Understanding emotions around climate change is important because different emotions can motivate different behaviours. Considering the emotions at play, and the “objects of care” attached to them, can lead to a greater understanding of how individuals link themselves to climate change.
Climate change can be an incredibly emotive issue. Yet the emotions involved are not necessarily linked to climate change itself, but instead to the perceived threat of climate change to an individual’s “objects of care” (e.g. future generations, the planet). Wang et al. aim to explore this relationship by investigating the emotions and associated “objects of care” of the people we assume will be most closely connected to climate change: climate scientists. However, the authors also explore the responses of students and the general public to allow relative comparisons between the groups. They did this by retrieving brief written responses from individuals within the three groups answering the question, “How do you feel about climate change?” The responses were analysed through open and axial coding to explore the expressed emotional responses and how these are tied to specific “objects of care”.
The results indicate that climate scientists experience greater emotional intensity around climate change than students and the general public. Climate scientists expressed not only more frustration and anger than the other groups but also, somewhat paradoxically, more hope. The emotional responses of both the climate scientists and general public incorporated future generations and nature as the primary “objects of care”.
Identifying and exploring these “objects of care” is incredibly valuable to our understanding around our emotional relationships with climate change, and can help to inform communications and behaviour change interventions moving forward.
Wang, S., Leviston, Z., Hurlstone, M., Lawrence, C., Walker, I. (2018). Emotions predict policy support: Why it matters how people feel about climate change. Global Environmental Change, 50, 25–50, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2018.03.002.