Mar 5, 2020
How can we communicate about climate change in the most engaging, informative and even persuasive ways? What are the different audiences we need to reach, and how can we craft effective communications for each of them?
Joining David to guide us through the psychology, politics and science of climate change communication we have:
Dr Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
Dr Emily Shuckburgh OBE, Climate scientist and Director of Cambridge Zero
Dr Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Laboratory
Hello, and welcome to Risky Talk, the podcast where we talk about risk and how to talk about risk. I'm your host, David Spiegelhalter, and in this episode we're tackling possibly the most urgent and contentious issue of the day climate change.
Four out of 10 adults on the planet have never heard of climate change. Never heard of it. That's almost 2 billion people.
It's about telling stories as much as it is about showing people facts and figures around the climate science.
A lot of the framing is about loss. Nobody likes losing, right, you can get different responses to people just by changing the frame.
What are the most effective ways to communicate about climate change? A few years ago, I had a crack at it myself, and I co presented a BBC documentary called climate change by numbers. We tried to find entertaining ways to make some of the numbers around climate change come alive. I remember firing a paintball gun in a forest to illustrate Monte Carlo modeling. We were hoping to entertain and inform. But of course, there are lots of groups both individuals and governments who originally want much, much more. They want to achieve major transformational change, changing the way we behave as individuals and changing the way whole industries and economies operate. Now, communication is going to be vital if any of this is going to happen. And my guests today all have skin in the game as climate change communicators themselves and as behavioral scientists studying climate communications, Dr. Emily Shuckburgh is an accomplished mathematician and climate scientist, and also the Director of Cambridge zero. Emily, welcome to Risky Talk.
Thank you, David.
Before I introduce the others, can you give us a quick sense of what your mission is with Cambridge Zero?
So Cambridge Zero is a new initiative of the University of Cambridge which aims to bring all the resources of the university together to help support the delivery of a zero carbon world. So to focus specifically on the solutions.
We're so pleased to have you here. We also have Dr. Sander van der Linden with us. Sander is the director of the Cambridge Social Decision Making Laboratory. Welcome Sander.
Pleasure to be on the show.
Sander, you're a social psychologist. So what kind of topics do you work on that are relevant to climate change?
So I study how people think, feel and act on the issue of climate change. And so that entails how people assess evidence, how they perceive the risk, the emotions that they experience, as well as how people decide whether or not to act on the issue.
And finally, I'm delighted that we've got Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz on the line from the USA. Anthony is the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Welcome, Anthony.
Hi, David. Great to be with you.
So Anthony, what does your work focus on at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication?
Well, two broad things. One is research and the other is public outreach space. On the research side, much like Sander, we study how Americans and other people around the world respond to this issue. So what do they know? And misunderstand? How do they perceive the risks? What kinds of policies they support? What kinds of behaviors are they engaged in? And then what are the psychological, cultural and political reasons why some people get really engaged, others are kind of apathetic, and some are downright dismissive and hostile. And then based on all that research, we also have our own effort to engage the at least the American public with a national radio program we call Climate Connections. And these are 90 second stories - brand new every day Monday through Friday - that play on about 525 stations across the country. And they feature the voices of everyday people from every walk of life, who are either experiencing the impacts of climate change right here right now. Or even more importantly, rolling up their sleeves and taking action to actually address the issue within their own domain or sphere of influence. So great to be with you.
Well, we've got a fantastic panel of guests to discuss these issues. So let's get started.
Can I just stand back a moment and ask: what are you all actually trying to do? I'm chair of the Winton Center in Cambridge and our mantra, which we drone on about the whole time is that we're seeking to inform people, rather than persuade them. We want to empower people to make informed choices. We work in health and all sorts of others areas on informed consent. But, you know, climate change communication is to do with getting people to change their behavior. I mean, am I right in this? And, you know, does this mean it's very different from a lot of the other risk communication that we that we do and we talk about?
If what we're trying to achieve through climate science communications is essentially better informing people so that they make whatever decisions they want to make, then that's one perfectly laudable aim. And there are certain things you might want to try and do in order to make sure that that communication happens as effectively as possible. If what we're really wanting to do is to get people to take a particular course of action and change that behavior in certain ways, then then you might question whether actually telling them about the climate science is the right thing to do in the first place. And so being really clear about what the goal of those communications are...
But do you think people are generally clear?
I think it's often completely mixed up. And I think that's understandable because if you think about the people who are communicating, let's take climate scientists just because I am one. We have been studying, you know, the changing climate, we've seen the changes. I'm a polar scientist, I've seen the changes and the scale of the changes, and it's horrifying and so it's very difficult not to get personally involved and and to want certain outcomes from your communication. Trying to dissociate and step back from that and be as dispassionate as possible is challenging
Sander, is it okay to use these behavioral science techniques have been developed for behavior change in the context where you're perhaps more trying to change attitudes?
