Empowering Each Other In Our Climate Advocacy

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This training aims to help volunteers understand the barriers that might be preventing more of your people to get involved and reveals the three part "bond, connect, and inspire" model to use Dr. Hayhoe’s framework in your own climate conversations and empower friends and community members to engage in climate advocacy on their terms.


TOC and Guide Section

As individuals, a growing majority of Americans feel urgent about the seriousness of climate change and the importance of taking more action. And yet, there is a perception gap between how strongly we might feel internally and how much we perceive those around us actually care. If we don't see others talking about this issue, getting engaged and taking action, we assume that other people don’t care. First, is this true? Studies show a majority of Americans are concerned about climate change. And secondly, how can we get those who are concerned become more engaged and move them to action. 

Yale Program on Climate Change Communications - Six Americas

The team at Yale’s Climate Change Communication group has been at this a long time, and their research has found that based on the beliefs, attitudes, policy support, and behavior about climate change, Americans can be categorized into six distinct groups.

The six groups are:  Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive. 

The Alarmed are the most engaged, are very worried about global warming, and strongly support climate action. The Concerned think global warming is a significant threat but prioritize it less and are less likely to be taking action. The Cautious are aware of climate change but are uncertain about its causes and are not very worried about it. The Disengaged are largely unaware of global warming, while the Doubtful doubt it is happening or human-caused and perceive it as a low risk. The Dismissive firmly reject the reality of human-caused global warming and oppose most climate change policies.

Data shows that most Americans are Alarmed or Concerned

As of 2023, the Alarmed (33%) outnumber the Dismissive (9%) by more than 3 to 1. About six in ten Americans (59%) are either Alarmed or Concerned, while only about two in 10 (19%) are Doubtful or Dismissive.

So as you can see, happily, the majority of our friends, neighbors, and larger American public are predisposed to care about what we have to say.

And knowing this should help frame our conversations with everyone - the person is more likely than not to be a potential ally. Looking at Yale data - 70% are on our side from the Cautious to the Alarmed and if you start by telling them all of your reasons why we should care about climate change rather than listening first, chances are you’ve lost ground in a significant portion of your interactions. 

Want to know which of the Six Americas you are in?  

Take the short Six Americas Quiz (SASSY)!

How has the Six Americas changed over time? 

Over the past five years that has been a significant change in the distribution of the segments. The Alarmed segment has grown by 15% (from 18% to 33% of the U.S. adult population) between 2017 and 2021, while the Dismissive segment has trended downward (from 11% to 9%). Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions. 

A look back at how the Six Americas have changed over the past decade shows that the largest group, the Concerned, grew quickly from 2013 to 2015, but has declined slightly since then. The Alarmed, in contrast, experienced more rapid growth during the past five years than any of the other groups. Meanwhile, the Cautious, Doubtful, and Dismissive have been shrinking in recent years.  

A majority of Americans are worried about global warming.

Yale polling data shows that a majority of Americans say they are worried about climate change:  34 percent are “somewhat worried” and 30 percent are  “very worried.”

But we aren’t talking about it much.

Yale data shows that two in three Americans (67%) say they “rarely” or “never” discuss global warming with family or friends.  

CCL Internal research with thought leaders

To add to the insights provided by the Yale data, CCL conducted research on attitudes about the climate crisis from diverse thought leaders, including their opinions on specific climate solutions.

We used an outside firm to recruit 127 thought leaders across a variety of demographic categories, political ideologies, locations and faiths across the country.

We were interested in what opinions were shared among them and what they were willing to talk about. (None of them were currently engaged in climate change action). 

It wasn’t a randomized control trial. But the firm that did this study, also did one with Snapchat on climate change for a large corporation and the  themes they found were similar to the CCL thought leader study. 

Results of CCL thought leader research

Across a wide range of communities, a majority of thought leaders considered themselves more concerned about climate change than others they identified with in those same communities.

However, thought leaders’ concerns about climate change were higher than their motivation to act, which is shown by their responses to these questions (0-10 scale):

  • How urgent is the problem of climate change?  8.5
  • How motivated are you personally to take action?  7.4
  • How much potential for impact do you think you could have?  6.0 

Thought leaders also report a lack of faith in government in their communities that is consistent at every level – from local to state to Congress.

In answer to the question:,“On a 0-10 scale, how much do people in your community trust the following to make decisions about climate change that reflect the will of the community?”

  • Local elected officials – 4.4
  • Governor and State officials – 4.3
  • Members of Congress – 4.1

Respondents also believe elected officials could have an impact on climate change - but do not think that their views would move the local officials to act.

Some thought leaders explained they felt their personal potential for impact was lower than corporate actors that they felt had an outsized negative impact.  This ranges from seeing oil and gas companies as major polluters, to concern over corporate jets. 

