Messages and Messengers at BECC 2015

Posted November 29, 2015 By Anne Dougherty

I have had the pleasure of supporting the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference (BECC) for the past seven years. The conference is close to my heart as someone who believes that social science research is critical to the work of climate mitigation. It brings forward the messier human side of energy policies and programs.

This year, I was struck by how BECC’s conversation circled back on a theme I presented on my first year speaking at BECC as a new entrant to the space: aligning our message with our audience. A big, “duh,” I know, but a message we constantly need to remind ourselves of.

As passionate energy and climate researchers, activists, program implementers, and policy makers, it is easy to assume that the issues that get us fired up are universal. That is to say, the personal, emotional, and existential path that led us to our work is THE ONLY PATH to taking climate-positive actions.

Back in 2008 I put forward a simple statement: who cares WHY people might take action to mitigate climate change. We just want them to take action.

And still, we often spend our time asking people to perfectly align their values with our values, which is an extraordinary waste of energy (no pun intended). Then, like this year’s BECC, the conference explored issues around messaging and outreach strategies that looked very different than Al Gore’s omnipresent messages at that time. We discuss motivating the evangelical base with messages of “creation care” and outdoor enthusiasts with messages of “game habitat preservation.”

This year, we were lucky enough to have more views and opinions come forward, including the U.S. Armed Forces messages of “resilience” and “preparedness.” We discussed changing the tone of our messages from one of “survival” to “flourishing.” And we explored how fine arts, theater, community art, and performance art can serve as a powerful messenger to make climate change a tangible and emotionally poignant issue within and across communities.

Seven years after we first explored these concepts in earnest, our community revisited our messages and messengers with the help of some incredible conference contributors. After the conference this year, I am left with the reminder to listen first, and then speak. Be it listening to what our research is telling us, or listening to the stories and discourses emerging in different communities and remaining attuned to the issues and policies that most matter to them. I am certain there is a place for climate mitigation at most everyone’s social and moral center. The key is listening long enough to let them tell you where it belongs.