More Options Means More Climate Change Conversations

Study shows that increasing pathways is the key to increasing communicators’ climate change discussions

by Nathaniel GeigerKaren GasperJanet SwimJohn Fraser
Oct 26, 2019

New research shows that a person’s sense of having multiple ways to talk about climate change plays a large role in whether and how much they actually have those conversations. Previous studies have shown that the people most concerned about the changing climate tend to stay quiet about the topic in many social settings. This is true even of environmental educators and science communicators, whose job it is to talk about these matters. As part of a long-term study with environmental educators, psychologists at Penn State University and Knology studied how hope might be involved in increasing public discourse about climate change.

We studied the two parts of hope to see which might increase public discourse: the sense that a person has the will to do something, and how many opportunities they think they have to use their skills in more than one setting. Our results revealed that perceiving multiple pathways matters most for increasing the degree to which people talk about climate change. In other words, people who already wanted to talk about climate change were more likely to do it when they could see a lot of options to do so.

Let’s Put It to Work

A growing number of programs are trying to help people have more productive conversations about climate change. Our results suggest that these programs will increase their likelihood of success if they workshop the many opportunities people have for sharing their information. While a program might be designed to help professional educators and communicators learn about the changing climate, an intervention that helps those individuals imagine the same conversations in a variety of settings may be more effective. These people can learn how to communicate about climate change at work, and they can also learn how to talk about it with their bowling team, their church group, or at a family dinner. Understanding the breadth of their opportunities will help them feel more hopeful that they can succeed, and make them more likely to start those conversations in the first place.

Are you designing a training for your staff or volunteers? Integrating practice with communicating in diverse settings -- including professional and social settings -- can help your trainees gain a sense of hope that they can succeed in talking about climate change with many types of people, in different settings. We recommend that trainings incorporate time for trainees to practice with each other, and offer suggestions for how they can start these conversations with close friends and family members.

About This Study

Full details of these findings were published by the Journal of Environmental Psychology in November 2019. This study were part of a larger research initiative in partnership with the members of the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation, made possible in part through funding from a National Science Foundation grant (#DUE 1239775), and the NNOCCI support team at the New England Aquarium.


Geiger, N., Gasper, K., Swim, J.K., & Fraser, J. (2019). Untangling the components of hope: Increasing pathways (not agency) explains the success of an intervention that increases educators’ climate change discussions. DOI

Get the article for free before Dec. 21, 2019 by clicking here.

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

Join the Conversation
What did you think of this? How did you use it? Is there something else we should be thinking of?
Support research that has a real world impact.