Why Climate Future?

November 18, 2022
Climate Change

For several years of my careers, I spent a lot of my time convincing the public to take action on their health, around often scary issues like getting cancer screenings. I got to see the details of the back ends of all the marketing campaigns I ran, segmented by all sorts of criteria.

What I learned is, there is a segment of society that will respond to fear-based messaging, and some huge segments that won't.

There’s nothing wrong with telling the public death or risk stats. Some people will click on those “One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, get screened today” messages.

Those messages aren't wrong, just like it's not wrong to directly state any truth that may trigger fear.

But, what was truly remarkable to me was, a much larger portion of society responded to very different messaging. I learned that a huge portion of the public would immediately take action in scheduling cancer screenings when you paired it with messages about convenient scheduling or locations or you showed triggering language about looking forward to years of good health with their families.

It was the same desired action - scheduling a cancer screening. But different people responded well to different messaging approaches.

And - some fear-triggering messaging actually did very poorly, even though it was completely truthful information. We learned that for some people, being reminded that they personally could die of cancer, led them to scroll more quickly away from the words on their screen. 

Climate change is here. It’s real. It’s scary.

We urgently need to take action.

And there are wonderful activists sharing truthful, extremely triggering fear-based messages. They are not wrong for doing this. They’re just going to completely miss a large segment of the public that do not have the brain mapping that responds to those messages as the activists would wish.

Whether due to histories of personal trauma, biology or other reasons, our brains aren't all wired exactly the same way. This is why we see the same advertisements and respond completely differently or have radically different personal preferences.

For those of us who want to make a difference, it's essential to fully embrace the reality of HOW people do change their minds, and to use approaches that work. And when our approaches aren't producing the results we want, if we're really committed to our causes, we have to do more than talk about how terrible the people are who aren't listening to us are. We have to learn and try new messaging angles and keep trying until we're successful.

One thing I learned over my years of marketing is that if you judge your audience or look down on people for not responding to what you’re putting out there, you’ll completely fail to reach them. In my experience, people rarely respond to marketing messages created by people who have a judgmental framework or who think that they are in some way ‘better’ than their audience.

There are some people who will respond to even terribly framed messages, but, if you want to reach the masses, it’s a smart idea to learn as much as you can about how different people change their minds. The conditions and emotional setting of calls to change can convert someone to a new religion, convince someone to make a huge impulse purchase or switch their identity and ideology to an entirely new group of people. 

If you want to change minds about climate change, it's essential to learn all you can about how minds change.

Solving climate change is the task of our generation. I’m grateful for all the people working as hard as possible to do their part today and to convince others to join in.

What I’m focusing on with this project is the group that does not take action often based on shock messaging or who will turn away and scroll on by the scary stuff. Those people are real, they’re not bad, and we need them to join us. 

It’s perfectly ok for someone to decide, for example, that they’re going to dedicate their time to getting safe walking and biking routes to school for their region for reasons other than fear of the end of human life on earth. A lifetime of carbon emissions can be slashed for every child who discovers that walking and biking are way more fun than being strapped in the backseat of an SUV. As long as it’s collective reductions of GHGs, it’s relevant. 

There are physicians and real estate agents and tradesworkers and all sorts of people who have no idea how they influence their communities related to fossil fuel consumption. There’s this mythical idea that gets kicked around in the climate change space that we’re just going to ‘hold 100 corporations accountable’ and stop a few pipelines and nothing about our own lives will materially change.

Sure, me recycling does almost nothing (but I still do it). One person giving up straws or convincing a few friends to join them has severely little impact. 

But - we DO have to wrap our minds around the fact that fossil fuels aren’t burned in board rooms.

They’re burned when a huge number of us drive our kids to school, when the Amazon truck brings us stuff, when we decide we’re doing the high-GHG things that all of our neighbors are doing that feels so normal.

We, the customers of Exxon, are the ones actually burning the fossil fuels. We’re the ones putting it in the atmosphere.

Yes, we should stop subsidizing them and we should shut it all down, but - unless we’re going to just turn off the spigot & let all the poor people in the world starve/freeze/die when we do - we’ve got to get busy replacing allllll the things that fossil fuel companies convinced us to build our lives around. 