Yeah, I have two big thoughts on that. The first thing I tell all my undergraduate students in in my influence class, is that we're constantly influencing each other, whether we like it or not. With every word that you say, there are unintended consequences that you could not have anticipated on somebody else. Every time somebody comes to class, they hear things and they're influenced one way or another, either because I intend to by showing them evidence or talking about studies or psychology, or by accident, and every time they tell a story to somebody else, they're either intentionally or unintentionally influencing people all the time. So I think the influence process is part of being human. But what we want to do is, is do that in an ethical way and I think that's the key issue. People think stuff all the time and people don't know what other people are thinking, if I reveal to you what other people are thinking, and that influences your behavior, or you change your behavior, that has nothing to do with the information that I gave you! I just told you objectively what other people are doing. And I think that's an interesting distinction to draw. Now, the kind of explicit behavior change stuff like Do we want people to change? I think it's a moral question of what what as a society we decide is normative. We don't want people to steal stuff. And we do change people's behavior when they steal stuff. And we all think that's okay. If we decide we want to do the same for climate change, and maybe that's an ethical thing to do.
Yeah. And I think we have to talk about ethics and in this area. In what situations is it reasonable to try to persuade somebody of a fact? That's correcting a misunderstanding, perhaps that seems fairly reasonable. But actually, there's a reason for doing that. And I'm sure when you do your studies, your your some of your outcome measures might include things like intentioan and attitude and things like that. Which then actually reveal perhaps the aim of what you're doing. Tony, how do you feel on this business of informing versus persuading?
Yeah. So I think it's important to recognize the messenger as well as the role that they're in because of the context they're in. So context is always king. If a woman goes into see her doctor, and the doctor runs a bunch of tests, and the doctor comes back and says, I'm sorry, Mrs. Smith, but I have to inform you that you have cancer. That's a fact. But that's a fact that comes with an enormous amount of weight, right, a enormous amount of emotional reaction to your concern, and perhaps motivation to do something about that. And then the doctor can follow up with a subsequent set of facts. And here are three different choices of you know, a prescription, it could be chemotherapy, could be something else that we want, that you need to know to are the options and that's informing the people of what those choices are. That seems to me a really nice example of what we think of as the prototypical scientists job in this issue is to inform the public inform policymakers, informed decision makers, here is the threat. Here's the danger that we face now with this thing called climate change. And moreover, let's not stop there, here are the range of potential solutions that can be done. That seems entirely appropriate. But the other thing to say here is that scientists are also citizens. And it is entirely okay and appropriate for a scientist to say, Okay, I'm going to wear a different hat now. And I'm going to speak as a citizen who happens to be a particularly informed citizen because I happen to study this issue,
but they hide you know, whether Do they know which hat he's wearing, because again, you know, when you hear somebody talking all day, which hat are they wearing, when they're being a scientist that isn't there some issue about, you know, the scientific view with that all that all authority, just carrying over into advocacy so easily.
Yes. And that's I think back to Emily's point is where it's actually incumbent upon scientists to try to make that clear to their audiences when they're speaking as a scientist that is trying to be true to the data and the evidence as best they can, even if that's inconvenient, versus what their ambitions are as a citizen that happens to care about the future that we all are going to live in together.
Okay, so on to say, Tell me how a company might use psychology in order to change their customers behavior.
Yeah. So this is what Robert Cialdini, who's a social psychologist called ethical influence. And and the way they do this is so, O Power was a famous example of an energy company. And you might ask, why would an energy company actively encourage their customers to consume less energy? But there were startup and they were, you know, more inclined to do something about about climate change. And so they basically gave customers a bill and on that bill, there was comparative information about the level of energy that their close neighbors were consuming. So people saw their own consumption relative to that of their neighbors. And they found that people would adjust their own energy consumption to the level of their neighbors, which is kind of conforming with the local norm. And again, they weren't telling people what they should be doing with their lives. But that is just a behavior that emerged. And later they found that sometimes this doesn't really work. When if somebody is doing well, and they're consuming less energy, and they found out to do much better than their neighbors, they start to backslide and conform to the opposite. But they find out if they put a smiley face on the building, you're doing good, that reinforces the behavior and just a small incentive like that actually had an enormous effect. Well, the effect actually was small was about a 1% to 2% increase. But when you scale that across all of the hundreds of thousands of customers, it really added up. And they think that's ethical because we're just revealing actual information to people. And that's why I'm always confused when people say that knowledge doesn't matter, because what we're doing in those experiments is just exposing people to information they hadn't considered before - that is what other people are actually doing. And then, you know, to the last point, David, your point about about wearing different hats. When I give a talk I always ask the audience, because I'm generally interested in this is whether they want scientists to advocate for evidence based policy. Because ultimately, you know, scientists are paid often by tax dollars. And if the public wants us to advocate for science and evidence based policy, if that norm is changing, then maybe that's legitimate for scientists to start considering doing that. But if the public doesn't want it, that's another story. Right? We can have a conversation, but it's kind of interesting that scientists talk about it, but we less often ask the public about what they want from scientists.
But there's a difference between advocating for evidence to be used in Policymaking, which I think no one would disagree with, and advocating for a particular policy, which I think is not you know, many might consider is going beyond the role of many of scientists.
Okay, that's a fair that's a fair point. I think most scientists would advocate a range of, as Tony was saying plausible solutions to climate change. And then we have to communicate the benefits and harms and debate each of these solutions to see which one is going to be best. But you know, what does best means you know, it's good for some people and bad for other people. That's a very complex political question.
Winners and losers?
Winners and losers. That's right.
Okay, so we agree that communicating about climate change involves informing different audiences, both about the science and the potential options available, but can also involve ethical persuasion, at least to get people to take notice of the issue and not be misled by false claims. Now, the next step is to learn about the different audiences so we can tailor different communications. So first, we need to shut up and listen! What do we know about the attitudes of different groups of people towards climate change? What do they know already? What do they worry about, what's driving their attitudes? Anthony, I know you've done a lot of work on this in the USA. Can you kick us off here?
Sure, well, actually, I'm going to work at many different levels. So let me take the global scale. And first few key things that we need to understand from that perspective. One is that the United States and the UK and Australia and Canada are outliers. These are the only countries where you really find an organized climate denial movement. And so yes, we tend to fixate on, you know, this debate over the science quote, unquote, debate. But that's, you gotta understand that's really primarily limited to these four English speaking countries. But more importantly, at the global scale, we found that four out of 10 adults on the planet have never heard of climate change. Never heard of it. That's almost 2 billion people. And that's despite decades of science. You know, all the scientific reports the geopolitical meetings, the COPS, you know, the big international conferences on climate change. Despite all that, nearly 40% of the of the world have never heard of it. And that can be as high as two thirds or even three quarters of certain pop certain countries like say Bangladesh, poster child of climate vulnerability, two thirds of Bangladeshis have never heard of it. Which is not to say they're not keenly aware of changes in their local climate, they are because people are exquisitely attuned to these changes, because often their lives depend on it there. They may be subsistence farmers, for example. But what they lack is the concept of climate change, to make sense of those changes that are happening around them. And even more importantly, they don't have the concept of climate change, to help them make an informed their decisions going forward. These are countries that are building entire new cities. You know, where do we build them? Where do we site our hospitals, our schools, our roads, to what tolerance should we be building? What crops are we going to grow in our country, if you're making those decisions without the benefit of understanding the risks of climate change, you're probably putting your money in on some really bad bets. So anyway, that's just a global perspective, that's really important. Last thing, just to say, though, is that we also see a huge north south divide the developed world far more aware of climate change the developing world, much less so. But when you ask how personally at risk are you have the impacts of climate change, we find the opposite pattern that people in the developed world like the UK, like the US, like most of Europe, etc, say, not so much, it's not going to affect me, it's mostly going to impact people in places far away. Whereas people in the developing world who at least are aware of the issue, among those people, they're very concerned, much more concerned than people in the developed world, and quite rightly, because they are in most cases, much more vulnerable, and much less resilient to the impacts.
Fascinating to hear about that international perspective, but of course, we do hear a lot of bad You know the arguments and the contested opinions in in for example the US. So how do people break into different groups in the US?
so many years ago we started a project that we call global warming six America's. Back to your principles of core communication - the first principle is know your audience! That's why you shut up and listen, because you want to know who your audiences. So, who are they? Because only once you understand who that audience is, can you then structure your communications in a way to meet them where they are? Not where you are. Okay, I cannot stress that enough. How do you meet and engage people where they are. And in the US, we've identified these six Americans and they range on a spectrum from a group called the Alarmed - fully convinced it's happening human caused urgent strongly support action. It's about 31% of the country today. Then the Concerned who are also convinced is happening human caused and serious but still tend to think that the impacts is far away in time and space. So it doesn't seem as urgent than a group called the Cautious still on the fence. Is it real or not? Then a group called the Disengaged who's basically like many other people around the world, like, I don't think I even know anything about this. I've never heard of climate change. And then a group we call the Doubtful These are people who say, it's probably not real, but if it is, it's natural, just natural cycles, nothing we can do anything about. And then last but not least, at about 10% of the American public are what we call the Dismissive, who are firmly convinced it's not real. It's not human caused, it's not serious. And moreover, the great majority of whom literally are conspiracy theorists. They say it's a hoax. It's scientists making up data. It's a UN plot to take away American sovereignty. It's a get rich scheme by Al Gore and his friends and many other such narratives. But the critical thing to just end with here is that that's only 10%, but there are a really loud 10%. They're a really vocal 10% that's more than well represented in our government, and they have tended to dominate the Public Square to such an extent that they've actually intimidated most of the other 90% of the population into not talking about the issue. And if nobody talks about it, then it's very difficult as a society to say, yes, this is a crucial urgent issue to address. So that basic element of communication, talking about the issues turns out to be one of the foundational gaps in at least the United States and I would suggest in many other countries around the world.
