Fear, fun or facts? Researchers look at what drives climate action

by Nicole Hoey | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 14 March 2018 17:16 GMT

A billboard for late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert is seen near Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York City. New York, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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It might be a combination of all three, a study suggests

By Nicole Hoey

LONDON, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - What more effectively drives young people to act on climate change – humour, fear or clear facts? The answer might be a combination of all of them, researchers say.

Young Americans are often less politically active on climate issues, either because of a general distrust of government or a sense nothing can be done, said Jeff Niederdeppe, an associate professor of communications at Cornell University.

"Climate change is one of the most important issues of young people's time. It's more than just flicking off the lights at home. We have to engage people," he said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

So he and other researchers set out to discover what might move young people to act on climate change by showing a set of mock weather forecasts developed with Second City, a Chicago improv theatre group that sparked the careers of Steve Carell, Tina Fey and other comedians.

One, which adopted a humorous tone, aimed to copy of the feel of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a late-night comedian many young people turn to as a news source, said Niederdeppe, who works with Cornell's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Other forecasts adopted a threatening or simply neutral tone, he said.

The more matter-of-fact weatherman most successfully helped participants understand the reasons behind climate changes, according to study participants.

But humour was most effective in inspiring people aged 18-24 to take action themselves against climate change, such as joining rallies and volunteering for organisations, Niederdeppe said.

Nonetheless, it was fear that most motivated a desire for broad action on climate change, prompting watchers to say they would contact officials to see if they supported environmentally friendly policies, the study said.

That was true across all the age groups surveyed, he said, not just 18-24-year-olds.

After looking at the results, the researchers now aim to try delivering climate change information with a satirical bite to see if it produces even greater drive for action among viewers, Niederdeppe said.

He believes that local engagement – such as hosting neighborhood climate change meetings and encouraging volunteering on campaigns - combined with social media engagement are the keys to generating political action in young people.

The research was carried out in collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. non-profit group focused on environmental issues. (Reporting by Nicole Hoey ; editing by Laurie Goering : (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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