As part of our ongoing work to provide our partners with the latest market research and insights, The Ocean Project not only conducts our own research, but also continually monitors others' public opinion research. We do this to compare and contrast, and get as complete a picture as possible in order to help you and our other partners be effective in communicating for conservation.
We recently reviewed three reports that we wanted to highlight for our partners. There is, however, one note of caution, a big red flag we'd like to raise around how we as a community review these findings, especially as they relate to our interest about public concern.
The first to flag is a recent report by EcoAmerica, a very useful summary of surveys and polls specific to public concern about climate change. The report includes lots of great data with a takeaway that public concern for this issue is broad and rebounding (thanks in part to an apparent "connecting of the dots" with recent weather events), but remains, "very, very shallow" and very, very low when compared to other issues. (Also note that the some of the people who are most knowledgeable about climate change are also "skeptics".)
In an ideal world, we might like all people to be as concerned as we are about climate change, ocean acidification, and related environmental issues. Understanding public concern on an issue is undeniably helpful. In reading reports like this, though, it seems that those of us in the environmental movement all too often confuse measures of concern with measures of success.
As the excellent report byCliZen reminds us, Americans, especially those that visit zoos, aquariums and science museums (ZAMs), already tend to accept that climate change is a problem in need of a solution. So does it really matter if we can collectively shift the "Six Americas" from "cautious" to "alarmed"? Let alone whether we can make an "average American" more alarmed about ocean issues than illegal immigration? Some may say so, and want us to develop programs aimed in that direction. But to what end? We don't need alarmed people. We need people taking action and supporting solutions!
If we as a community want people being part of the solution, then our obsession with measuring and discussing concern, especially relative concern, has become a distraction, and a potentially dangerous one at that. As any election campaigner will tell us, it is, relatively speaking, easy enough to raise concern in the short term through scare tactics, but that can backfire, especially if what we want is change over the long term. Let's simply accept that the "average American" may never care as much as we do about problems such as climate change and ocean acidification, but that does not mean they aren't willing to work with us on solution steps. Both the CliZen report and The Ocean Project's research shows that people want to help, they're often just looking for what to do from trusted sources, such as ZAMs.
That brings us to a third new report, just released by the Yale Project on Communicating Climate Change.This new report from the creators of the Six Americas scale looks beyond level of concern to level of action. Kudos! It's these actions that have a positive and long lasting impact on our environment, and where we'll find our ultimate measures of success!