Can I just briefly go over to ask Emily about how that compares with the situation UK, I think with these different tribal groups, how does that is that reflected in the UK as well?
I think it probably is, to an extent, right. I'm a climate scientist by background. So I spent much of the last 25 years trying to try to get over the message of climate science around the risks associated with climate change, and it has undoubtedly been quite frustrating at times to cut through some of the some of the rhetoric And and the vested interest and so forth. And I guess some of the things that that we've been hearing here about the different groups that I mean, I know that probably the percentages are a bit different, but it's still it's still a similar, so all sorts of different types of people
Anthony, we're talking about in our education and climate science and things like that. How much is this a matter of knowledge and understanding in the different groups?
So it depends. Here's where we're going to get into the psychology, because we also find there's a fair amount of motivated reasoning going on at the extremes.
Can you explain what that means?
Of course, so at least in the United States, and I daresay in the UK as well, one of the major drivers of this is politics. Okay, I know I'm breaking news here. But, you know, the politics is really, really toxic. If this issue, climate change is now more politically polarized in the United States than issues like abortion. So where basically democrats and liberals are very, very concerned about climate change and want to take aggressive action. And basically conservative Republicans dismiss it, it's still a common refrain that this is not a problem at all. So politics is a big part of it. Even deeper than that are commitments to value systems, a deeper worldview, which we label as egalitarian worldview versus an individualistic or a radical, individualistic worldview. But here's the critical caveat, that that's really driven by those people at either ends of the spectrum, the Alarmed who tend to be much more egalitarian and concerned about climate change, and the Dismissive who are much more in that radical individualism perspective. For them this is about their identity. This is about their deep moral value commitments about their visions of a preferred society. And, and as a result, they're deeply motivated to cherry pick, interpret the evidence in such a way that seems to reinforce their basic conclusions about the way the world should work. So if you're anti government, you just inherently believe that all government is bad, that there's too much taxation, too much regulation, government's too big we, in the famous words or infamous words of Grover Norquist here in the United States who said, "I want to shrink government to the size that I can drown it in a bathtub". If that's your worldview, then you see climate change as the mother of all threats, right? Because it's it is this giant collective action problem. There's no way that through our individual actions collectively we can solve this. We have to do this through system change. And one of the major ways that we do major structural change in our societies is government. Yes, they often will argue about the science but yes, scratch below the surface. And what you find is really going on what they're often really motivated by is this deep fear that this is going to lead to bigger government, which is again a violation of their deeper held values.
So is there a group for whom improving of knowledge and understanding through better communication you think might actually change their opinion?
Absolutely. So what knowledge are we talking about? The Alarmed are highly motivated right now to take action, but they don't know what to do. Okay, as a community, we've done a far better job with that group of explaining the threat, then we have the solutions. And so one of the key things that we really try to emphasize is how important it is to give people, not just the solutions, but what's called in psychological terms, a sense of efficacy. There's a deep literature here about how important is to give people solutions that they know of, that they have the ability to enact those solutions, and most importantly, that if they do them, it will make a difference. So one communication need is to communicate to the Alarmed and even the Concerned, here are the things that you can do. But to the other groups that are mostly in the middle, they really just don't know that much about the issue. There is still a need to basically communicate five key facts. Okay, and through our work, we think it basically comes down to the five key facts that everybody ought to know. And moreover, we boiled those down to just 10 keywords, friend of mine converted them to a haiku. So I'll give you that one.
Scientists agree. It's real. It's us. It's bad. But there's hope.
That's basically what everyone needs to know. You know, if you're managing water resources, you need to know a whole lot more about climate change, no question. But for most people, they're going to have limited shelf space devoted to this issue or any complex issue, frankly. And those are the basics.
Sander does this reflect your experience as well?