The perception gap

A recent study from the Yale Program on Climate Communication that was reported in Scientific American showed that despite widespread concern about climate change and majority support for policies to mitigate it, the majority of Americans underestimate the extent of climate concern among their fellow citizens.

Participants in the new study thought that only between 37 and 43 percent of the U.S. population support climate change mitigation policies But the study shows that a much higher percentage -  66 to 80 percent  - of people in the U.S. actually do support major climate mitigation policies.  A range of 80 to 90 percent of those polled by the researchers underestimated the U.S. population’s climate concern and support for major climate mitigation policies.

Why is this important? Scientific American’s Robin Lloyd interviewed Gregg Sparkman, lead author of the study, who talked about the cascading effects of this “false social reality”:

“When people assume something isn’t popular, they don’t talk about it. Or if you think people aren’t worried about something, you don’t talk about it. So everyone self-silences. And collectively, the outcome of that is pretty big. Because whenever we look around, and we see nobody talking, it just confirms that it seems like nobody cares. And you get what’s called a spiral of silence.”

Why people don’t take action

Given the research showing that a majority of Americans hold a false belief that most citizens are not concerned about climate change, we understand why people don’t act: 

  • No one else is taking action
  • Lack of trust in government
  • Individual actions are not enough by themselves
  • False perception that majority of Ameridans do not support climate policies

Many ways to move people to action

In the CCL thought leader study one of the questions was: “In your opinion, what would drive people in your community to get more active around climate change?”  Their responses: 

  • Education on the issue – 75.4%
  • Being personally impacted by an extreme weather event – 69.8%
  • Local events on the issue – 56.3%
  • Encouragement from prominent figures/ influencers/ celebrities – 55.6%

Community leaders think their communities need the most help starting conversations. Here is a quote from one of the participants in the thought leader study: 

“Climate change is a conversation that has been hidden inside many communities for so long. I find if anything, most people understand the basic concepts but literally can’t wrap their arms around how to start having community conversations. I personally think if we start having conversations with our immediate families about the importance of taking action now that would be a great first step for so many.”

Three steps to better climate conversations: bond, connect, inspire

Here is insightful advice from one of our favorite climate communicators, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, in an article from the Sightline Institute. It was written by the Sightline Institute’s Avon Frey in an interview with Dr. Hayhoe and it helps highlight the three simple goals to keep in mind when we embrace any conversational opportunity about climate change - to bond, connect, and inspire.

Start with shared values - bond

To find common ground, you have to start with what’s important to you. What got you into caring and concerns about climate change? Your family’s future ? Impact on community? What do you have in common? Concerns about health impacts, jobs? Shared experiences of extreme weather events as parents or neighbors?

Show why climate change matters - connect

Talk about how climate change affects the things everyone cares about, close to home, with local personal examples. You could, for instance, discuss how smoke from regional wildfires filled the air across the state and triggered kids’ asthma in your neighborhood. 

Demonstrate working solutions - inspire

Sharing scary facts about climate change won’t motivate people to take action. If we don't know what to do, scary facts don't activate us, they just paralyze us.  Talk about real-life projects that help people and produce clean energy. Link success stories to shared values. 

More advice from Dr. Hayhoe

“The absolute best way to make the necessary changes to address climate change is by all of us talking about it with people we know. Most people don’t talk about climate change with others. So if you don't talk about it, why would you care? If you don't care, why would you do anything to fix it?”

“What works is talking about how climate change affects us here and now, in ways that are relevant to our lives today. And then we start to look for solutions, like reducing food waste and eating more plants, biking or walking instead of driving when we can, urging cities and schools and universities to transition to cleaner energy, and so on. Then people will feel empowered and keep pushing for more change.”

“The goal of the conversation is not to tell people about climate change, it’s to expand the number of people in the conversation. So my challenge to you is to talk about climate change with the people around you. Talk with them about why it matters and work together to find solutions that you can do on your own or with your community.”

Interacting with members of Congress

You can follow the same guidelines for climate conversations in your interactions with members of Congress.  Direct interaction with constituents is still very important for members of Congress, who place a high value on personal relationships. 

Communicate personal and local information about climate to them. Look for shared values. 

Press play to start the video (36m 06s)
Video Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.
  • (0:00) Intro & Agenda
  • (3:36) Yale’s Six Americas
  • (8:58) CCL’s Internal Research
  • (20:55) Having Climate Conversations
  • (27:57) Examples of Empowerment
  • Brett Cease
  • Amy Bennett

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Audio length
Press play to start the audio (36m 06s)
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Audio Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.
  • (0:00) Intro & Agenda
  • (3:36) Yale’s Six Americas
  • (8:58) CCL’s Internal Research
  • (20:55) Having Climate Conversations
  • (27:57) Examples of Empowerment
  • Brett Cease
  • Amy Bennett
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