Doom and gloom climate messaging is a turn-off

May 29, 2024

Doom and gloom climate messaging is a turn-off

Environment-friendly actions include recycling. Photo: Johanne Jørgensen

Researchers looking at climate change have found an important link between emotions and behaviour change when it comes to helping the environment.

“The early, economic view of human behaviour was that it is purely rational,” says Dr Claudia Schneider from the University of Canterbury.


Her research investigates and highlights emotions in decision-making.

“Emotions play a huge role. We're not just machines. There are many ways in which emotions can influence behaviour.

“When we read something for instance, or when we hear something in the media, the way it makes us feel can affect how we act.”

Dr Schneider’s research shows that when reacting to environmental issues, overly negative emotional communication can turn people off from the problems, and they can even end up denying it.

“Some of the early climate change communication tapped into a sort of doom and gloom messaging, and research showed that it might not be the best approach because it can lead to emotional numbing.”

Doctor Schneider says that taking a positive approach to climate change communication is more likely to encourage people to change their behaviour.


This can include focusing on the efficacy of solutions.

Showcasing what can be done and how the climate crisis can be tackled.

AUT Senior lecturer in public relations Khairiah Rahman says in a written response that when trying to persuade climate change deniers, expert opinions may be the best method.

“However, when experts contradict each another, this becomes a challenge. People often gravitate to opinions that support their own attitudes and mindsets.”

She underlines the importance of promoting key points about climate change to the entire population to ensure everyone is aware.

“For example, messages to school-going children and adolescents would be different from messages to corporate executives or parents.”

She points to  ‘Operation Tidy Fox’, as an effective campaign for motivating people to take action for the environment.

The campaign targeted students and retired people to help clean up Fox River in Buller which had become clogged with rubbish after a flood in March 2019.

Around 850 people joined the campaign and collected 13,000 bags of rubbish between them.

In a guest blog post on the Department of the Environment’s website, volunteer Genevieve Long described how she and her husband, who are both semi-retired, were moved by the reports of the flood and dropped everything to travel to the river to help.

“This environmental catastrophe is worse than anyone can imagine. It’s difficult to tell from the photos and news broadcasts just how extensively the rubbish has been spread across the riverbed and surrounding areas,” she wrote.

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