Preparing Local Communities for Climate Change

SUMMARY: WWF works with select US cities to prepare for the impacts of climatechange, assess their vulnerability and implement solutions. We will help community leaders effectively communicate with and engage the public throughout the process. What is learned will be used to scale up engagement with communities around the US.

PROBLEM SPACE: Public support for climate change has not reached a level of critical mass in politically important places within the US. This was demonstrated when Congress failed to pass comprehensive climate change legislation in 2010. In order to reach these places, new innovative messaging and engagement that localizes impacts and solutions is needed.

SOLUTION: With public support being the key barrier to climate change action, communication and engagement are essential for generating action. The large community dedicated to addressing climate change has not found a message that mobilizes the masses. Messaging around climate change in recent years was largely around jobs and clean energy. Prior to that, it was about scary climate impacts at a global or national level. The former did not generate a response because green job creation doesn’t occur fast enough or at the needed scale to address the current economic crisis. While it’s important to emphasize the economic benefits, these benefits will develop over time and may feel remote for those not working in the industry. Job messaging also doesn’t generate a sense of urgency around the need to address climate change.

Earlier messaging around global impacts was too doom and gloom, which causes paralysis as people feel overwhelmed by the issue. Impacts were far removed from people’s lives as the effects were global or somewhere else in the country. There was no sense that the impacts would affect me and my family or community.

Our approach is heavily localized and addresses individual’s psychological barriers with the climate change issue — helplessness, fear and guilt. When people feel depressed, generating action is difficult. Localizing the impacts and engaging in protecting one’s local community allows them to feel empowered and decreases the sense that this issue is too big for them to engage in. It also conveys how the issue is personally important and how imperative it is to solve at a national level to address the real drivers of climate change.