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Reports & guides | 30 October 2014

Young Voices: how do 18-25 year olds engage with climate change?

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Today Climate Outreach releases ‘Young Voices’, a major new report looking at young people’s attitudes to climate change. Supported by the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics, it is the first study to ask young people themselves how to engage their peers more effectively, and to propose and test new climate change narratives specifically designed to engage 18-25 year olds.

Commenting on the study, Dr Adam Corner, Climate Outreach’s Research Director, said:

Our research suggests that many young people care deeply and passionately about climate change. However, there has been a collective failure to talk to young people about climate change in a way that inspires them. Too many assumptions have been made by communicators, which haven’t been tested. Working directly with young people we have been able to trial a series of narratives about climate change, providing valuable insights for anyone interested in improving communication about climate change with this group.

The findings revealed that many current climate engagement strategies may be failing to reach young people.

Some of the key findings and recommendations from the report include:

  • For young people, climate change is fundamentally about the ‘here and now’ – describing the effect it will have on future generations, as campaigners and scientists often do, undermines the urgency of the problem.

  • Young people want to hear how climate change relates to (and will affect) those aspects of their everyday lives that they are passionate about – but communicators must take care not to ‘trivialise’ the issue by failing to link the ‘personal’ to the ‘political’.

  • Fighting organised scepticism is mostly seen as a waste of energy by young people – scepticism is relatively uncommon among the young and talking ‘solutions not science’ is a much better approach.

  • Young people often find it hard to talk about climate change with their peers – there was a fear that talking about climate change would set them apart as ‘preachy’ or ‘un-cool’.

  • There is widespread doubt that there is a ‘concerned majority’ among the general public who support action on climate change – communicating a ‘social consensus’ on climate action may be just as important as the scientific consensus.

  • Young people have very little faith in mainstream politicians – so it makes more sense to ask young people to challenge (not support) politicians on climate policies. Campaign messages should clearly set out what needs to be done – who, when, where and what young people can do to make a difference – and which policy prescriptions support this.

  • Climate jargon is unfamiliar and off-putting – phrases like ‘managing climate risks’, ‘decarbonisation’ and ‘2 degrees’ are seen as hollow and vague. People want to hear about specific policies and how these relate to protecting the things people love and are passionate about.

‘Young Voices’ uses Climate Outreach’s unique ‘Narrative Workshops’ method, which explores study participants’ values, aspirations and views on climate change before formulating different ‘narratives’ for testing (short pieces of written text that use different language to describe climate change and climate policies). This allows careful attention to be paid to the words and phrases that people respond positively to, and provides a vehicle for building on the core values that underpin public engagement with climate change.

A longer version of this report, produced to inform the Grantham Institutes’s Communications Strategy for 2014/15, is also available. It includes a longer literature review, some additional data analysis, and a fuller description of the recruitment and workshop methodology, including further analysis of the role of participants’ values.

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