Americans believe in climate change! Problem (NOT) solved.

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Americans believe in climate change! Problem (NOT) solved.

Our soon-to-launch Eco Pulse study found that American opinion about climate change has shifted more strongly than ever before toward belief in the phenomenon and in its human causality: 62% agree or strongly agree with the statement, “Global warming, or climate change, is occurring and is primarily caused by human activity.”

Hallelujah! Our troubles are over! Americans should be lining up in droves to make energy-efficient home improvements, buy more fuel-efficient cars and purchase greener products, right? Wrong.

In the same study, only 16% reported purchasing more energy-efficient heating or air conditioning units, only 15% have completed energy-efficient home renovations like adding insulation or replacing windows, and only 28% say they drive a hybrid or a small, fuel-efficient automobile. And the percentage of Americans who say they’re searching for greener products has been trending downward since 2012.


A March 2015 study conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication publicized in Slate found that Americans don’t think climate change will affect them personally.

Residents of more than half of U.S. counties aren’t worried about climate change (1,951 of 3,143, or about 62%). Worse: There wasn’t even one county in which a majority of respondents believe global warming will harm them personally.

And yet, as the Slate article puts it …

  • “Majorities in 3,122 of 3,143 counties (more than 99 percent) do agree that future generations are at risk.
  • Every single county believes we should fund research into renewable energy.
  • Every single county believes we should regulate CO2 as a pollutant.
  • Nearly 95 percent of counties … agreed with ‘strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants.’
  • Nearly 99 percent of counties … agreed with a requirement that utilities should produce 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources.”

So we (theoretically) believe it’s happening and are (theoretically) worried about our children and grandchildren. And what are we doing about it? Not much. We want our government and our utilities to take care of it for us.

Dan Ariely, noted behavioral economist, explains a weakness in the human decision-making process that makes this behavior change challenge even more difficult.

“One of the challenges of human life is in knowing that what’s good for us in the long term often doesn’t seem good for us right now. Dieting, for example, is not very fun now, but good for us in the future; the same goes for saving money or submitting to preventive medical tests. When we face such tradeoffs, we often focus on the short-term rather than our long-term goals, and in the process we get ourselves into trouble.”

So even if Americans believed climate change might personally affect them in their lifetimes, we’re all terrible at changing current behaviors for long-term benefits.

So, what should climate communicators and those of you who market environmentally friendly and energy-efficient products and services do?

First, when it comes to communicating about climate change, in general, immediacy should be a priority: Climate change is affecting us now (and the more visual, the better). This is a good example from NOAA on the EPA’s website:

Visuals are a must in helping drive home the present reality of climate change.

Second, it is usually better to focus on immediate rather than long-term benefits. Even though the impact of climate change dwarfs immediate personal benefits in the great scheme of things, it’s human nature to minimize/ignore scary predicted impacts. Plus, climate change feels like a huge, insurmountable problem that’s beyond our control. It’s better to focus on what’s right in front of the target audience. For example, communicate the immediate financial savings and noticeable comfort benefits of adding insulation.

Finally, since humans generally are no good at voluntary self-sacrifice or doing the right thing for long-term gain, manufacturers, regulators and building codes officials must do it for them. Inefficient equipment should no longer be allowed to be sold. Building codes should be changed across the country to make it impossible to build an energy-inefficient home. The better choice should be the status quo, not an opt-in option.

About the Author

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.