Messaging on climate change is difficult. To effectively communicate the threat posed by climate change requires informing audiences about something that is objectively frightening, but not scaring them so much that they tune out altogether or freeze up. Combine this with the increasing politicization of science and you have a recipe for lots of strikes before you get a home run.
Occasionally, though, campaigns hit that sweet spot. Climate 25, so named because it features interviews with 25 experts from a variety of fields, is The Weather Channel’s new educational project, and it approaches the topic of climate change in a thoughtful, nuanced way.
The videos themselves are short – most clock in under two minutes – and simple in a way that’s neither simplistic nor stark. They have a conversational tone, and the black and white photography immediately draws your attention to the emotion in the experts’ faces. Each video features a leader from fields as diverse as defense, business and government sharing their thoughts on climate change.
Climate 25’s About page is carefully crafted, starting out with a gentle reminder that The Weather Channel’s official policy on climate change remains that “we report the science, and the science consistently says climate change is real, humans are causing it, and we must prepare for its effects.” It takes a judiciously apolitical approach to the topic of climate change, presenting the interviews only as opinions “worth listening to and engaging with.”
While some interviews mention the impacts of climate change on the natural world, there is a noticeable focus on the implications of climate change for human beings. Helen Gayle, CEO of Care USA, for instance, describes how climate change-fueled flooding kills livestock in developing nations, creating economic insecurity for residents. Brigadier General Stephen Cheney discusses the effect that climate change will have on the United States’ national security, noting that military bases along the coast are now flooding during high tide events. Former CIA director James Woolsey talks about the steps he’s taken to make his own home more energy efficient.
From a communications standpoint, these are all good things. Research can tell us that connecting climate change to human experiences – and the promise of more human suffering if nothing is done – is more effective at motivating people to act than simply tallying up the toll on ecosystems. We also know that providing people with potential solutions to climate change – a journalistic approach that is discouragingly rare in US network television coverage – encourages action by telling people they can make a difference.
But what is perhaps more remarkable than the content of the message is the messengers themselves. Climate 25 boasts an impressive array of experts from both ends of the ideological spectrum. This is important because, while the issue of climate change is heavily politicized in the United States, research shows that what political leaders say about it can sway public opinion, and people are more likely to trust those with whom they identify. This is particularly true when leaders are proposing solutions that jive with an audience’s ideology. Studies suggest that political conservatives, for instance, are more likely to accept the science of climate change when exposed to ideologically-friendly, free-market solutions like those proposed by R Street Institute President Eli Lehrer.
Including these voices makes it more likely that conservative audiences – who are disproportionately more likely to deny climate change – will take the message seriously.
Climate 25, with its rare combination of effective messengers and the right messages, has the potential to reach an audience that has long eluded advocates of climate action. While its overall impact remains to be seen, it’s truly heartening to see such thoughtful communications from the network.