Convincing People to Prepare for Climate Change: What NOT To Do

Our initial assumptions were not only wrong, they were backwards.

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 In This Issue

  • Convincing People to Prepare for Climate Change: What NOT To Do

  • Thanks & Recognition: Utah Valley University's MGMT 6490 students and Smart Lab

  • Demos & Deep Dives

  • This Month's Webinar Links (Premium)

Convincing People to Prepare for Climate Change: What NOT To Do

To better understand how to build software solutions for climate change, we first needed to know how individuals thought about the topic, and whether they were willing to take positive action to prepare for it.

The best way to find out how someone feels is to ask them. So in late 2019 we tasked Utah Valley University (UVU) students from MGMT 6940, MBA Capstone Consultancy to survey people across Canada.

The research findings surprised us utterly.

Our Initial Assumptions Were Very Wrong

Before the UVU project started, we had assumed a few things:

  1. Some people accept climate change is a real and growing threat, while others don't.

  2. Those who believe it is a real threat are ready to take positive action.

  3. Those who don't believe, will not take any positive action.

  4. Therefore, to convince more people to take positive action for climate change, we just need to convince them that it exists and is a real threat.

We thought this was common sense.

But the research results showed our assumptions were not only wrong...

...they were completely backwards.

People who accept climate change exists and is caused by humans are LESS likely to feel ready and able to take positive action.

People who do not accept it are MORE likely to feel ready and able to take positive action (depending on how you ask them).

Let's dig into the survey and its findings.

How The Survey Worked

The Utah Valley University students worked directly with a university researcher at their Smart Lab to setup the surveys and experiments. (The UVU Smart Lab’s purpose is to help companies understand their customer’s behavior through advanced analytic tools).

They conducted a psychographic survey. Psychographics is a classification technique used to cluster respondents together based on their values, opinions, and beliefs. The survey had two versions:

  • Survey A: Feelings and willingness to act for local Environmental Conservation

  • Survey B: Feelings and willingness to act for Climate Change

The first section had questions that were open-ended and identical in both versions. The only change was to replace the words "environmental conservation" and "climate change".

  • How do you feel about your assigned topic (Climate Change or Environmental Conservation)?

  • How in control do you feel in making a positive difference for your assigned topic?

  • What actions can you take to make a positive difference?

  • What tools would help you make that difference?

Once the respondents had completed this first section, they were then asked questions that would be used to determine their psychographic "cluster" (i.e. organize them into like-minded groups).

The surveys were created using Qualtrics. Prolific Academic was used to perform the surveys.  Prolific Academic is a tool where recipients can get paid to perform surveys. The students decided on Prolific Academic over other solutions because of the Smart Lab researchers’ experience using it, its integration with Qualtrics, and the ability to ensure  Canadians respondents for the survey.

There were 81 respondents with the following distribution of age and gender. With advice from the Smart Lab researcher, the students believe the studies are fairly representative of the Canadian population.

Psychographic Survey Respondents - Age and Gender Breakdown

The Results

The UVU students worked with the Smart Lab to perform analysis. They first performed a Psychographic analysis of the data to get groupings, or clusters, of respondents. Then they performed sentiment analysis on both the clusters and the respondents based on the topic they were assigned (climate change or environmental conservation). Next, they classified the answers to the open-ended questions. Finally, all of the data was combined to understand the clustering of the respondents.

(The following content is taken directly from the students' final report to us:)

The respondents were asked how in control they felt they were to make a positive change for either Climate Change or Local Environment Conservation. They were asked to provide a score from one to five, where one is not in control and five is completely in control. The respondents assigned to the Conservation topic had an average of 2.62, whereas respondents assigned to the Climate Change topic had an average of 2.05. The p-value for this correlation was .021, meaning the likelihood the difference in the averages was due to randomness is 2.1%. Because it was an experiment, we can infer causality.

UVU student researchers final report to Deploy Solutions
Result - How in control do you feel to make a positive impact

The respondents were asked to provide a picture/GIF about how they feel in regard to their topic.When describing their feelings of “Local Environment Conservation” 21% of the words were negative. Conversely 53% of the words used when describing their feelings for “Climate Change” were negative with a p-value of .0003. This leads us to believe that people feel more negatively about Climate Change, whereas they have positive feelings about Local Environment Conservation.

Survey results showed that respondents in more urban areas felt less in control in their ability to make a positive impact.

UVU student researchers final report to Deploy Solutions
How in control do you feel to make a positive impact - geolocated

Another extremely interesting result popped out of the "word cloud" the students created based on the words respondents chose to describe their survey topic. You can see in the image below that local environment conservation evokes positive sentiments, while climate change evokes negative words, including "doom", "hopelessness", "despair", "desperation".

Word cloud sentiment analysis

Putting It All Together

  1. People in urban areas in Canada were more likely to accept climate change is real than people in rural areas in Canada.

  2. If we ask people about their feelings about local environmental conservation, they feel more positive about it than if we ask them about climate change.

  3. If we ask people whether they feel in control to make a positive action of some kind, more of them feel control if we ask about local environment conservation than about climate change.

  4. If we ask people who accept climate change is a real and growing threat, they are significantly likely to feel despair and hopelessness, which prevents them from acting.

While it's a small sample size in one country, the results of this survey have informed the research and development work we've done ever since.

What it indicates to us is that a major consideration when building software solutions for climate change, is whether to even mention climate change to the users of the system.

Of course this depends on what the purpose of the software is. If the "end users" are scientists then this may be a non issue. But for the general population, we should be careful what we say!

Trying to convince them about the reality and urgency of climate change may, depending on the project, lead to resistance by those who don't accept climate change, and to despair and paralysis on the part of those who do.

Focusing on this effort risks reinforcing the "politicized" divides around attitudes climate change.

If we want individuals to take positive action on climate change, we should not directly challenge their values, opinions and beliefs.

We should not attempt to convince them that climate change is a real and growing danger they need to prepare for.

We should instead convince them they can and should take positive action to conserve their local environment.

We think these findings should be explored more fully and probably updated given recent world history.

What do you think, were you as surprised as we were?

Thanks & Recognition: Utah Valley University's MGMT 6490 students and Smart Lab

Today's topic was based on substantial original research contributed by Utah Valley University Students in conjunction with their Smart Lab.

We would like to thank Cody De Niro, Jonathan Young, Russell Elder, S M Colemere, Josey Dewsnup, and the other students and teaching staff of MGMT 6940 – MBA Capstone Consultancy Project course, as well as the talented folks at the UVU Smart Lab.

You can read more about their work (and all the other research contributors) at

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This month's 30-minute webinar will be held on Tuesday August 23, at 11:00 EST/15:00 GMT. Details including attendee links are shown below (for premium subscribers).

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