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1.5 degrees cozy or catastrophe

Outside of the elite bubble, the average human on the planet simply does not know the stakes.
As the 26th Conference of the Parties wrapped up earlier this month in Glasgow, it presented a prime opportunity to find out exactly what the world thinks about The Big Goal: 1.5 degrees.

You know us — we’re data hungry. We ran a robust survey, consisting of over 25,000 respondents in 8 countries, to find out what real people actually think about it and how they perceive the risks. After all, if we’re trying to get 8 billion people pushing for bold action, are they aware of how much it matters?

To put it bluntly: “1.5 Degrees” is a crucial tool, a clear objective that guides science-based decision-making. It’s not a communications strategy.

It boils down to Potential Energy’s maxim #1: In general, no one knows what we’re talking about. To significantly grow support for action, we need to meet people where they are.

The data says…

Globally, few people know about or engage in the jargon that populates the sliver of media real estate afforded to climate news. They’re hardly aware of the ongoings of international agreements, much less understand them.

1. For most people, “1.5°C” just doesn’t seem that bad.

  • In the US, nearly 50% of respondents felt there would be no change or perhaps even slight improvement (!) to life on a hotter Earth.
  • Globally, only a third believed that life on Earth would get much worse, despite research showing the terrible effects of just 1.5°C of warming (though significantly less bad than 2°C).

2. People vastly overestimate the global climate target. The average person believed the U.N proposed a cap on warming of an additional 4°C (putting us on track for an utter catastrophe.)

3. Less than a third of people know what the Paris Agreement is. Even among those who have heard of it, most have no clue what it’s actually about.

Paris Agreement

Centering on 1.5°C may be the greatest communications oversight of all. It sounds small, rather pleasant, not too urgent, and heck, for Americans, we don’t even use Celsius! It violates the first and only principle of effective communication — relevance.

And yet, it remains the lead concept in almost every news story coming out of COP26.

That’s interesting…

This phenomenon becomes worse in wealthier countries, regardless of whether they are considered to be “climate leaders” or not. Citizens of developed countries are:

  • significantly less likely to believe 1.5° will be that bad, and
  • also less likely to find it as important to stay under the 1.5° limit.

Wealthy Countries

What to do about it…

Stop leading with “1.5.” If we’re trying to mobilize the whole planet to save the planet, then it seems pretty clear to us: telling everyone to “get to 1.5” isn’t going to cut it.

But, did you think we were going to just end with all the challenges without any thoughts on solutions?

Stay tuned for the next issue for findings on frames that help make 1.5°C “click”.

John