Engage Your Community
The following tips will help you draft and deliver climate change messages that engage your community and inspire action:
Incorporate Climate Change Messages into Programs That Already Exist.
Establishing a new program to specifically address climate change may tax the time and resources of many land trusts. Rather than launching new programs or publications, try incorporating climate change concepts into outreach programs, walks, and communications materials that already exist. Focus on what your land trust already does well. Then, improve it by adding a climate change element.
Speak Simply. Avoid Jargon.
Climate change is a complex process, and many of the scientific terms are unfamiliar. Skip the jargon and focus on terms we can all understand — temperatures will get warmer, winters will be shorter, sea level will be higher, and so on. Introduce more complex terms by slowly building a climate change vocabulary. Use that vocabulary to focus on examples of the effects of climate change at a local level.
Make It Local. Make It Real.
Climate change is a global challenge, and many of the most dramatic impacts — drought in Africa, ice melt at the poles — are far removed from our everyday lives. Few Americans understand how climate change could possibly affect them at home, at work or in their communities. As a result, many simply ignore climate change. Make climate change real — and impossible to ignore — by focusing on how climate change impacts will affect the people, places and environment in your local community. Adapt your message to your community, and to what your community members care about. For example, land trusts near popular trout streams might want to talk about how the coldwater fish will decline or disperse as water temperatures rise. Likewise, land trusts in New England may want to highlight the fact that rising temperatures may push the maple syrup industry out of New Hampshire and Vermont, and into Canada.
Empower Your Audience to Take Action. Give Them the Opportunity to Make a Difference.
The largeness of climate change can be paralyzing. After all, how can one person’s actions make a difference when the problem reaches clear around the globe? Motivate your community by focusing on actions with local results and tangible benefits. Empower people to take action by highlighting the many things — big and small — people can do to improve their environment and mitigate causes and effects of climate change at a local level. People naturally feel more engaged when they are empowered to make a difference.
Focus on the Things People Care About
Emotional connections are powerful. When something we care about is threatened, we respond. When climate change threatens the things we care about, it becomes real. Land trusts already excel at helping people fall in love with the land around them. By focusing on the threats to that land — for example, climate change will harm this thing that you care about — land trusts inspire their audience to care about climate change and to take action.
Be Sensitive to Individual and Community Values
Each land trust has a unique constituency. Values are important. Listen carefully to your audience, and adjust your land trust’s actions and discussions accordingly. By listening to your audience, you will be able to craft climate change messaging that resonates with your community. Consider the following tips:
- Focus on facts, rather than opinions.
- Avoid politicizing issues.
- Find values and language that people can relate to.
- If the phrase climate change does not work with your audience, consider using another term or phrase. For example: "our moral responsibility to be good stewards", "energy independence", "building a sustainable community", or "creating green jobs".
- Finally, remember that sensitivity is not passivity. It is important to listen to your community’s values, but it is equally important to take action.
Communicate Your Message
You needn’t re-invent the wheel. Instead, consider incorporating climate change messaging into existing education and outreach work. For example:
- Dedicate a column or photo in each newsletter to a local landmark, plant, or animal that is affected by climate change. Highlight any connections with your land trust’s work. Include tips for how your readers can help.
- Commit to a community-based climate action project, and publicize your commitment through a public event, declaration or pledge. Distribute materials about your pledge to your members and community via your website, newsletter, mail or a press release.
- Incorporate climate change messaging whenever relevant. For example, when talking with your community about invasive species, mention how climate change is allowing many invasives to spread further north.
- Create a simple presentation on climate change impacts in the land trust service area, and share this with members and supporters, as well as local politicians and policymakers.
- Invite climate change experts to speak at an event, or to lead a field trip or volunteer activity.
- After the land trust has led by example, urge local government to commit to a climate change community declaration or pledge.