It is no secret that the greatest divide regarding beliefs of climate-change is a political one. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll “… polarized views about climate issues stretch from the causes and cures for climate change to trust in climate scientists and their research… .” While overall 48% of Americans believe climate change is caused mostly due to human activity, 79% of liberal Democrats agree, but only 15% of conservative Republicans agree. Research has identified differences in demographics, cognitive styles, and ideology between conservatives and liberals. Compared to liberals, conservatives tend to be more religious, ideological and supportive of the status quo.  If we want US policies and actions aimed to reduce green house gas emissions (GHG) and minimize global warming, we need to better understand why there is skepticism among conservatives regarding climate change and re-frame the messaging. Specifically, our messaging needs to be: less apocalyptic, focused on the problem and free market friendly solutions; reframed as a requirement to maintain the “American Way” and be presented by organizations or individuals that can relate to conservatives.
In his article, The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells opens with the caption “Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.” While the article reinforces many of the attitudes and behaviors of current climate change believers, apocalyptic communications may be counter-productive in growing greater support. While recent studies have concluded that use of fear is effective in changing attitudes in behavior; there are caveats. Fear appeals are effective at changing simple behaviors that impact the individual especially when actions are available to protect themselves. Examples include practicing safe sex to prevent HIV or smoking cessation to prevent lung cancer. Using fear appeal to change more complex attitudes and corresponding behaviors related to global warming are more likely to be dismissed with a religiously based “just world” belief mechanism. Individuals need to believe that the world is just; good things happen to good people and vice versa. Projected climate change related events such as widespread famine and severe weather are incongruent with our “just world” belief and is met with skepticism or straight denial.
Climate Change messaging is often prescriptive. For example, the 100 by 50 Act, although technically a congressional bill, is the launching of an ambitious national clean energy campaign. Language in the bill such as “subsidies” and “carbon fee” will strengthen and increase opposition to climate change beliefs and actions. Mandated solutions, restrictive regulatory actions and policies diametrically oppose a conservative ideology of minimizing government intervention and restrictions to a free market. A 2014 study has shown that conservatives are more likely to agree with environmental scientists regarding climate change if “free market friendly” solutions were included in the messaging. With this understanding our messaging must focus on the challenges and consequences and be receptive to innovative solutions that require minimal government intervention similar to the how the organization RepublEcan operates.
While ideology plays a significant role in the perception and disbelief of a range of climate change issues, conservatives’ tendency to support the status quo also contributes to their dismissive attitude regarding climate change. Fossil fuels have dominated the industrial, energy and transportation sectors since the late 19th century. The concept of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy for electricity generation and phasing out fossil fuel powered transportation systems is a significant departure from the existing socio-economic status quo – requiring a complete overhaul of our energy and transportation sectors, two powerful engines of our economy. This departure from the status quo or “system justification” fuels the conservatives’ denial that climate change is actually occurring.  The implication is that the messaging needs to be reframed to include “American” attributes such as: innovation, global leader, and technological superiority. Analogies of past transitions can also be used to show that transformation is American as baseball and apple pie (e.g. Industrial Revolution, US highway Systems, Civil Rights, Information Age).
In closing, the consequences are severe, some government intervention will be required and action to reduce climate change will require a departure from the status quo, but our messaging does not need to emphasize these points. We need to reframe our marketing campaigns and select messengers that are relatable to those that oppose action to reduce climate change and breakthrough their conservative demographic, ideological and cognitive biases and get them to the table – focusing on solving the problem.
– Bill Garland
 Pew Research Center. (2016, October 4). The Politics of Climate. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/the-politics-of-climate/
 Napier, J. L., & Jost, J. T. (2008). Why are conservatives happier than liberals? Psychological Science (0956-7976), 19(6), 565-572.
 Wallace-Wells, D. (2017, July 9). The Uninhabitable Earth. The New Yorker, Retrieved from http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html
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