In Louisiana, coastal land loss, sinking land, and rising sea levels threaten everything from infrastructure to ancestral burial grounds. Every major storm raises an even greater threat to peoples’ safety and livelihoods. For those working to save the coast, it’s a race against time.
Understandably, advocates for many causes focus on raising the alarm about urgent problems in order to spur action. However, raising awareness of problems without offering solutions can backfire—and demotivate the audience you need to mobilize.
Motivational psychology suggests that people are most motivated to take action when they can envision a positive future, understand the problems standing in the way, and believe solutions are possible.
Guided by this science, the Hattaway team has collaborated with the Walton Family Foundation to understand the media conversation around coastal restoration initiatives along the Gulf Coast.
Since 2015, we’ve analyzed hundreds of articles to gain insight on themes and trends in local, state, and national reporting on coastal restoration. These findings help restoration advocates understand who and what’s driving the conversation each year and how to plan their communications accordingly.
Each year our Media Map analyses have detected a balance between communicating a sense of urgency while conveying a sense of hope. In 2020, for example, there were 38 references to the threat of land loss. On the other hand, there were 37 articles referencing restoration efforts underway.
The good news is that since 2018, we have not seen anyone in the media saying the situation was hopeless. This despite new research that finds the coast is past a “tipping point” of land loss. This is partially because the issue enjoys continued, widespread bipartisan support, and perhaps also because coastal restoration advocates know to focus on solutions. Rather than focusing on the peril, news coverage underscores the major restoration efforts underway.
The job of balancing hope and urgency in Louisiana is one all climate communicators have. In 2018, majorities of Americans felt "helpless" (51%) when they thought about global warming. Under half felt "hopeful" (48%), according to a study by Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
A sign of hope in the national climate conservation is that more Americans than ever think addressing climate change should be a priority. Pew Research, for the first time in 20 years of polling, found that in 2020, “nearly as many Americans say protecting the environment should be a top policy priority (64%) as say this about strengthening the economy (67%).” This shift, according to Yale Climate Connections, could be driven by a concerted effort for higher quality climate reporting in 2019—demonstrating the large-scale attitude that communicating more solutions can have.
To consider how this dynamic might affect your cause, consider how you’re talking about the issue. Have you talked about the problem in a way that eliminates hope? Have you shown the promise of the solutions you bring?
For more on how to talk about your cause in a motivating way, check out this episode of our Achieve Great Things podcast on the topic of “solutions-oriented communication” with Christine Heenan, former Vice President for Global Policy & Advocacy at The Rockefeller Foundation.
Monica's background in business, policy communications, and experiences living and working around the world brings rich perspectives and strategy to clients such as Women' World Banking, Northwest Area Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation. Before joining Hattaway, she developed a comprehensive communications program for the US-ASEAN Business Council, where she led communications, marketing, and public affairs activities across its international offices.