We've Got the Policy Team, Now We Need an Office of Climate Change Communication

Think Progress, the blog for the Center for American Progress, has a detailed run down on the Obama administration's announced appointment of Steve Chu as Energy secretary, Carol Browner as the head of the new National Energy Council, and Lisa Jackson as head of the EPA. At Dot Earth, Andrew Revkin has more background on Chu.

The plan is for this new policy team to be working with Congress and the states to pass bold new initiatives on energy and climate change, but it is not necessarily a given that strong public support for these policies will follow along.

These policies--along with recommended changes in consumer behavior and action--need to be communicated in a way that reach important audience segments and that resonate with the background of these audiences. In short, no matter how innovative, smart, progressive, and "science-based" the policy, public support will only follow if the policies are carefully communicated.

That's why we need a national Office of Energy and Climate Change Communication, a coordinating center that funds audience research on energy and climate, designs and implements national scale public communication campaigns, and that coordinates message strategy across agencies and non-governmental organizations. Along the model of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, this office should also invest in nonprofit news initiatives on climate change, an important step for building up the national and local infrastructure needed for climate adaptation.

On this idea, my colleague Edward Maibach and co-author Karen Akerlof recently reviewed three possible models for such an office based on campaigns in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Canada (PDF, page 4). As they recommend, any national campaign to shape individual and collective behavior in the US should be based on three broad categories: carrots, also known as incentives, sticks as regulations, and sermons, in this case communication campaigns.

As they note, and as I have often "sermonized" at this blog, effective communication about energy and climate change will only come with research that segments audiences and that tests and implements messages tailored to the background of that audience.

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