The average person doesn't know how to interpret either the complex science or the abstract political issues surrounding climate change. It all feels far away and out of their control. But truthfully - the things we need to talk about are kitchen table issues. It’s retirement account decisions. It’s your paycheck. It’s your decision on where and how you’re going to raise your kids. It’s a million ‘little’ things like remote work and volunteering to fight your city to get crosswalks on your street.

We have to actually all become educated enough about what it is we need to do - in the real places where we’re personally, collectively, burning fossil fuels. It’s not simply solar panels and EVs. Those are fine and they’re important but they’re not the cure-alls some imagine. 

A lot of people have only encountered extremely complex scientific information, scary slogans and incredibly vague calls-to-action related to climate change. Even the average ‘I believe in science’ voter would likely struggle to give a concrete answer about what their own community needs to do to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. 

I want to do something about the unreached people, the ones who turn the channel when someone is yelling, the ones who care but feel overwhelmed by what they’re encountering from other voices. I want to help people feel empowered to take action and to feel confident that what they’re doing actually makes a difference. Protests are important but there’s a whole lot of work beyond protests that we need people to do right now. We need small business owners equipped with information to make meaningful GHG reducing changes. We need communities coming together to renovate buildings, change zoning and transform transportation in ways that improve equity as well as drastically cut emissions. We need volunteers staffing work groups, dismantling barriers to progress and new voices speaking up to businesses and governments about specifics. 

Climate change isn’t going to be solved by some whiz kids in a lab. It’s not the high-tech 'overlords' who are going to swoop in with some magical solution. Before we look to expensive ‘smart cities’ - we need to take a look at much less flashy stuff -like making it possible to walk to a store that is 500 feet from a bunch of homes. It’s going to be low-cost stuff like safe routes to school made with bollards and paint - not trillion dollar magic federal debt to gift us all with car charging stations for each of the 8 parking spaces we now have for every car.

There’s almost no one advocating for the cheap, easy stuff because there’s no profit in it. Sure your city saves tax dollars every time someone switches from a heavy vehicle to a bike but very few voices are championing the simple, low-tech stuff like that. We need to have these conversations. 

And it’s OK that a lot of people are deciding to give up their $50k car for a $1500 e-bike to get them to work - for financial motivations. It’s ok that people are motivated to take climate change fighting actions for reasons other than being afraid of what’s happening to our planet. Most humans are quite heavily motivated economically. Many people, whether rational or not, fear poverty and may not blink an eye about being told their gas guzzler is killing us all. But - those same people - just might be interested in a cost comparison of what happens if someone takes that $11k/year that the average American is spending on their car and invested it - over time, reminding them how much they will *not* have in their retirement account if they’d have lived somewhere they could have walked/biked/taken transit to work instead. 

We need more voices in this space, doing what we each can to move as many people as possible towards the same goal - drastically reducing our collective greenhouse gas emissions and building a more equitable society while we do. We’re not anywhere close to a revolution overturning our current economic system and giving away free homes to everyone or anything like that. Our advocacy has to be focused on real people and real, viable solutions directly connected to the fossil fuels we’re burning today. Our efforts must not simply frame us as heroes or draw attention to nebulous ideas. It’s time to help spread the word beyond echo chambers and out to people who don’t think the same way we do on everything. 

I am just one person and while I have a good amount of experience in getting people to think new things and to take action in my years leading marketing at a number of organizations, I am not an all-powerful-wizard or possess all-knowing capabilities to hypnotize audiences with every attempt I make. I’ll probably try and fail some. Your feedback, ideas, input and introductions will help make all the difference in this project. And when I do create something that you think might make others think, if you’d be willing - I’d appreciate your reshares, likes and comments. 

And if I get it wrong on something, call me out. Of course you’ll have to have data, original source information from a credible organization and some good logic to change my mind, but, as a person who loves learning, my favorite thing in the world is to learn what I didn’t know before. Everything I’ll be publishing is based on major, global science organizations public communications and real-world personal stories of people who impactfully fought for change. I commit to doing my homework to get it right as best I can. 

And you - well - if you’re willing to join me on this journey and follow along - sign up on your preferred channel to see what I’m up to via email, social media & more in the footer below: 

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Rebecca J Tiffany
Rebecca J Tiffany

We need more voices in this space, doing what we each can to move as many people as possible towards the same goal - drastically reducing our collective greenhouse gas emissions and building a more equitable society while we do."