OPINION: Wake up and smell the climate change

2007 was the year that the great British public, as water lapped around their ankles in some cases, woke up to climate change.

Nearly nine in ten now say they are worried about it, and 75 per cent disagree that too much fuss is being made.

But only one in 20 - five per cent - think they personally can do something to help the issue, and 59 per cent admit to doing nothing.

One of the greatest challenges we face then, as communicators, is how we persuade the public that it is only by them changing their behaviour that we can avoid irreversible and potentially disastrous change.

Faced with the enormity of the challenge, what can the public sector do?

The good news is that the public sees the government as the sector that can really make a difference - and 70 per cent say they support the government using the law to make people change their behaviour.

Cynics will of course cheerfully point out that what people say and how they vote do not always match, but the congestion charge in London shows how strong leadership can build support for policies that were originally unpalatable.

Anyone in a leadership role in any organisation - if you are in a comms role and do not think you are in a leadership role, you may need to consider a new career - needs to think hard about what works in behaviour change.

As well as careful targeting, the need to use a mix of informing (the impact of not doing anything), enabling (making it easy to switch to energy saving devices, or polluting less), incentivising (making it cheaper to be greener) and enforcing (fining or taxing damaging behaviour) are all needed.

Communications have a huge role to play. We can also be cuter: we must put aside the notion that people act rationally once the facts are revealed to them, as they do not.

Instead, clever communications build on people's innate behavioural biases to get them to do the right thing without thinking too hard, to make behavioural change campaigns significantly more likely to succeed.

If you do not know what 'anchoring', 'social proofs' and the 'status quo' biases are - now might be a good time to find out!

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