Yeah, I mean, Tony and I do a lot of research together. And I would agree with that on a lot of levels. Perhaps a good way to think of it is that is that knowledge is often necessary but not sufficient for people to act on information. And you know, from everything in psychology, we know that people are experiencers rather than analytical processers, most of the time. And and that's important to keep in mind, I think when when we try to educate people on this issue. And there are people who are motivated in their beliefs. And and I think, you know, it's good to realize that these are normal processes. To some extent, our attention is selective. That's the way the brain reacts to information. David, if, if you didn't make choices about what's important to you on a daily basis, life would get very complicated if you try to consume everything that comes at you. And so we are inherently selective in what we choose to attend to. But when that gets into overdrive, and people attach political beliefs and motivations to really distorting reality to how they view the world, and as Tony rightly said, I think you find those people at the extremes, not so much in the middle. And I think that perhaps the hopeful takeaway from that is that people in the middle are receptive to certain kinds of evidence when appropriately communicated, but perhaps people on the extremes are more difficult and that is a challenge because it because they do have an outsized influence on the climate debate in places like the US, Australia and perhaps also the UK.
Yeah, Emily, I mean, you do a lot of communication. How do you tailor your messages to these different audiences, I was thinking of extremes on both sides, who are extremely vocal?
So I do a lot of communications to business leaders, people in the financial sector, etc. And in that professional context, if I'm presenting the climate science, I've always found that people are very receptive because I think that in that professional context, they, they perhaps are more accepting of taking on board facts in a rational way, than they might be in other contexts. And oftentimes that I've seen that follow through into actual action as a consequence of that. If you're talking more generally in a different setting where people are less in that sort of rational frame of mind, then then I have as I said earlier, I've always found that really critical thing is to make things relevant to people's lives. And and actually, in both circumstances, it's about telling stories as much as it is about showing people the facts and figures around the climate science.
And you co-authored one of the Ladybird Expert series on Climate Change with Tony Juniper and Prince Charles as well! So that aims to be very simple and accessible. Given the complexity of climate science. How do you start doing that?
Well, I said there were two things around that. We hadthe whole of the IPCC - the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change report - condensed down into 26 pages of 200 words, which was quite a challenge in itself!
200 words altogether or each page!?
Every page! But, coming back to our earlier points about segmenting the audiences, we very much didn't want that book to be preaching to the converted. So we wanted to be reaching sectors of society that wouldn't ordinarily be, you know, thinking about climate change as an issue. And so we were very careful in terms of the language that we used to make sure that it would be appealing to those audiences.
Climate Science is complicated. So what are the particular issues that present a real challenge in communicating to people?
I think the overwhelming thing that has been difficult to communicate to people about climate change is the fact that for many people at a scene, like being seen as a distant problem, so either distant in terms of something will happen long into the future, or distant in terms of something that happens to people who live elsewhere rather than to them personally, and then it comes back to whether or not they feel personally at risk. I think one of the things that's been really interesting over the last 18 months or so, if we've seen the rise of Greta Thunberg and the school strikes and so forth, is that that has been a way of making what seemed like a very distant problem much more immediate, because these are young people who are saying, hang on a minute, this isn't a distant problem for us. This is our future at stake. And so it's almost giving a visual representation to something that we've been struggling for a very long time from the climate science community to try to be able to explain.
Climate science uses models that making predictions about the future and there's a lot of uncertainty about what's going to happen. How do you face up to that and in telling people about that?
Well, as you know, - all those words that you just said, 'uncertainty', you know, it's inherent in what we do from a scientific analysis perspective. And yet there's something that is very difficult to communicate and you have to be very careful to ensure that things are not lost in translation, that what we're trying to explain from the climate science side of things isn't interpreted incorrectly by people. So a lot of the times when we talk about 'uncertainty' people hear that we don't know what we're talking about. And somehow we've got to make sure that we're that we don't mean that at all.
How do you best do that?
Well, you're the expert!
But if say, oh, it's only a model, it's only a theory. You know, you run models many times and always get different answers, different predictions about what's going to happen? You know, how can you have any confidence in what's going to happen in the future?
Yeah. So I, I do think that this is about creating a whole narrative. So there are some things that we absolutely know. And we can observe, and for some people, that is the most compelling thing. So for example, one thing that I always start off my scientific presentations on is a description of the ice cores that we drill in Antarctica, because what happens is that the air gets trapped in the snow as it falls. And then that means when we drill down through the ice, you can recover the actual air that was in the atmosphere, up to a million or so years ago in the past, and we can analyze it. So that's actual data. And and through that, we can see how the climate has naturally changed over hundreds of thousands of years. And that's a question that I often used to get asked. People used to say, well, hasn't the climate always changed? And it has! But we can also see how different that the levels of carbon dioxide in the past were compared to today's levels. And to demonstrate that today's climate change is vastly outside the natural cycle of change. So I think it's those sorts of things. And if I'm able to actually take samples of ice cores, into public audiences, and if people are actually able to hold the bits of ice core themselves and listen to the bubbles burst and the ice, then somehow they find that even more compelling because they've had that personal interaction with the evidence base. So I think some of those aspects are really important for grounding and building up a sense of trust. People are used to, you know, trusting things based on their own intuition and experiences. So if you can give people a sense of that, then I feel that they are more likely to take on trust the things that they don't have the ability to be able to actually test for themselves.
