talk directly to the public about climate change. The guide has
been a hit — it’s been downloaded more than 26,000 times,
according to Weber.
Part of its appeal is that it is full of specific examples of
how to connect with different audiences — for example, by
framing climate change as an issue with major implications for
human health and national security as well as nature; and by
emphasizing local rather than worldwide effects.
At the Alliance for Climate Education, Lappé is relying on
that kind of advice to work with his teen audience, homing in
on their demographics and interests to craft messages that will
resonate most effectively with them.
For example, some researchers have found that framing
climate change as a local, and not just global, problem can help.
In one 2011 study in Environment & Behavior, for example,
University of British Columbia psychologist Robert Gifford,
PhD, asked 327 participants to complete a survey that measured
their engagement with climate change issues. Before they did
so, one group read a poster with information about the global
effects of climate change, such as average sea level rise. Another
group read a poster that emphasized local effects, such as
worsening pine beetle infestations in local forests. A control
group didn’t read any message. Gifford found that the group
that read the local message showed more engagement with
climate change issues in the follow-up survey than the control
group, while there was no difference between the global message
group and the control group.
Because of results like these, Lappé and his staff have
developed custom programs for students in different areas of
the country — in the San Francisco Bay area, for example, they
talk about drought and water availability, while in Denver they
talk about increasing wildfires.
ACE has also worked to create follow-up “action teams”
to keep the most enthusiastic students who come out of their
assemblies engaged with climate change issues. These teams
sponsor local projects like school-wide energy audits or “bike
to school” days. For those who want to get even more involved,
ACE is organizing city-wide action teams to work on larger
efforts, such as community anti-car-idling campaigns in Reno,
Nev., and Atlanta.
“We think about our engagement program as being a
ladder,” he says. “At each point, students are given a ‘next step,’
so that we can build a network of students at different levels of
engagement. We’ve relied really heavily on research to lay out
that pathway for the students.”
Climate frames and carbon conversations
While ACE aims to reach hundreds of teens at a clip,
Pennyslvania State University environmental psychologist Janet
Swim, PhD, and her colleagues are trying to reach a different
group — the 75 million people who visit zoos, aquariums and
science centers every year. They’re aiming to reach this sizeable
population through a smaller group — the “informal science
educators” who run those institutions and interact with the
These staff and volunteers generally care deeply about
animals, the environment and climate change issues. But
often, Swim says, they feel constrained in what they can say
about the topic — both because they don’t want to appear too
political and because they feel that they don’t have the skills and
knowledge to talk about the subject effectively.
Swim and her colleagues are working with a nonprofit
group called the Frameworks Institute on a four- to five-month training program in which groups of about 40 of these
educators meet to learn research-based techniques to talk to
their visitors about climate change.
On a simple level, for example, the trainees learn to use
more effective words and metaphors. For example, scientists
often talk about the “greenhouse gas effect” contributing to
global warming. But some research has found that people don’t
The facts of climate change can cause people to feel
anxiety, guilt, anger and hopelessness. So, as with
many things that cause those emotions, people
tend to turn away and ignore the cause rather than
figuring out how to address it.