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8 February 2024

Communicating climate change. The two emotional responses you should anticipate

A lot of people are stressed about future climate disasters. This so-called ‘eco-anxiety’ is like a mental wildfire: it can either ignite passion to tackle the crisis or just burn one out. This study in Journal of Environmental Psychology unveils that eco-anxiety can start both emotional responses, and that the specific response depends very much on the person. These insights into what goes on in people’s minds help communication professionals to tap into the constructive mindset.

Take aways

  • People experiencing eco-anxiety tend to worry about future climate disasters regularly. These people engage a lot with this topic.  Worrying about climate change remains active even during other crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • There is a dual nature of habitual worry about climate change - it can either be constructive (leading to helpful, logical behaviors) or non-constructive (leading to a negative attitude and a state of apathy).
  • For public communication about climate change, aiming to promote sustainable behaviors or accept climate-protecting policies, it is important to try to tap into that constructive scenario. For example. women and older people tend to be more engaged and constructive about climate change and ,therefore, could be your target to help spreading and endorsing your message.

Study information

  • Who?

    Study 1: 266 respondents (mean age: 26), Study 2: 293 respondents (mean age 27), Study 3: 306 respondents (mean age 26)

  • Where?

    USA and Europe

  • How?

    The research consisted of three online surveys. Study 1, "A study on worry," assessed the participants' patterns of worry. Study 2 was a continuation of Study 1, taking place two months later during the COVID-19 pandemic. Study 3 explored the connection between participants' worry habits and their perceptions of global warming through an online survey.

Facts and findings

  • Women reported stronger eco-friendly beliefs and more constructive behavior than men. Nevertheless, all respondents felt the heat, quite literally. They experienced heightened anxiety and shared the weight of concern about our warming planet.
  • Older people did not just nod along; they were steeped in a pro-ecological mindset and backed it up with concrete, green actions. 
  • The gnawing concern about global warming many felt was not just paralyzing fear –more, it was like a powerhouse that drove strong environmental values and actions. This was not mere fretting; it was purposeful passion.
  • If someone was consistently troubled about global warming, it was not just a passing phase. Their worry was rooted deep and intertwined with their identity. They were not just environmentally aware; they were environmentally defined.
  • A word of caution for communication professionals: there is a thin line between healthy concern and a paralyzing, pathological worry.