Diffusing Public Anger Over Climate Change
Study tests emotional reactions to different frames
If you live in an American city, chances are this summer you have experienced the health effects of climate change. As Richard Harris reported at NPR News earlier this month, people who live in cities -- where there are far fewer trees and lots of pavement -- are more vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat. Rising temperatures associated with climate change not only put people at risk directly, but can also lead to more severe asthma and allergies.
Focusing on the human health effects of climate change -- and the benefits to health if we take action -- opens the door to an important new way of communicating about climate change, a strategy that can inspire hope among those disengaged on the issue, while diffusing anger among those otherwise opposed to action. As Richard Harris reported in a follow-up story at NPR News, research that I have been conducting with Edward Maibach and colleagues shows that people across the political spectrum respond more favorably to warnings about climate change when the issue is framed as a public health problem rather than as an environmental threat.
As I told Harris about the strategy: "Not only does it lead to emotionally engaging responses among a broad cross section of Americans, it also helps to localize the issue for people and to view the issue as more personally relevant." The research offers evidence of a frame of reference that could help define common ground on the issue: "The idea of protecting people, the innocent especially, from harm, and caring for the innocent, is a value that's widely held across the political spectrum,"