‘Great British Energy’ could fuel conservatives’ passion for climate change action

14 February 2017

Newspaper headline on Climate change

Using language around ‘Great British Energy’ could become a valuable tool for climate change communicators to inspire and engage people right across the political spectrum.

A new study by Cardiff University and Climate Outreach also revealed that language around British low-carbon energy technologies and the idea of avoiding waste resonates strongly with people of right-of-centre political views.

Involving over 2,000 people from across the political spectrum, the study found narratives which resonated with everyone, particularly those with centre-right values:

  • Patriotic support for the UK’s flourishing low-carbon energy technologies.
  • A focus on avoiding waste as a critical part of saving energy.

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology said: “This is the first study to explore how different ways of talking about climate change can engage different voter groups in the UK..."

"It shows that the language we use really matters to either encourage or discourage discussion about tackling climate change.”

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, School of Psychology

Dr Adam Corner, Research Director of Climate Outreach, comments:  “At a time when political polarisation and division is growing, climate change is increasingly still seen as a ‘left wing issue.’  This makes it difficult to build support for climate change among people who are politically conservative.”

Professor Corinne Le Quéré FRS, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Professor of Climate Change Science and Policy at the University of East Anglia comments on the research:  "Climate change affects everyone. It is critical that the risks and opportunities are understood by all of society, so that effective responses can be put in place..."

"This new research on how to engage across political spectra could greatly help engage society more broadly, to everyone's benefit."

Professor Corinne Le Quéré FRS, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

The research was carried out in two parts. The narratives around climate change focusing on ‘Great British Energy’ and ‘avoiding waste’ were derived from a series of in-depth discussion groups with centre-right individuals across the UK, plus previous research from Climate Outreach.  Then, a large-scale survey of over 2,000 people compared these centre-right narratives with a more typical environmentalist narrative focused on the concept of 'climate justice.’

The centre-right narratives actually elicited broad agreement from across the political spectrum and, more importantly, significantly reduced scepticism among centre-right participants. Meanwhile, the 'climate justice' narrative polarised audiences along political lines and was only endorsed by those on the left.

“The left-wing narrative around climate justice is one which dominates the global debate around climate change, so it is perhaps not surprising that conservatives feel disengaged,” adds Adam Corner.

“Fairness and justice is a good way of motivating some people, but our research suggests that to reach people on the right of the political spectrum more effectively, communicators should focus on ideas like avoiding wastefulness in energy use and a patriotic sense of investment in the energy system."

Dr Adam Corner, Research Director of Climate Outreach

"The sooner communicators can connect with what people really care about, the sooner we can take this issue out of the research lab and into our daily conversations.”

‘Tools for a new climate conversation: A mixed-methods study of language for public engagement across the political spectrum’ is published in Global Environmental Change.

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