Communications Best Practices

With any conservation initiative, community engagement is key. It is important to engage the right people at the right time in the right ways. Goals and objectives for stakeholder engagement must be clear, articulating who needs to be involved and why, what may be expected of them, and what they can expect to get out of the project. With people’s busy schedules, it is important not to underestimate the need to clearly articulate the benefits stakeholders will get from engaging in the project.

Although there is much agreement about the concept that global warming, for some communities this remains a politicized issue. It is worth noting that, as the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reports, in 2016, there was broad agreement (70%) nationwide among adults that global warming is happening, and the majority (53%) of people agreed that global warming is caused by human activities.

There is little variation in opinion at the state level on future harm and impacts. Few Americans believe global warming will harm them personally, but most agree that global warming will harm future generations.  There was also little regional variation on the trust of climate scientists. People in urban and coastal areas were more likely to report that global warming is already harming people in the US now or will within 10 years.

While most Americans agree that climate change is human caused and affecting us now, there are significant differences in public opinion when viewed through political party affiliation. In a Pew Research Center poll from 2016, 79% of the most liberal democrats believed that the earth is warming due to human activity, while only 15% of the most conservative Republicans agreed with this statement.

Land trusts are positioned to avoid disputes concerning causes of climate change and can focus rather on building consensus and working towards conservation solutions. Land trusts are able to gather and share local stories to inspire action. Pictures of local impacts, stories of local people affected by climate change, and people making a difference locally can engage a broad base of stakeholders. Communications that focus on impacts such as extreme storms and storm surge and the importance of preparedness and reducing risk can further build broad bi-partisan support. Numerous studies show that targeting specific language to specific groups can yield positive communications results.

Emergent Data on Best Practices

Focus on Local Impacts to Build Bi-partisan Support

In a recent study assessing public opinion and framing on climate change, Wiest et al. found that when people in Indiana were presented with information on how climate change affects where they live, they viewed it as a more serious problem for their state. Framing climate change as a local issue helped to narrow the partisan divide in behavioral intentions between independents, Republicans and Democrats. Framing the local impacts of climate change encouraged greater support for local policy action, but had no impact on support for climate policy at the national or global level.

Highlight Conservation Objectives with Broad Audiences

Discussing the impacts of climate change without expressly mentioning climate change as the cause can help bridge political divides. While acceptance of human-caused climate change can cause divides along party lines, concerns about the impacts of climate change, such as fire or drought transcend this division. Despite climate skepticism, there is broad public support for forest management to reduce wildlife risks and ecosystems restoration. These climate mitigation strategies can be deployed and supported without invoking human-caused climate change as a reason and avoiding the controversy altogether.

Keep it Mechanical with Decision Makers

One of the strongest barriers to productive conversations about climate change is political ideology. To lessen the impact of political ideology on a person’s evaluation of climate change arguments, D.R. Johnson asserts that how you frame the conversation is important. Johnson suggests that climate change communicators should “use brief, mechanistic explanations” to neutralize political ideology when discussing climate change.

Mechanistic explanations – for which studies show there remains poor comprehension among the general public –  focus on how things occur. For example, here’s a short mechanistic explanation of how global warming happens: “Earth transforms sunlight’s visible light energy into infrared light energy, which leaves Earth slowly because it is absorbed by greenhouse gases. When people produce greenhouse gases, energy leaves Earth even more slowly – raising Earth’s temperature.” Click to enlarge image

While mechanical explanations can help build support for conservation actions, Johnson also points out that this strategy is not likely to be successfully employed in broad audiences. Instead, the author notes that this “strategy is most likely effective with an attentive, motivated audience (e.g., community leaders).” An explanatory effort to connect the importance of land conservation to mitigating climate change impacts is likely best employed in one-on-one or small group conversations with decision makers.

Build Bridges and Inclusive Processes 

While focusing on impacts has proven to build broader support of mitigation and adaptive management projects, if a decision or planning process is likely to be contentious, it is important to provide sufficient and skilled support in facilitation, consensus decision-making and collaborative problem solving. In some cases, these sorts of expertise may be more important than expertise in climate science. In all cases, stakeholder input must be captured in such a way that it can be reviewed and referenced throughout the project planning process. Climate impact reduction policies and projects often align well with existing land trust initiatives. Because land trusts have a long-standing tradition of engaging diverse stakeholders to support shared conservation objectives, there are great opportunities to include natural climate solutions into existing management dialogues.


  • Land trusts can avoid politicization of cross-cutting conservation issues by continuing to lead with traditional messages – wildlife habitat, aesthetics, good timber production – and can begin to offer climate messages as a supporting argument rather than a primary one;
  • Land trusts’ climate messages will appeal to broad audience when they have ideologically inclusive or even patriotic overtones, and should focus on consequences (flood, drought, pests) rather than causes (carbon, greenhouse effect, etc.); and
  • Land trusts should reserve professional jargon (e.g. resilience) for professional context and use plain English alternatives (flood protection, drought readiness, pest management) when working with a broader audience.

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