Exactly. These are facts that you're trying to communicate. But when you're doing the models, we have a lot of uncertainty about the future. I'm really interested in just what kind of language you might use to a fairly naive audience, when describing the fact that you do run models many times and they come up with different conclusions, and that gives you some idea of what the risks are?
Yeah, but I think that keep that word is key risks. So I think people, you know, people are used to risks in their everyday life on a in a way that I think they're less used to using the terminology of uncertainty. So I think that I think describing things in in terms of the risks is a much more understandable it fits in more with people's sense. of how the world works than if we start talking in a scientific way about the uncertainty on future projections.
So you don't express certainty about what's going to happen?
But some people do! So the languages is of risk?
Can I springboard off that? So yeah.
Yes, I was about to come back to you.
So first of all, I want to make a broader point. And that is that the climate community, and it's mostly because it originally came out of climate scientists, I think, have allowed the opponents of action to push them into a really unfair double standard. I mean, we're talking about making big social, economic and political decisions. Why is climate science policy being held to a completely different and much higher standard of evidence than all of our other massive social decision making? We're more certain about the the reality and the causes and the impacts of climate change than we are about cigarette smoking, harming human health. And yet as societies, we make huge decisions like - let me just take our good friends sitting there in the UK - you're about you are in the middle of taking a massive experiment in Brexit! Do you have that all completely modeled out? Are you completely certain of exactly what's going to happen?
And there are many, many, many decisions, economic decisions, political decisions. I mean, we went to war in Iraq....! Nobody had that certainty. And yet for some reason, our community has allowed the other side to demand that we need to have 100% certainty about the future projected by climate change, or climate science, in order to make a decision. That's ridiculous. We don't assume that level of certainty in any any major decision that we make in our personal lives, let alone our national live. So I think we just we totally screwed that up. The second is that that language of risk does open the conversation with specific audiences. So Emily mentioned this with Business audiences, I've found this with, say, leaders in the financial industry. These are people who live and die based on risk. And when you explain that climate change is uncertain, and that in fact, when we look at these projections, there are what we call fat tails. You know, yes, there are our best projections. And right now, we think that the central tendency best projection is that if we continue on current paths, the world will warm by three to three and a half degrees centigrade by the end of the century. That's just the best estimate. The fact is, is that there's this long tail where there's probably a 5 to 10% chance that it could be runaway climate change, with temperatures going much, much higher than that which would be completely catastrophic, not that three degrees is any picnic. And when you explain that concept to people in the financial industry, they immediately get it because they say, look, if there was something out there that had a 5% or 10% chance of killing my company, or killing my investment, I would do everything possible to hedge against that. Okay. And just to put this in very concrete terms, if one out of every 20 airplanes exploded in midair, Would any of us fly? And yet, that's essentially the risk that we're taking with the one planet, the one spacecraft, if you will, that we all have.
Okay, let's just take stock for a moment. We've heard that business audiences understand the language of risk and probability. And the groups in the middle, the Cautious and the Disengaged, who tend not to know that much about climate, they're responsive to learning about evidence and to being informed. And we've also heard about the Alarmed - this group most worried about climate change - and they want clear guidance about what to do what actions to take, they need to feel that there's things they can do, that will really make a difference. But what about the Dismissive, you know, that group, you know, maybe 10%, who are skeptics? We've heard about the politics and values associated with that view. But how do you tailor messages towards them? Sander?
