15 Steps To Communicate About Climate in Your City

Developing and implementing an ambitious climate action plan is becoming more and more common for mayors and city leaders throughout the country. As an increasing number of Americans begin to see climate impacts in their everyday lives, and start to suffer the consequences, a growing number are inspired to support bold climate action.

For many, though, the perceived challenges and sacrifices of environmental policies can sometimes seem overwhelming, and the sacrifices greater than the possible benefits.

Fortunately, rapidly developing technology, innovation, and creative new policies are transforming climate solutions from costly burdens, to timely and economically favorable solutions. Developments in renewables like wind and solar have contributed to lower energy bills for families and have made the costs of clean power more affordable to more people. Green-collar jobs are now more numerous than those in coal extraction, and provide high-paying, stable employment. Mass transit projects and bike shares are decreasing commute times. Energy efficiencies are reducing the emission of harmful pollutants, and our cities are becoming greener, healthier, better places to live.

With the case for bold climate action on their side, mayors must be sure to clearly communicate the benefits to residents in their city. These are 15 tested steps to effective climate communication:

The 15 Steps

  • 1. Start with people, stay with people. Mayors must express that climate action is about residents first. Be sure to stay focused on how action improves the lives of families and residents in your city.
  • 2. Connect on common values. We all want to live in clean, healthy cities. Show residents that values including faith, community, personal choice, health, and fairness are the motivations for climate action.
  • 3. Acknowledge ambivalence. Show that you recognize the competing priorities and limited time available to effect climate solutions.
  • 4. Make it real. Point out local, real climate impacts that affect residents and the health of their communities.
  • 5. Emphasize solutions. Climate change offers opportunities and solutions that can empower communities. These include well paying, stable jobs for residents, lower energy bills for businesses and families, and healthier environments to live and raise a family. Focus on these benefits rather than the consequences of a changing climate.
  • 6. Inspire and empower. Cities are the epicenters of climate action. Mayors and community leaders are able to act quickly, decisively, and implement climate action plans with an efficiency unparalleled at the state and federal level. These may include subsidies for rooftop solar, bike paths, or even increased energy efficiency standards for new construction. Let your community know how local action can translate to regional and global progress.
  • 7. Focus on personal benefit. Climate action brings well-paying, stable jobs. It puts more money back into family pocketbooks by decreasing energy bills, and creates healthier environments to live and work. Focus on these benefits rather than personal sacrifices.
  • 8. End with your “ask.” Call on residents to be productive climate changers and provide the impetus to act. This may include voting and supporting climate-wise policies and programs.
  • 9. Sequence matters. Start your messaging with what is personal and relevant to your constituents’ lives, and move to solutions.
  • 10. Describe, don’t label. Use simple language to illustrate the need and benefits of action. Picturing the results of solutions is more effective than jargon-filled explanations.
  • 11. Have at least one powerful fact from a trusted messenger. Don’t get too bogged down with statistics. Use one or two statements from a source your community trusts to lend support for action.
  • 12. Ditch doom and gloom. Too much talk about climate consequences is not constructive, so focus instead on how action can overcome these challenges.
  • 13. Use stories to strengthen engagement. Stay away from abstractions. Use personal stories to show that action benefits real people in the community.
  • 14. Stay above the fray. Don’t get sidetracked or sucked into arguments—focus on the big picture of climate solutions.
  • 15. Message discipline is critical. Know your residents and what is important to them. Stick to your talking points and stay on message.

By following these simple steps, mayors and city leaders can inspire residents in their city. Community support is critical to a robust, effective climate action plan, and as climate leaders, mayors must inspire. Download your guide to effective climate communication today, and collaborate with climate leaders by joining Path to Positive Communities!

Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at stuart@ecoamerica.org.

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