From Fear to Action: Effective Strategies for Communicating Climate Change

Diego Magno

Communications expert and Cornell Professor Lauren Chambliss talks to Alison Gregory about the history of climate change communication and how to engage yourself and others to respond to the biggest environmental crisis of our era.

A community group of ten people are planting an urban garden in the town center. Research on climate change communication strategies suggests images of climate solutions with real people are more compelling.

Community group works on an urban gardening project in Milwaukee, WI. By VitusKonter, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

The percentage of people worldwide who believe climate change is real – and understand it is caused by human activity – continues to rise steadily. Most Americans now acknowledge that it is happening, and they know why. But still, many people are disinclined to talk about it with family or friends and feel helpless to take action that will make a difference in our warming world. 

For many decades, climate change was easier to ignore.

“It seemed like a very distant and far away issue,” says Lauren Chambliss, a communication professor at Cornell University and former communication director for a sustainability center, in a conversation on AreaHub’s Climate Clear Podcast.  “We were told by scientists that we weren't going to see the impacts for many, many years.”

But while wildfires singe California, sea level rise affects coastal homes in Miami, and storms worsen everywhere, climate change is no longer a future concern. It’s immediate. 

Pressing as it may be, discussing climate change is only compelling when handled with care. 

Education and Awareness are Important For Realizing Environmental Risks#

Chambliss says the most important thing is education and awareness. Recognizing the environmental risks surrounding you and how they impact you (AreaHub Reports can help you discover potential climate and environmental hazards in your community), makes it easier to realize how close climate change actually is. The connection between climate change and current impacts are things you can bring up more easily with family and friends because they are experiencing them, too.

“The things we’re seeing are right in our backyard, the floods, the droughts, the wildfires,” Chambliss says, “All these things are here, happening now, and we're already having to deal with them.”

Personal Agency is Key to Combat Climate Change#

Communicating climate change comes with the responsibility of discussing a solution. Personal agency is key in achieving this, whether it’s being mindful of energy use or buying a fuel-efficient car. “Once you know what's happening around you, you can respond to it on a personal level,” says Chambliss.

Chambliss hopes to combat the traditional, fearmongering depiction of climate change. When environmental issues are concerned, people often feel that there is not much they can do to make a difference.

 “I really want to push back against that because we do have solutions,” Chambliss says. By framing climate change positively, and discussing it in light of uplifting, feasible change, the topic becomes palatable. “[Don’t] be despondent about it, but see that there are places to act, see that there are ways to make a difference,” says Chambliss.

Everyone Has a Role to Play in Dealing With Climate Change#

Chambliss says everyone has a role to play, big or small, for the good of the next generation. She suggests pushing for change at the policy level by voting for politicians who make climate change a priority. And make changes to your lifestyle – whether purchasing an electric vehicle or insulating your house – and let your friends and family know what you are doing and why, she advises.  Even though your individual actions may seem small, they are a part of the societal and political shift toward dealing with climate change. 

“Whatever is the particular area that you care about, get involved because that's how you, how we, make long-term differences.”

Links from the Episode & Other AreaHub Resources: