The gist: Sightline distills current scholarship and top findings from local and national opinion research into three key steps that focus climate change communications on solutions, opportunities, and shared values. The findings include several focus group studies conducted this spring and summer in the Northwest.The checklist helps get us started talking about climate with a more powerful and unified voice.
Context: The North American opinion landscape
North American public opinion on climate change has reached a crucial tipping point. Compelling survey numbers affirm that the groundwork has been laid for climate communications that focus on solutions, opportunity, and shared values:
- The debate is over: As of March, 2007, researchers found that more than three quarters of Americans believe the effects of global warming are already here; majorities attribute climate disruptions to human activities. Similarly, in January, 2007, 78 percent of Canadians felt this way.
- The public wants change: Research shows that the American public wants major change that moves us quickly toward energy independence. On this point, Canadians are even more adamant, with overwhelming numbers citing global warming as the most important issue facing the country.
- It’s time to put politics aside: Despite lingering partisan debates about the issue’s urgency, Canadians and Americans of all political stripes are ready to get behind solutions.
1. Start with SOLUTIONS
Research consistently shows that North Americans of all persuasions can agree on solutions – even if they disagree on climate change. This was borne out in recent focus group research in King County, Washington, where even sworn climate-skeptics were energized when the discussion turned to proactive solutions. Overall, majorities now believe that addressing climate change will be an economic boon, will create jobs, and that we should lead the way for the rest of the world.
Concrete and action-oriented solutions cut through lingering dead-end debates about science or irrelevant partisan quibbles. Notably, by emphasizing solutions first and foremost, we tap into a sense of optimism and counter the paralyzing perception that climate change is too big, too abstract, or too complex to solve.
Strong messages tap into a “can-do” spirit. Audiences respond most positively to smart solutions that are concrete, optimistic, and actionable.
Who said it best?
- “If we raise fuel economy standards in our automobiles by one mile — we generate twice the amount of oil that is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refugee. If we raise fuel economy standards by 7.6 miles per gallon we yield more oil than we now import from the Persian Gulf. We can eliminate 100% of Persian Gulf oil.” — Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
- “[With] the standards that we set in California…we are applying leverage, and we are leading by example, so at some point the whole environmental thing tips. It’s like a see-saw. You walk up to it, and then at one point it will tip the other way.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
- “Canadians want to build a sustainable and affordable public transportation system, introduce a carbon tax to help meet our Kyoto commitments, and make polluters pay.” – David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation, Canada
- “Our country has a history of taking on tough challenges and triumphing. It is now time to roll up our sleeves, get down to work, and lead the world in developing new energy technologies.” – Congressman Jay Inslee (D – Washington)
- “The good news is we know what to do. The good news is we have everything we need now to respond to the challenge of global warming.” – Al Gore
2. Seize the OPPORTUNITIES
The ideal of opportunity is deeply ingrained in the North American consciousness. It embodies our highest aspirations as self-governing peoples. The most positive, hopeful and empowering expressions of our shared values and goals consistently evoke the theme of opportunity, whether it’s about economic and social fairness for individuals or doors swung wide for innovation and progress as a community. Opportunity is a positive value – or frame – that taps into a drive to overcome our problems and work together.
Every challenge presents opportunities. Smart solutions to climate change can create green-collar jobs, boost local economies, and help us take charge of our energy future. North Americans — through ingenuity, smart policy, and forward-thinking — can play a leading role in building a brighter future.
There are three core components to talking about opportunity in the context of global climate destruction: establishing our region and our nations as technological and policy leaders, reinvigorating the economy with jobs and high standards of living, and investing in a more stable economy by taking control of our energy future.
Who said it best?
- “[We have] tremendous opportunities to build a healthier and more prosperous future by embracing the challenge of climate change through expanding our clean energy economy.” – Gov. Christine Gregoire (D – Washington)
- “America should be leading the way. We can create at least 1 million new jobs by getting America off its addiction to oil and creating a new energy economy.” — John Edwards
- “This is the challenge of our generation, and we will meet it with innovation and technology, and with total commitment that matches the greatest pioneers in our history.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
- “Americans solve problems. We don’t run from them. Cleaner air; greater energy efficiency, a more diverse and secure energy mix, and US leadership in the technologies of the future. There is no doubt; failure to act is the far greater risk.” – John McCain
3. VALUES are the glue
When it comes to climate change, northwesterners believe in doing the right thing, in a taking responsibility for the future, and in a desire for energy independence and increased security for our families. When it comes to policy and technology, we take pride in our region’s leadership.
Values – such as freedom, responsibility, and security – are the central guideposts for human decision making. Core values determine which issues we perceive to have the greatest impact on our lives — our future and our family’s future – and the values we share tie individuals to their communities and establish common ground among diverse groups.
Our shared values are like glue, sticking diverse constituencies together through our priorities, hopes and aspirations — for our families today and our children’s future: Responsibility, legacy, independence, security, pride. Coupling global warming with energy independence, higher gas prices, and national security increases personal identification with the issue. We can enhance our security by owning our energy future. More about responsibility, legacy, and family.
Who said it best?
- “If we are not the voice for the next generations, who will be? I think we have an ethical obligation to step to the plate on [climate change].”– Larry Schweiger, President and CEO, National Wildlife Federation
- “The responsibility of every generation is to receive the earth from our ancestors and to pass it on to future generations as we receive it.” – David Suzuki
- “I see the overwhelming evidence and human impact as having effect on the climate. I think we have the responsibility to offer future generations our best shot at this.” – Wayne Gilchrest, U.S. House of Representatives (R-Maryland)
- “There is a growing movement, not only in the environmental community, that global warming is coming and that people have a moral responsibility to do something about it and an economic responsibility, because the losses could be catastrophic” — Sen. Joseph Lieberman
- “A new moral awakening is sweeping our land. It’s a re-awakening to the heart of the Gospel ethic: to steward the natural world in order to preserve for ourselves and future generations a beautiful, rich, and healthy environment.” – Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals
Hungry for more?
Research and recommendations.