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Climate week & the ultimate “why”

This week marks the halfway point between the fall’s two major climate events: Climate Week in late September and the upcoming COP 28 conference in Dubai. Now that the dust has settled in New York, we wanted to take the opportunity to look back at what we saw and share a preview of our newest global research.

As any massive gathering of climate leaders was bound to be, Climate Week was everything: inspiring and frightening, angry and enlightening, hopeful and harrowing, and all that falls between.

Some officials were on the offense (harsh words from the secretary general and a bold lawsuit from California’s governor), and some officials were simply absent.

Many were optimistic (according to The Wall Street Journal, the word “solution” appeared in the Climate Week NYC agenda 40 times more often than “problem”), and many were pessimistic (noting how so many countries and companies had big pledges but little plans).

From marches to messages, there was increased clarity on the cause (“The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis”) but continued uncertainty on our collective wherewithal to make the transition.

Inspiring citizens to support, embrace, and even demand that transition is what Potential Energy is all about, and that’s where things get complicated.

Why should we transition to clean energy? More specifically, what why most motivates the public? There are so many messages to choose from, and at Climate Week we heard them all: for economic growth, for global equity, for the health of our planet, for the health of its people, to reduce pollution, to stop extreme weather, to protect the future, to protect our kids, to increase jobs, to boost local economies. All of them are powerful in their own way, and all of them work for certain audiences. But which works best, for most?

A new global study

Climate Week coincided with an early read of results from what we believe to be one of the largest citizen studies of effective climate messages to date: in partnership with The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and The Global Strategic Communications Network, we completed a global survey of 58,000 people in 23 countries that cover 70% of the planet and 80% of emissions.  Our goal: to uncover what most motivates people to support action on climate change. 

What’s the biggest why? That big universal why on climate change that works when you’re trying to motivate as many people as possible? The why that can get us 80%+ support across regions and demographics and political lines?

Keep it in the ground?

Economic growth?

Make polluters pay?

Stop extreme weather?

Is it anger or hope? Optimism or outrage? Or something else entirely?

Every great movement starts with why … so what why works?

This is what the data suggests …

We might speak different languages, have different value systems, live on opposite sides of the world, but there’s a surprising amount of human decency still in the world. In the study, whether we ask it directly or uncover it implicitly, there is undoubtedly a common universal “why”:

To protect the next generation and safeguard their future.

It was an order of magnitude more effective as a message and an order of magnitude more resonant as a motivating reason to act.
Climate Week
When we add up all the clues we’ve accumulated through all the questions we’ve ever asked, every person we’ve interviewed, it almost seems like the real answer has been under our noses the whole time:Love. 

The single, most powerful, universal – most human – emotion.

We all care about our kids, and we can create the biggest force in history to push for change–powered by love.

We’ll be sharing much more detail about our conclusions from this global research over the next few weeks. Our enthusiasm for these findings demanded that we preview the conclusion, but there is much more to come! If you’re interested in more insight from Climate Week as well as additional reflections on “love,” turn to our friends at the Outrage & Optimism Podcast, who caught a sneak preview of our recent research.

With love,
John and Jessica