3.4 A Conservative Approach to Communicating Climate Change

Tuesday, 9 January 2018: 3:00 PM
Ballroom B (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Paul Douglas, Aeris Weather, Eden Prairie, MN

Psychologists tell us that people often dismiss or deny a problem until there’s a viable solution. The topic of climate volatility and weather disruption often elicits a sense of dread and paralysis among the general public. But the solution is increasingly obvious. Like every other business sector, the energy industry is being disrupted – the cost of solar and wind power now often less than traditional fossil fuels. Moving from a centralized, command and control energy-grid paradigm to clean, local and renewable energy sources powering a smart grid is already creating jobs, resilience and energy security. Framing the climate challenge in terms of competition, choice and energy freedom resonates with a more conservative audience. Research shows that emphasizing conservationism (preservation of the gifts and natural resources America has been given) vs. environmentalism (which many interpret as excessive regulation) can be effective. Explaining both threat and opportunity in a way that underscores personal responsibility, free will, market solutions, stewardship, Creation Care and a moral and spiritual responsibility to future generations can help to engage Americans traditionally suspect of government overreach and a perceived threat to individual freedoms.

There’s a growing belief that decarbonization will be driven by economics (lower prices for clean renewables) and energy security, not politics. A clean energy revolution may be the (tail) that ultimately wags the climate change (dog). In an effort to bridge a frustrating partisan divide I wrote a book with Methodist minister and Evangelical Environmental Network President Mitch Hescox, weaving faith and traditionally conservative values into a scientific narrative. The messenger is important: America's meteorologists have a unique opportunity to tailor messaging for their intended audience. Explaining the science in a way that is hyper-relevant, localizing the impact of climate change is critical. But so is framing the challenge in a way that effectively resonates with conservative ideals. Convincing a majority of conservatives that climate change is real and solvable is essential, and inevitable. Iteration, experimentation and the inclusion of personal faith stories into a science-based narrative can help to break down barriers with an audience that often views the scientific method with latent skepticism. Conservatives conserve - this applies to the natural resources that sustain our families and hometowns - an ethos that resonates across all faith groups. Presenting both health-related impacts of air pollution in addition to longer-term climate trends, while emphasizing personal responsibility and a pragmatic, solutions-based approach, may be essential to building the necessary bipartisan consensus capable of effective and sustainable climate action.

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