When the film “Don’t Look Up” was released in December 2021 it got a big reaction from a group who usually don’t do film reviews – climate scientists. The film tells the story of two astronomers attempting to warn humanity about an approaching comet that will destroy human civilization, but it felt incredibly close to home for those who had been entrenched in climate work. Here at Acadia Center the film prompted a spirited discussion including favorite lines from the film (“Keep it simple. No math.” “…but it’s all math”). But the big takeaway for the Acadia Center team, and for climate scientists at large, was a feeling of painful recognition – we know the “comet” is coming, but how can we encourage people to act?
Inspiring climate action and gaining support for work that is often technical and slow has been a challenge since “global warming” first came to the mainstream in the 1980s. However, as action is more urgently needed, new techniques for communicating about the crisis are emerging. In 2005 Yale founded its Program on Climate Communication and starting in 2008 that program has produced reports on “The Six Americas”, which breaks down the attitudes of Americans when it comes to climate change into six groups: “Alarmed, “Concerned,” “Cautious,” “Disengaged,” “Doubtful” and “Dismissive.”
From when the surveys began in 2008 until as recently as 2015 “Alarmed” was the second smallest group. However, over the last few years there has been a rapid growth in “Alarmed,” with that segment growing by 15% between 2017 and 2021 to 33% of the total audience. About six in ten Americans (59%) are either Alarmed or Concerned, while only about 2 in 10 (19%) are Doubtful or Dismissive.
So, how does this new awareness transform into action and financial support for climate advocacy, especially in a time of upheaval in the fundraising world? The Covid-19 pandemic completely changed the fundraising world in 2020, with many people giving to new organizations for the first time. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s (FEP) quarterly fundraising report for 2021 Q4 found that although major donors are being retained from 2020, recapture rates for past donors are down about 19% industry-wide, underlining the importance of keeping every donor engaged and excited about the work. On the other hand, organizations focused on “Environment and Animals” saw large year-over-year gains, reflecting Yale’s finding that more Americans are “Alarmed” about climate change and looking for a way to help.
Acadia Center is an organization that thrives on data, and we are excited to use these findings from Yale and FEP in our 2022 communication and individual giving strategy. Currently, we are working on a new newsletter that will give supporters an in-the-weeds and behind-the-scenes look at the work Acadia Center staffers are doing to advance bold and equitable climate solutions on the local, state, and regional level. Keep an eye out in the next year for more webinars with Acadia Center staff, more blogs and resources on our website, and more opportunities to learn about exciting climate change solutions.
Every individual’s support matters in the fight for a sustainable world, and together we can make the change that seems so impossible in films like “Don’t Look Up.” As the star of that film, Leonardo DiCaprio said, “It is incumbent upon all of us, all of you, activists, young and old, to please get involved…The planet can no longer wait, the underprivileged can no longer be ignored. This is truly our moment for action. Please take action.”
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, Global Warming’s Six Americas, September 2021
Fundraising Effectiveness Project, Fourth Quarter Fundraising Report, 2021