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The Principles of Climate Communication

Step 1: Frame climate as a public health issue

Emphasize near-term health benefits of climate-change mitigation measures.  For example: Everyone will breathe cleaner, healthier air as we transition away from fossil fuels.

Wild Pond

Step 2: Pick a trusted messenger

People’s values and identities regarding climate change affect who they trust and how they use trusted sources to make choices.  So take some time to figure out who the community puts their trust in.

Snowy Night

Step 3: Tailor your message

People tend to do what they perceive others are doing or should be doing - so make that part of your message.  For example: researchers found that people who were told that their household energy use was less than others used more energy unless they were also told that decreasing energy use is useful.

Clear Water Lake

Step 4: Focus on belonging and empowerment

When people identify with an organization delivering a health message, they are more likely to be persuaded by it.  They are also more likely to share it with others.


Step 5: Co-create with your audience

Don’t assume you know what they need and want - do your research.  Then keep testing and iterating as you go along.

Sunny Backyard

Step 6: Make it visual

Show, don’t tell.  Imagery (pictures and videos) induce stronger emotional responses than words alone, priming people to act.  Visual imagery also helps our brains understand abstract and complex associations, like those between climate and health.


Step 7:  Tell a story

Stories - what scientists call narratives - feel more relevant than statistics and facts.  They create emotion and help us change beliefs.  And they drive behavioral change.


Step 8: Back it up with statistics

Statistics can help earn trust because people perceive them as useful.  But zero in on only the most important information and use plain language to make it easy to understand.

Stacked Wooden Logs

Step 9: Harness emotion

The feelings that wash over us immediately after hearing information are also a kind of information.  For example, people who get worried or are anxious when they think about climate discount information that doesn’t confirm those feelings.  So show them both reasons to be hopeful and how to channel their feelings into demanding action.


Step 10: Get ahead of barriers

Don’t let people get overwhelmed by perceptions of how hard it might be to take action.  For example: think they might assume that action costs too much?  Do the math to show how much money they’ll save over time.

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