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Spinning The Climate Message Doesn’t Work

Paul Matthews, Climate Scepticism


For years, climate activists have been concerned and puzzled by the fact that a lot of people don’t agree with them.  In order to rectify this problem, they tried to get the message out about climate change, thinking that if everyone had the correct information, we could all happily live together in a world of onethink and pursue the rapid and drastic political agenda they wish for. They then realised that this naive idea, called the deficit model, didn’t really work: despite an enormous effort from the climate propaganda machine, public concern about climate change and support for action continued its steady decline.

This “problem” is a regular concern at Adam Corner’s blog, Climate Outreach. The next idea was finding the right words: spinning the message in a particular way so that it might appeal to, for example, Conservative voters, or “framing the narrative”, to use the sociology jargon. Unfortunately for them, this doesn’t seem to work either.  A recent paper by McCright et al, discussed previously on these pages, tried framing the climate action story in terms of the economy, security, stewardship and health found that  “Overall, these four positive frames have little to no effect on ACC beliefs”.

This week, there’s an interesting new paper in Nature that finds that however you spin the climate message, it doesn’t make much difference to people’s opinion: Simple reframing unlikely to boost public support for climate policy, by Bernauer and McGrath, based in Zurich. The paper is paywalled, but there is also a university press release, Everyone sees the world through their own prism: “How can public opinion be influenced in favour of climate protection? ETH political scientist Thomas Bernauer explored the question in a recent study. His sobering answer is that there is no magic formula”.  “Someone who has always supported green policies will find their point of view validated by the arguments, whereas those who have always been sceptical about climate change will not be influenced by reasoning based on economic or health grounds.”  

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