Yeah, so we've been we've been doing quite a bit of research on on what facts are so called non polarizing facts. What facts do people accept in a way that doesn't drive people further apart on the issue? And we found through lots of studies, actually, is that when we stress that over 97% of climate scientists, based on the evidence, have concluded that human caused - *human caused* - climate change is happening, most people are willing to accept that fact because because one you're not asking asking them to overhaul their worldview entirely. You're just asking them to accept the fact that scientists think that global warming is happening. But it seems to be a gateway to opening up a larger conversation without necessarily telling people that they're wrong in their beliefs right out the gate. And so it's an interesting position to start a conversation. And we found that that's quite successful across the political spectrum. And I think it's also interesting because it's it's what Tony was saying earlier about, you know, maybe people aren't necessarily denying the science - there's something called solution aversion, that people are averse to the solutions that are being proposed based on the science and I think decoupling that is helpful - it's not so much that people are really hating on the science, it's more what the science implies for them politically. And I think the scientific consensus is a nice way to actually decouple that and and there we're actually stressing certainty. I mean, there is a margin of error around the 99% is that we have some colleagues who engage in this debate rising 99 99.9% or 97%. But the big point is that it's it's most scientists. And that's just on the issue of whether humans are contributing to climate change. So we're not talking about the complex future predictions and all the uncertainty, that's a nice sort of isolated case where you can say, actually, there's a lot of certainty not uncertainty, but certainty on that particular fact. And, and people seem quite ready to, to accept that fact. And then they're a little bit more open to other ideas about climate change as well.
How can you reduce this idea of distance that Emily and Tony have talked about that where people feel Oh, well, it's a long way away, it's the other side of the world has nothing to do with me, even though they might believe that this is actually happening?
Yeah, it's a great question. I think Emily made a great point by you know, by bringing the actual ice into into the lecyure - not you know, not in the sense of seeing global warming. here's, here's the, here's an ice ball. But you know, in the sense of actually educating people about the science. Because the human brain - we wrote this this paper a while back where we had five lessons for people and this is the first one is - that the human brain privileges experience over analysis. And that's you know, people learn through intuition and through experience and if they can actually experience the evidence in a concrete way that's just a much more powerful way for people to learn. I love this quote from Mark Twain who once said, you know, "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way." [LAUGHTER] Now, you should never carry a cat by the tail, right? But it gets the point across. What I also like is, if I ask you to judge what peanut butter tastes like - without ever having tasted peanut butter, but you have to judge it based on the ingredient list. It's a very difficult thing for people to do, right you experience the world and that's how how we gather knowledge. And in a way scientific consensus, if you think of in the Bayesian way, it's also a form of experience sampling. And we have another paper about the 'experience of consensus' disucssing wjhen you show people (and john oliver has a really funny segment where he brings out 97 scientists on stage), when you experience the numbers, that's how people come to think of what that actually means. And local impacts, I think that's the other thing I would say, you know, when you have the opportunity and when science is such that you you can actually relate local trends and changing weather patterns to climate change, pointing out for people locally, what the impacts are, but also how they can locally implement knowledge about what to do about it. And that's the thing about local knowledge. I think those are those are sort of key key points.
And what about, you know, people just not wanting to give things up, you know, why should I lose, you know, lose something for some rather ill defined benefit sometime in the future?
Yeah, that's another great one. And again, that paper that's that's kind of one of the lessons that we attack is the gain versus loss framing. Because the whole climate change debate and, - and when we sort of distilled the literature and started thinking about this - a lot of the framing is about loss. Nobody likes losing, right. This is not a good beneficial frame for people to think about if climate change to you just means having a loose things, having to change your behavior and make sacrifices, you know, lose land lose, you know, income, sacrifice all sort of things. That's not a very nice way for people to engage people really. And so you could take the same issue and use a gain frame instead of a loss frame. Of course, Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize Laureate, psychologist and Prospect Theory who has done a lot of research on this kind of shows that you can get different responses to people just by changing the frame. So if instead, you say the people, this is not, you know, if we act on climate change, and if we invest in it, then, you know, this is the this is the loss of national income per head per capita, that's a loss for and that doesn't sound good as a policy proposal. But if you reframe that as a foregone gain, saying, This is what you would have gained because it goes up every year, but now you're gaining a little bit less, you're still gaining, and that's that's a good thing, right? And so just that simple tweak in framing can mean a lot to how people perceive an issue.
