Brain friendly climate communication

From Beyond Social

Research paper by Loes Platenkamp Minor New Earth Major Fashion Design, 0977373

To what extent can climate communication help encourage individual actions?

According to research by Susanne C. Mosser, 74 percent of people are concerned about climate change, but the society as a whole is only slowly embracing the solutions that are already out there. (Solutions like recycling of waste, electric driving or installing solar panels)

What I’ve come to ask myself is how can we help people move from worrying towards taking concrete and positive actions and influence others to do the same? And to what extent do these individual actions make sense? I started looking at how climate change is communicated and how you can use storytelling to create a sense of urgency. I am focussing on people who are aware of the climate problems but do little with this information. So people who don’t take action against it.

What I mean by individual actions/solutions are concrete and positive actions that are easy to implement in everyday life, such as:

  1. Lower the heating
  2. Turn of the lights
  3. Shower shorter
  4. Separate your waste
  5. Take the bicycle more often instead of taking the car
  6. Install solar panels
  7. Etc.

De Klimaat Gesprekken group has created a list of 175 concrete and positive actions. De Klimaat Gesprekken group offers workshops in which you gain insight into what climate change does and what you can do about climate change.

What has previously gone wrong in communication about the climate?

“Much progress could have been made, indeed, if climate change communicators had familiarized themselves with, and adopted, what is known already from communication and behavioural research. The majority of early communicators of climate change, however, were physical scientists and environmentalists—professional groups not necessarily familiar with such social science scholarship. Professional divisions due to specialization, disciplinary boundaries, institutional disincentives, and other factors contributed to this lack of exchange among those doing the communicating and those researching it.” – Susanne C. Moser

In Communicating climate change: history, challenges, process and future directions, Moser talks about the fact that in the past environmental and physical scientists were hardly involved in communication and behavioural research. Which ensured that climate change came across as a very big and difficult problem, and it lies outside the circle of people’s influence. People are aware of the problem but they are living in denial. When a problem is shown as too big and also far away in time and space it is easy to close your eyes for it.


The list with 175 concrete and positive actions created by De Klimaat Gesprekken

In this figure, you can see that most people believe that human actions can reduce climate change, but it’s unclear for them whether we will do what is needed at this point.


“Climate science has provided ever more reliable data and models over the last 20–30 years, thereby indicating increasingly severe impacts in the coming decades and centuries. Nonetheless, public concern for climate change and the issue’s perceived importance has been declining over the past few decades, thus giving less public support for ambitious climate policies. Conventional climate communication strategies have failed to resolve this “climate paradox.” – Per Espen Stokness

Climate communication is a topic that many scientists have been researching in recent years. As the urgency of this is becoming increasingly important.

The biggest obstacle to stop people from engaging in climate problems lays in your head, says psychologist and economist Per Espen Stokes. He spent years researching the excuses we use to avoid thinking about the downfall of our planet - and to come up with a new way of talking about global warming that is holding us back from giving up.

As mentioned by Julia, Stokness talks about the 5 inner defenses why people take virtually no action against climate change.


Communication about the climate problem is difficult. People quickly find it too far from the bed and too drowsy. With brain-friendly climate communication, we can avoid these 5 inner defenses and convert them into scientifically based solutions for what works.

Brain friendly climate communication is a way of communicating that is; social supportive, simple actions, positive stories and signals. This way we avoid the 5 inner defenses:

  1. Distance -> Social: bringing it closer to home, the power of peer-to-peer
  2. Doom -> Supportive: reframing climate news. 3 positive things versus 1 negative thing.
  3. Dissonance -> Simple actions
  4. Denial -> Signal: give motivating feedback on how good we are doing
  5. Identity -> Stories: we need better and more stories of heros that are making real change happen.

To see if brain-friendly climate communication works and how people think about climate change, Julia and I started writing letters to strangers. In all our letters we were directly or indirectly avoiding the 5 inner defenses by using brain friendly climate communication. Here you see an example of this.


By sending a handwritten letter directly to a person, we avoid distance. We give people motivation and positive stories and by adding extra cards with simple actions so we avoid dissonance, doom, denial and identity.

It is important to stimulate and open up the vulnerable conversation about climate change. De Klimaat Gesprekken group has proven that the participants have reduced their footprint by 20% after participating in these talks and it still continious to grow. The participants also positively influenced other people and organizations. In this way, these climate talks provide a social tipping point that is needed for change.

In recent weeks I have also noticed that brain-friendly climate communication encourages me to take more action. By writing all those letters to strangers I noticed that I became much more aware of my own choices regarding to climate change. I was also positively stimulated by all the words and sustainable perspectives from others. I enjoyed writing off my feelings about climate change and entered into a dialogue with myself and others. The writing was enlightening and sometimes brought some relief. I think it is good that we have opened up the vulnerable conversation with handwriting communication. That we give people a way to share their fears and feelings about climate change.

The importance of this vulnerable conversation is shown by the American professor Robert Cialdine in his theory in which he talks about the Six Universal Principles of Influencing. In which he says that stories are effective triggers to change our behaviour. Stories are about reliability, commitment and sympathy. Thanks to these positive stories, people can identify with us, share your ideas and even become your ambassadors. I think our good intentions attract enthusiasm. And enthusiasm attracts more enthusiasm. This creates a snowball effect, which ultimately results in more people taking action and reducing the footprint of more people. This is what I expect from individual actions. By stimulating people with emotion, you evoke a sense of urgency and eventually action.

That is why the importance of interdisciplinary work between, for example, environmental scientists and communication specialists is important when it comes to creating a change.

This quote from Espen stoknes shows how these small individual actions make sense in the bigger picture. Why should we have to wait for someone else if we can get started with it by ourselves? I really do believe in the power of peer-to-peer, which is creating the desired snowball effect.

“Individual solutions are not sufficient enough to solve the climate problems, but they do built stronger bottom up support for policies and solutions that can. That is why engaging people is so crucial.” - Per Espen Stoknes

I hope through the Van Een Vreemde Voor Een Vreemde letter project, which is a form of brain-friendly climate communication, I can reduce the footprint and enlarge my handprint on the earth.

“Eventually it will start with a few people, but it will spread like an oil slick. I believe in that.” - This is a fragment from a letter we received.


  1. Iersel, Sigrid. (2017, 21th Feb). “7 missers bij communicatie over het klimaatprobleem”
  1. Stoknes, Per Espen & Raz, G (2019, 7th June). “What holds us back from facing the treats of climate change?”
  1. Moser, Susanne C. (2018, Jan). “Communicating climate change: history, challenges, process and future directions”
  1. Bijker, Annemieke. (2020, dec)
  1. Soest, Jan Paul. (2019, oct) “Klimaat Twijfel”
  1. Cialdini, Robert. (2016) Book: “Six Universal Principles of Influencing”
  1. (2020, feb).