Despite being one of the most important societal challenges of the 21st century, public engagement with climate change currently remains low in the United States. Mounting evidence from across the behavioral sciences has found that most people regard climate change as a nonurgent and psychologically distant risk—spatially, temporally, and socially—which has led to deferred public decision making about mitigation and adaptation responses. In this article, we advance five simple but important “best practice” insights from psychological science that can help governments improve public policymaking about climate change. Particularly, instead of a future, distant, global, nonpersonal, and analytical risk that is often framed as an overt loss for society, we argue that policymakers should (a) emphasize climate change as a present, local, and personal risk; (b) facilitate more affective and experiential engagement; (c) leverage relevant social group norms; (d) frame policy solutions in terms of what can be gained from immediate action; and (e) appeal to intrinsically valued long-term environmental goals and outcomes. With practical examples we illustrate how these key psychological principles can be applied to support societal engagement and climate change policymaking.
November 18, 2015