Talking to new and hard-to-reach groups about climate and the energy transition

One of the best research, groups, and insight for talking with new folks about climate issues is Climate Outreach and the humble and wise George Marshall, who wrote, Don’t Even Think About It.  Marshall’s group has been doing further research for a number of groups in recent years, most recently The Climate Coalition, a network of 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other civil society organisations.   With a campaign focus on engaging new, harder-to-reach audiences, this research focused on people of center-right values. 

Adopt to the new landscape

  • Participants were very distrusting of elites, large institutions and corporations.
  • Amplify trusted local (i.e. non-elite) voices, emphasize the ‘will of the people’, and where there is a positive social norm (e.g. majority support for a policy or issue), highlight it: expert opinion is not currently held in high regard.
  • Identify opportunities for tying in this new found confidence to messages of energy independence and control over the decisions affecting our future.

Places are important – but human relationships even more so

Special places and landscapes are valued, but it is the human relationship to them that matters. What makes people proud of their country is its people, our freedoms and the tolerance we show to each other. People like language that stresses we are all in this together and everyone is doing their bit. Use messaging which speaks to that shared sense of pride in who we are as a people, and which reflects that belief and optimism. ‘Can do’ language (which avoids overclaiming) is empowering and feeds into the respect for people who get on, do something with their lives and make a difference for the better.  “Clean energy can protect the places, people and life we love from climate change” tested well.

Be conscious of how people think about new technologies when talking about the switch to clean energy

The idea of protecting the purity of the family and our environment was a prominent theme. Technology was seen as much a threat to this purity as pollution. Therefore, be careful in the promotion of new technologies (phones, tablets, smart meters, etc.) as part of the solution. These are often seen as taking time away from the family.

Stress continuity, not change

Use language which talks of continuity and familiarity rather than radical and rapid change. Present changes as continuations of previous familiar and accepted improvements in people’s lives. Talk about clean energy as the next step in the steady progress that has made is a successful country.

Promote the ‘simplicity’ of sustainability

We observed a palpable sense of frustration with the pace and demands of modern life – the impact of a 24/7 society on work patterns and new technologies coming between people, families and communities. Family mealtimes were precious moments, a simple pleasure which provided a space where families could come together and return to a timeless ritual and tradition. Emphasize simplicity, and activities and behaviors which provide more opportunities for families to come together.

Make climate messages tangible and meaningful

Climate change was not tangible or ‘front of mind’ for participants. This is a common finding across our research with the general public and is not unique to center-right audiences. This means it is important to anchor campaign messages by foregrounding recognized, tangible, localized issues, such as reducing air pollution. Starting with local, recognized issues can provide a means for opening up conversations about broader longer term environmental issues such as climate change. Make it clear that climate change is important for the same reason that these issues are important: being clean, as well as health and responsibility to future generations.

Nostalgia can be as powerful as a ‘bright future’: position clean energy as a responsibility and duty to those who follow

The feeling that something has been lost was a recurring theme in the discussions. Participants described a sense of sadness that children did not go out and play in nature as they used to. Thoughts about lost traditions became crystallized into a desire to pass on to others the joys and adventures of pre-social media childhoods. Use messaging which links a clean energy future to the opportunities for children to have those same experiences which many people feel nostalgia for.

Focus on the importance of maintaining a ‘balance’

A consistent theme in conversations with the center-right is a desire for balance. This is a ubiquitous frame which this audience wants to see reflected across a wide range of social activity, including but extending beyond climate change policy. For example, changes in the weather can be referred to as the climate being ‘out of balance’. Balance is also a desirable personal value; people should not just take but also give something back to society and the economy.

Be humble with claims about renewables

Positive and ambitious messages were well received in the context of optimism about the nation’s future. However, the “100% clean energy within a generation is 100% possible” message was consistently rejected because ‘100% clean energy’ was not seen as realistic or achievable. In line with findings from our other center-right work, it is important to be honest and open about the benefits and challenges of making the shift to renewables. Ensure messages are moderate and balanced in the claims made for renewable energy. Big claims about the transformation of energy systems may backfire.

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