Since the expressions “global warming” and “climate change” do not frighten people enough, activists are proposing a shift in language to “climate crisis” or “environmental collapse,” with the help of advertising consultants.
Neuroscience research suggests that “global warming” and “climate change” do not produce a powerful enough reaction in people, whereas “climate crisis” got “a 60 percent greater emotional response from listeners” according to a recent study.
Environmental lobbying has reportedly yielded a 15-point increase in the share of Americans who believe that climate change is a serious problem, but activists are looking for ways to boost that number still further by using more explosive language.
Enter SPARK Neuro, an advertising consulting firm that measures physiological data such as brain activity and palm sweat to quantify people’s emotional reactions to stimuli.
SPARK Neuro fixed electroencephalography (EEG) devices to the heads of 120 volunteers to gauge the electrical activity coming from their brains. At the same time, a webcam monitored their facial expressions and sensors on their fingers recorded the sweat produced by heightened emotions.
The group, which was evenly divided among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, listened to audio recordings of six different climate phrases. “Global warming” and “climate change” performed the worst, beaten hands down by “climate crisis,” “environmental destruction,” “weather destabilization,” and “environmental collapse.”
According to Spencer Gerrol, CEO of SPARK Neuro, there are two probable reasons that “global warming” and “climate change” perform so poorly. For starters, they are both neutral phrases, with nothing “inherently negative or positive” about the words themselves.
Second, people have gotten used to these expressions and they no longer pack a significant punch. Both global warming and climate change are “incredibly worn out,” Gerrol said. Moreover, if an expression doesn’t elicit a strong emotional response in the first place, it is even more likely to wear out quickly, Gerrol said.
In its study, Spark said it was looking for a “sweet spot” that provoked a response but did not backfire by driving people over the edge.
“A successful candidate’s aim is to broaden the conversation around an issue with words that spark interest on both ends of the political spectrum… while avoiding overstating the problem,” it declared.
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