WHAT YOU BELIEVE DEPENDS ON WHO YOU HEAR IT FROM.
An entire climate communications strategy flows from this one simple principle: People believe people whom they trust, and they’re more likely to act based on the recommendation of that trusted other person. Communications experts call this the Trusted Messenger principle, and it’s proven to be especially effective on the topic of climate change.
Researchers have identified top trusted influencers to be teachers, scientists, primary-care physicians and other health-care professionals, faith leaders (notably, the Pope), TV meteorologists, staff at zoos, aquariums, museums, and nature centers, farmers, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, moms and dads. These networks are already organized and training their members to communicate effectively about climate change. To this established list of Trusted Messengers, I’d add first responders, celebrities, rockstars, movie stars, business leaders, top athletes, best-selling authors, team captains, your favorite news anchors, commentators, and media — and late-night comedians.
Better yet: you can become a Trusted Messenger! Because we all have circles of influence in our networks of family, friends, neighbors, customers, and co-workers — anyone can theoretically become a reliable source of climate-change basics and solutions. This is an untapped resource with massive potential for accelerating public demand and desire for the clean-energy transition. Please don’t assume everything’s fine, that somebody else is going to fix the hot mess: You can be that somebody, and you can encourage others to follow your lead.
We all have the power to create cultural microclimates around us, through the way we act and communicate. When a small group of people shift the way they show approval and disapproval, it can shift the social cures among wider and wider circles. — David Brooks, The New York Times. April 8, 2019.
“On the issue of climate change, people typically trust most the people they know the best – their family members, friends, and co-workers,” says Ed Maibach, the founding director of George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. “Scientists are highly trusted too, but it is the rare individual who places greater trust in a scientist (whom he or she has never met) than in one’s own family and friends.”
"Most of us are really affected by the people in our own lives. It’s our kids. It’s our friends," says Anthony Leiserowitz, who directs the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and a collaborator with Maibach on the “Six Americas” project. "We need to talk about it."
As Trusted Messengers, we can use all the excellent communications principles that our experts have identified. The first, most important step is to recognize the potential you have to engage your closest friends on this topic. The second is to exercise that potential in ways that are natural for you. And the third is to repeat the process, again and again.
The potential for climate engagement is huge. For example, more people (181 million) visit American zoos and aquariums each year than all major-league sports events combined. Cultural institutions are seen as politically agnostic, adding to their appeal as places to learn and have fun, instead of getting into a stressful confrontation.
Every group of people has its stars, its popular natural leaders. 16-year old Greta Thunberg has disarmed the world with her no-nonsense-yet-girlish perspicacity. Your college basketball MVP can be as powerful among his fans as Cardi B (with 40 million Instagram followers) is for hers. The rest of us can encourage these Trusted Messengers to deliver simple messages about climate change to their followers, in their own way, and stick to it.
Friends, family, and co-workers are another powerful aspect of the Trusted Messenger principle.