Type “climate change” into any search engine and the results aren’t difficult to predict: you’ll probably see a woeful polar bear on a shrinking patch of ice. Either that or cracked, parched earth. But a new paper published in Global Environmental Change questions the power of nature to motivate climate action.
“Frequently, visual and verbal stimuli used in the media to describe threats of climate change feature plants, animals, and other typical nature depictions,” said Sabrina Helm, associate professor of retailing and consumer science at the University of Arizona and lead author of the paper. “However, for people who are more concerned about possible effects on themselves, their family, or people in general … such stimuli may not be effective.”
Egoistic and social-altruistic respondents “did not seem to perceive climate change threats as having a profound effect on their own or their families’ life,” the scientists wrote in the paper.
This finding is also backed up by other psychological studies.
“We summarize that policymakers frequently emphasize climate change as a global, distant, and abstract societal risk,” said Sander van der Linden, a researcher at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, who was not involved in the study. Pointing to the constant use of polar bears as an avatar for climate change, van der Linden said: “Instead, we recommend that policymakers should change their approach to emphasizing the local, present, and concrete aspects of climate change as a personal risk.”
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