Messaging Webinar: Right Topic, Right Time March 18, 2019

By Barbara Gottlieb

PSR’s recent webinar offering how-to advice for talking about the climate emergency was the right topic at the right time.

We knew we were on to something when more than 350 people signed up for the webinar—better than double our usual registration. Some registrants had to watch the recording of the webinar as the PSR webinar system filled to capacity.

And the content was as strong as the turnout. Guest speaker Meighen Speiser, newly named executive director of ecoAmerica, made a powerhouse presentation that intertwined two topics: ecoAmerica’s recent research findings on how Americans view climate change and climate change policy, and step-by-step guidance on crafting a message that Americans will respond to.


ecoAmerica performs its own polling and focus group research, looking closely at Americans’ responses to climate change concepts, policies, even words. Among the research findings that caught my eye:

  • 66% of adults polled by ecoAmerica believe that taking steps to prevent future climate change will benefit their health. That’s 80% of Democrats, 64% of Independents, and 50% of Republicans.
  • However, only 35% recognize a connection between climate change and health. (Clearly, we have some educating to do!)
  • Americans strongly favor “speeding up” the transition to clean sources of energy, like wind and solar: 71% are either strongly or somewhat in favor.
  • They are less comfortable with the proposition that we should generate 100% of the nation’s electricity from clean sources within the next 10 years. That figure is 64% (82% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 44% of Republicans).

Given the differing perspectives that exist, it’s not surprising that ecoAmerica’s first rule for crafting your climate change message is, “Start with people, stay with people.” What they mean is, know your audience and talk to them as the people they are.

Applying common values

To do that, ecoAmerica proposes, “connect on common values.” Health is a value that is universally shared, so it’s a great starting point, especially if you’re a medical, health or public health professional.

Another common value is love and concern for our children and grandchildren and our responsibility to assure them a safe, livable future. You may want to invoke that too.

The next step is to “acknowledge ambivalence.” Grant to your audience that there may be differing views in the room, and that’s OK. But don’t highlight what those differences are, and don’t debate the science. (“Americans love to argue about science,” Speiser notes wryly.)  Instead, move on.

Then, “make it real.”  Give one or two examples of climate change effects that your audience has seen and felt. If you’re in the Midwest, that may be flooding; in the Southwest, maybe it’s heat.  Wherever you are, reflect what your audience will know is real.  But, we are warned, keep it to two examples.  Americans have a thin tolerance for bad news.

In all, there are 15 points in this step-by-step, evidence-based instruction. To learn how, watch “Messaging the Climate Emergency,” PSR’s March 14, 2019 webinar.

Then, go out and connect effectively.

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