Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: Crappy Diem to you in The New Abnormal!

Stephen Colbert explains how he came to terms with climate change.

I don't want anybody happy at my funeral. … [ we've reached] the fifth state of conservative climate change grief: denial, denial, denial, denial and … acceptance. … Our problems are just too big to cure … Give up! Crawl into bed with a cheesecake and wait for death!

Cuts close to home, doesn't it?
***
On Moyers and Company, Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, recently shared what he has learned about how people in this country respond to information about global warming. I never entirely trust these social science opinion research profiles, but they provide an interesting way to think about ourselves and how our audiences might think. Here's how Leiserowitz breaks us down:

... here’s one of the real dilemmas, is that we've done a really good job at helping people understand that there is this thing called climate change. Almost all Americans have at least heard of it. But we've in our own work showed that in fact there is no single public. There are multiple publics within the United States. In fact, what we've identified are six Americas.

Six different Americas that each respond to this issue in very different ways and need different kinds of information about climate change to become more engaged with it. So the first group that we've identified is a group we call the alarmed. It's about 16 percent of the public. These are people who think it's happening, that it's human caused, that it's a serious and urgent problem and they're really eager to get on with the solutions.

But they don't know what those solutions are. They don't know what they can do individually and they don't know what we can do collectively as a society to deal with it. We haven't done a very good job of explaining what we can do. Then comes a group that we call the concerned. This is about 29 percent of the public. These are people that think okay, it's happening, it's human caused, it's serious, but they tend to think of it as distant.

Distant in time, that the impacts won't be felt for a generation or more and distant in space, that this is about polar bears or maybe small island countries, not the United States, not my state, not my community, not my friends and family or the people and places that I care about. So they believe this is a serious problem, but they don't see it as a priority.

Then comes a group, about a quarter of the public that we call the cautious. These are people who are kind of still on the fence, they're trying to make up their mind. Is it happening, is it not? Is it human, is it natural? Is it a serious risk or is it kind of overblown? So they're paying attention but really just haven't made up their mind about it yet. They need to be just engaged in some of the basic facts of climate change.

Then comes a group, about eight percent of the public that we call the disengaged. They've heard of global warming, but they don't know anything about it. They say over and over, "I don't know anything about the causes, I don't know anything about the consequences. I don't know anything about the potential solutions." So for them it's really just basic awareness that they need to be engaged on. Two last groups, one is we call the doubtful, it's about 13 percent of the public. These are people who say, "Well, I don't think it's happening, but if it is, it's natural, nothing humans had anything to do with and therefore nothing we can do anything about."

So they don't pay that much attention, but they're predisposed to say not a problem. And then last but not least, 8 percent of Americans are what call the dismissive. And these are people who are firmly convinced it's not happening, it's not human caused, it's not a serious problem and many are what we would lovingly call conspiracy theorists. They say it's a hoax. It's scientists making up data, it's a UN plot to take away American sovereignty and so on.

Now, that's only eight percent. But they're a very well mobilized, organized and loud eight percent. And they've tended to dominate the public square, okay. So here you have these six totally different audiences that need completely different types of information and engagement to deal with this issue. So one of the first tasks, and you know this as a communicator as well as I do, one of the first rules of effective communication is, “know thy audience.”

If you don't know who your audience is it's kind of like playing darts in a crowded room with the lights off. You might hit the target sometimes, but most times you're going to miss. And unfortunately too often you're going to do collateral damage. You're actually going to hit somebody by mistake and cause a backlash.

So what are you? Alarmed? Concerned? Cautious? Disengaged? If you are reading here you are probably not Dismissive -- but then again, who knows?

Minimally, we need to turn the Alarmed and the Concerned into effective activists or we don't have a chance.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- reminders of an inconvenient truth.

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