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Water & Climate Change: 3 Tips to Motivate People

Posted on April 26, 2017
Written by Sara Poirier

While water is tangible and relevant in our day to day lives, for most, climate change is an abstract and invisible phenomenon. To communicate and engage the public effectively requires a strategic approach. Here are three tips on how to motivate people:

1. Identify your audience and meet them “where they are.”

For learning to be useful, most people need to place it in a context that is relevant for them. This requires connecting with your audience’s needs, experiences and interests. Manitobans, for example, are more likely to be more concerned with the impacts of climate change on flooding in the Red River basin than on sea level rise.

If you want to communicate with a local audience about water, start by asking them questions like “What does water mean to you?” Irrigation? Recreation? Transport?  The fact that everybody drinks water also serves as a common ground. Knowing your audience will allow you to tailor communication to their level of knowledge while addressing misconceptions (a particular challenge with climate change).

Humans are social creatures. We care about other people. Therefore, discussion of impacts should include human stories. For example, there has been a recent shift in climate change communication towards highlighting impacts on human health. Also consider the power of social pressure. People care about what other’s think. If someone is told that they use 25 per cent more water than their neighbours, they are likely to modify their water use.

2. Consider art as a channel for engagement

We absorb information from art differently than we do from a list of facts. Art engages us on an emotional level. Seeing a painting or a play about climate change might motivate people to act.

Installations like High Water Line are a simple yet powerful way to create dialogue around the impacts of climate change within communities.  The creative arts also have access to larger audiences and exposure than science as evidenced in the media. Therefore, partnering with local artists or theatre groups should be considered when developing strategies for engaging broader audiences on issues related to water and/or climate change.

3. Celebrate progress

Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. Many people are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and feel that their actions will not make a difference. Highlighting examples of progress, large and small—like developing a community climate change response plan or even a town meeting to discuss vulnerabilities—gives people hope. Studies show that hope can motivate people to action while fear has the opposite effect. Lastly, empower them by providing simple, everyday actions they can take to make a difference.

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Sara Poirier (@citizenscientst) is a science communication consultant with 15 years of experience. She recently moved to New England from Toronto where she is involved with grassroots approaches to engaging communities in climate change.











VIDEO: Why Humans are so bad at thinking about climate change.


“This is clearly a time when, for the sake of the future, we need to stand by scientific principles and defend the scientific method in all matters related to water and water-related effects of climate change.”—Bob Sandford


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