Communicating Climate Change and Motivating Civic Action: Renewing, Activating, and Building Democracies

Susanne C. Moser


Governments are critical for bringing about the transition to a more sustainable human interaction with the environment as they set priorities and policies and may model new behavior. Yet, civil society is also indispensable in bringing about change. It is no small challenge to communicate effectively in order to engage civil society in this task. Many argue that the federal governments of North America are failing to provide needed leadership on climate change. In the absence of committed top-level leadership, bottom-up pressure is building to force policy changes at the federal level. This volume provides convincing evidence of growing action on cli- mate change at various levels and in different sectors of North America (Farrell and Hanemann, this volume; Gore and Robinson, this volume; Rabe, this volume; Selin and VanDeveer, this volume). At the same time, a social movement for climate pro- tection is beginning to emerge (Moser 2007b).

Broad sections of U.S. and Canadian societies, however, are not yet fully on board regarding the need for comprehensive climate change action and meaningful behavioral changes (Rabe, this volume; Stoett, this volume). In Mexico, civic mobi- lization around climate change has been barely evident at all in the early years of the twenty-first century (Pulver, this volume). This chapter examines civic mobilization around climate change primarily in the United States, and to a lesser extent in Can- ada and Mexico, in relation to climate governance efforts in public and private sec- tors from local to international levels. It focuses on how greater civic engagement on climate change can be fostered. Civil society can play at least two critical roles in climate change governance: (1) it can mobilize to push for policy changes at any level of government, and (2) it may enact behavioral changes consistent with needed mitigation and adaptation strategies.

If North American societies are to engage in these two types of civic responsibil- ities, however, communicators of climate change must go beyond merely conveying climate change knowledge and more effectively encourage and enable individuals to take part in the societal transformation necessary to address climate change success- fully (Moser and Dilling 2004, 2007a). Climate communicators have not yet fully taken on this challenge, but climate change presents an opportunity to renew U.S. society and democracy with greater civic engagement, build enduring democratic institutions in Mexico, and activate civic engagement more fully in Canada. The next section explores and compares public opinions about climate change across North America, demonstrating that deeper civic engagement has not yet been achieved in any of the three countries.

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