Guest Blogger Nic Badullovich
Nic has a background in Earth science, specialising in petrology and geochemistry. His main focus now is science communication reviewing and researching climate change framing.
His YouTube channel - Accretionite aims to provide fun and interesting knowledge about our Earth.
So, what should people interested in Climate Change Communication (CCC) do?
Usually, a lack of personal concern about climate change is attributed to the issue being distant in time and mind. However, there is mounting evidence that suggests emotions could present a way of better connecting people with the issue and motivating them to take action.
Psychology has been onto this for some time and there are numerous studies looking at how emotion can affect persuasion. What is becoming clearer in CCC research is that emotion and the way you frame climate change messages can influence behaviour change, advocacy behaviour and support for policy.
Emotion has been established as an important determinant when it comes to risk communication. Researchers have then attempted to apply this to the communication of climate change. This has lead to investigations trying to understand the role of emotions such as fear and hope in CCC.
For example, are fearful messages about the future more effective than hopeful ones? Or is someone more likely to act if they feel fearful or hopeful?
Fear isn't always a bad thing. It can be good at grabbing someone’s attention, but fearful messages need to be coupled with messages that make the individual feel empowered to take action. Hope is another emotion that can predict behaviour, but on its own can downplay the severity of climate change resulting in reduced perception of risk.
There is plenty of research looking into the role of emotion in communicating climate change. But what kind of effect can emotion have?
Put simply, it can encourage advocacy behaviour, support for climate policy‘‘ and even budget allocation . These studies have demonstrated empirically that emotions have a role in motivating climate action. But it might not be climate change itself that is motivating this action – it could more personal things that people care about.
‘Objects of care’ are things that can link people to climate change who otherwise may not care about climate change itself. Examples of these objects of care can be future generations, animals, environment, nature, the planet and people  – they’re all going to be affected by climate change. If climate change threatens one of our objects of care, then it can motivate us to take action.
Examples of this can be seen in the recent unprecedented Australian bushfires linked to our changing climate. Articles have emphasised the death of 33 people, more than 1 billion animals, or devastation of more than 11 million hectares of bushland. These articles are all reporting on the climate-driven bushfires but are emphasising impacts on three different objects of care: people, animals and environment.
A study of bird watchers found that fear messages were only useful as a motivator when coupled with one of these objects of care . In the case of this study, fearful messages were used with either impact on humans, or impact on birds. What the authors found was that fearful messages increased intentions to act in pro-environmental ways, but only when coupled with impact on birds. The caveat here was that the people surveyed were bird watchers, but this still suggests that objects of care can be significant motivators when it comes to our behaviours.
We are only just beginning to uncover what kind of effect these objects of care can have in motivating action on climate change. But it is clear that emotion has a pivotal role to play. Understanding the role of emotion and these different objects of care and the behaviours they can motivate is still an active area of research.
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