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Putting a deadline on climate change actions may lead to better results, study finds

When consumers feel like time is running out, they may be more pressured to take action

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A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Central Florida looked at some of the best ways to communicate the urgency of climate change to consumers. 

They learned that putting a deadline on things is likely to inspire people to act. When the severity of the situation is heightened, more people are willing to take action. 

“Communication scholars often propose portraying climate change in more proximate terms could play an important role in engaging audiences by making climate change more personally relevant,” said the study's lead author, Patrice Kohl. “We did not find any evidence of deadline-ism resulting in disengagement or other counterproductive responses. Our results more closely align with arguments in favor of presenting climate change in more proximate terms.” 

Feeling the pressure

For the study, the researchers divided 1,000 participants into two experimental groups and a control group. The first experimental group read an article that put a timeline on taking action against climate change, and the other read an article that discussed the importance of taking action, but didn’t put a deadline on doing so. The control group didn’t read any articles. The researchers asked all of the participants about their likelihood to take action, their thoughts on the severity of climate change, and their willingness to support political action against climate change. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that having a deadline in relation to climate change action was the best way for the participants to understand the urgency of the situation. 

Participants who read the article that included a deadline were more likely than any other group to believe their actions could positively impact the ongoing climate change crisis. They were also more likely to support legislation that backed climate change efforts and expressed greater concern over the severity of climate change than participants from other groups. 

The researchers hope that these findings are put into practice moving forward.  

“We’re going to have to learn how to talk about tough climate change realities in ways that engage rather than disengage audiences,” said Kohl. “I understand why critics worry that the idea of a deadline for meaningful action in avoiding catastrophic climate change might cause people to throw up their hands in defeat. But our research suggests that assumption might not be quite right.” 

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