The psychology of what shapes public opinion on climate science (Interview with Matthew Goldberg of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication)

Green Dreamer - Podcast on Environmental Sustainability and Regeneration
You gain people’s attention with fear by showing them how important and how big of a problem it is, but you immediately follow it with a message that gives them hope—something that frames it as doable.

This is a conversation on Green Dreamer with Kamea Chayne, a podcast and multimedia journal illuminating our paths towards ecological balance, intersectional sustainability, and true abundance and wellness for all. This preview has been edited for clarity. Subscribe to Green Dreamer Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or any podcast app to stay informed and updated on our latest episodes.


Matthew Goldberg (@mattgoldberg100) is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. His research focuses on the role of values, ideology, and social identity in persuasion and social influence. 

Matthew authored two recent studies, Perceived Social Consensus Can Reduce Ideological Biases on Climate Change and Discussing Global Warming Leads to Greater Acceptance of Climate Science, about the impact that discussing climate change with the people closest to you can have on their opinions.

In this podcast episode, Matthew sheds light on how climate change came to be so politicized; what we need to do to engage audiences in these discussions and to raise the level of public consensus to match scientific consensus and beyond; and more.

To start, get a glimpse below into the conversation between Matthew and Green Dreamer Podcast's host, Kamea Chayne.

On Matthew's path to solidifying his research focus:

"There are so many instances, whether it be changing behaviors to improve health or to be more sustainable, where people need to accept information that they may not like.

I use that as a guiding principle in my research. As I moved into my position at Yale, I started to think about what the most important issues are that I could apply this theoretical information to. And that ended up being climate change and environmental issues."

On how we underestimate public consensus on climate change:

“The actual percentage of the U.S. population that believe climate change is happening is 69%, but the U.S. population on a whole estimates that it's 54%.

That difference is pretty substantial.

On effective strategies to influence opinion and action on climate change:

"There are two elements that we need to focus on. One is getting people's attention and the other one is to get them to act.

Getting people's attention can be really difficult because you don't want to scare them away right out of the gate, and you also want them to see the issue as solvable. There has been some research into using emotions as frames for communicating these issues.

One of the most successful ways of thinking about this is to pair fear and efficacy. You gain people's attention with fear by showing them how important and how big of a problem it is, but you immediately follow it with a message that gives them hope—something that frames it as doable."

Final words of wisdom:

“Get out there and talk to people about [climate change].

Don't be afraid to speak your mind, but also consider what other people care about. Keep them engaged, and don't let this issue become secondary to so many other issues that it encompasses.”


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