting Americans everywhere. If you are urging people to take action at the local level, show how climate change is hurting your community. People need to feel like they can make a difference and that, together, we can solve this problem (Roser-Renouf, Maibach, Leiserowitz, & Zhao, 2014). To win support for policy, make clear that climate change is real, caused by humans, serious and solvable (Ding, Maibach, Zhao, Roser-Renouf, & Leiserowitz, 2011).

It’s real. It’s us. It’s bad. Scientists agree. There’s hope.
— Anthony Leiserowitz, Director, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication


Changing Behavior

Let's say you want your audience to use less heat in the winter or to start riding their bike to work.

Show how their values relate to their actions (Synder & Kendzierski, 1982). Someone who feels deeply that men and women have a responsibility to protect their children and grandchildren should want to take steps to stop climate change.

Get your foot in the door. We need big solutions to deal climate change. It won't be enough to change our light bulbs and take the bus every now and then. However, someone who's still on the fence about climate change may resist the kind of big solutions we need. It's better to ask him to do something small at first, like turning down the heat in December, and then ask him to do something bigger later (Burger, 1999).

Delay sacrifice. Sometimes, it's more effective to ask people to commit to large sacrifices in the future rather than small sacrifices right now (Frederick, Loewenstein, & O’Donoghue, 2002).

DON'T ask people to commit to riding their bike to work once a week starting tomorrow.

DO ask people to commit to riding their bike to work twice a week starting next month.

Be clear about what you're asking. Tell people exactly what you want them to do. Show them how to do it, and make clear that it's easy to do. People who recycle and people who don't recycle both believe that recycling is good. But people who don't recycle are more likely to believe that recycling is difficult (De Young, 1988).

Beware of backfire. In some instances, when people make a small sacrifice in one area (such as conserving water), they feel they have earned the license to splurge in another area (such as wasting electricity). Appeal to the identity of your audience. Explain how conscientious citizens are eager to conserve resources wherever possible (Tiefenbeck, Staake, Roth, & Sachs, 2013).