So building off that one thing - as I said at the start, I've taken over, I'm Director of Cambridge Zero, which is all focused around solutions. And one thing that has been really interesting to me is how that changing in framing from being climate scientists talking about the doom and gloom of the future of the world to a more hopeful frame, focused on the solutions, completely changes the picture! We have, you know, the amount of energy and excitement and enthusiasm that we're starting to generate of people wanting to be involved. And I think it's particularly when it's involved down at a local level again, so that was things that they can actually do and get involved in, itt really starts to smoke snowball, and it completely changes the whole dialogue. We've seen in Cambridge, how that can also be about getting people excited in the innovation process itself. So one example there. We have in the engineering department, they're working on developing electric planes and next generation aviation and they're all excited because one of the challenges in the aviation sector is it normally takes decades to develop any new aircraft and engine or aircraft design. And we don't have decades. So what they've been doing is they've been taking innovation techniques from Formula One, and bringing those into the lab. And and by doing that, they they claim to have reduced the research innovation and development timescale by a factor of 100! Now, you can imagine how exciting that is for an engineer. And so they are all super excited about getting involved in that. So it's not just the product itself, it's also the innovation process. That becomes very exciting. On the food example, the University's catering service, looked to see how they could reduce their carbon footprint and one of the biggest ways you can reduce carbon footprint is by removing ruminant means and so that's what they did. But it wasn't just that they removed ruminant meats they also looked at the way in which the food was being presented as options and as a consequence, reduced the footprint of the catering service by some 30% But now, other outlets in the university - catering managers and all the colleges - are starting to get excited about how to do this too. And so in my own college, the catering manager, you know, every time I see him, I go into college, he's been sending his chefs off on vegetarian training courses and winning competitions for the vegetarian offerings they're serving up. He even started trying to serve insects the other day in the college didn't go down too well. But this is about doing something different and a bit innovative. And he's been given more freedom than he's ever been given before to do things differently. And he's finding it very exciting. And he's getting - you know, we're coming down to your smiley faces - he's getting awards for doing it. And suddenly he's the, you know, the most popular kid on the block kind of thing. And that's where I think, what's interesting on all of this is that none of the whole climate science motivation almost gets lost in the story. And everyone gets wrapped up in actually, this is an exciting, innovative, creative, new way of doing things.
And you feel that that could work across a wide range of different audiences?
I feel like it does. And I think critical things are the positive framing, that is hope. And somebody mentioned earlier the sense of efficacy because you know, you're involved in the solutions you got you yourself can be it can can contribute in a meaningful way to it, that seems to be important, as well. And and then it building up a sense of collective momentum as well, that this is a positive future.
I would love to springboard off of that. So. So I want to go back just a moment to what Sander was saying very rightly, about the power of experience and that the brain does privilege experience over analysis. But also, you don't have to rely on one's own direct experience. Okay. I mean, if it did, we never would have survived because we'd all have eaten the poison berries. Right. The point of this is that it's also about vicarious experience. That we can learn from each other and the most powerful way that human beings have ever created to communicate from my experience to your, to your understanding, is a story. So if I tell you a story, don't eat that berry, because one of our tribal members ate that and they died horribly, you will never eat that berry without having to actually do it yourself, right and have to having the experience itself. And when it comes to climate change, that's our challenge is that we can't wait for everybody to personally be harmed by climate change to take action because by that time, we're, we're over committed to really serious problems. This there's huge lag times in this. So vicarious experience becomes important. And that's going to bring me back to this radio program I mentioned before, called Climate Connections, because what we're doing with that is hearing the voices of everyday people telling the stories about how they are personally already being harmed right here right now. So it's Not distant, but also the stories of the people who are taking action and making a difference. And so let me just start, I'll just use this story as an example, because it does actually help address some of the larger challenges that we talked about. And that's in the American state of Georgia, there's a utility called Georgia Power that is pretty much got a monopoly over most of the electricity market in the state. Monopolies are great business model. I highly recommend it if you can get one. And they had set the rules so that homeowners who put solar panels on their roof could not sell their electricity into the grid. Why would you want the competition? So in that state, the Sierra Club environmental group partnered with the Atlanta Tea Party. Let me say that again. The Sierra Club partnered with the Tea Party - this far, right libertarian kind of a group - to fight those regulations and they beat them twice. And now homeowners can sell their solar panel generated electricity into the grid. So why would these two groups partner like this? The Sierra Club - easy to understand bunch of greenies tree huggers - they care about climate change, okay? Why would the Tea Party do this when they don't even believe that climate change is real? Because this particular solution, putting put solar panels on your roof aligned with our underlying values of individual liberty, individual freedom, self-reliance, who is some company or some government to tell me what I can and cannot do with my own home? Why should I not be able to participate in the free market if I'm producing surplus electricity, okay. And that is an example of the art of politics. How can you find those policies that can attract the support of completely different groups who will support it for completely different reasons, but the point is, is that you got the policy passed, and in fact, those groups went on to find other things to work on together. They don't agree about lots of stuff, but they have since become affectionately known as the Green Tea Party!
That's amazing. Great, great story. Great story.
Well, we've covered a lot today, we've talked about deciding the aims of the communication and listening to different audiences, crafting tailored messages, and some of the challenges and even solutions to communicating complex climate science, and how insights from psychology can be used by policymakers and others to encourage engagement and understanding and even behavior change, provided it's all a form of ethical persuasion. And that brings us to the end and it's time to say a real thank you to my great guests - Emily Shuckburgh, Sander van der Linden and Anthony Leiserowitz - and to say goodbye from me and the Risky Talk team.