As of 2008, 21 percent of Americans were alarmed about climate change
. The Alarmed are convinced that global warming is happening, human-caused, and an urgent threat, and they strongly support climate change action. Most, however, do not know what they can do to solve the problem. Next are the Concerned (30 percent), who also think human-caused global warming is happening and is a serious threat. However, they believe that it is still a distant problem — distant in time, with impacts a generation or more away, and distant in space — a problem that will primarily impact plants, penguins, or polar bears but not the United States, their communities, or the people and places they care about. The Concerned support policy action but do not see the issue as an urgent priority.
Next are the Cautious (21 percent), who still question: Is global warming happening? Is it human-caused or natural? Is it serious or overblown? The Cautious have not yet made up their minds. Then come the Disengaged (7 percent), who know little about global warming. They rarely or never hear about it in the media or from their own friends or family members. Next are the Doubtful (12 percent), who do not think global warming is happening, but if it is, it is just a natural cycle. They do not think about climate change much or consider it a serious risk. The final group are the Dismissive (9 percent), who are convinced global warming is not happening, human-caused, or a threat. Most endorse conspiracy theories: global warming is a hoax, scientists are making up the data, or it is just a get-rich scheme by Al Gore. The Dismissive are just a small percentage of the American public. But they are very vocal, and their views have had an outsize influence in Congress, the White House, and many state governments.
A first priority is to organize the Alarmed, who are currently a latent issue public. There ae approximately 53 million Americans alarmed about climate change. Of this group, 7 percent (about 3.7 million) say they are already part of “a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming.” 28 percent (about 14.8 million) say they “definitely would join” a campaign, and 37 percent (about 19.6 million) say they “probably would join” such a campaign. This represents an enormous potential
social movement — if they were recruited, organized, and deployed. But unlike other issue publics, the citizen activist wing of the climate movement remains relatively small and disorganized.
Second, the diverse organizations advocating for climate change action need to be organized into an advocacy coalition
with the political muscle to sway elections, influence policymakers, and overcome the concerted opposition of climate change action opponents. Advocacy coalitions can include nongovernment organizations, social movements, governments, political parties, research institutions, companies, and media outlets. On the issue of climate change, opponents of climate change policy, such as the fossil fuel industry billionaires Charles Koch and David H. Koch, have constructed a larger, better organized, and better financed coalition, sustained over decades, than have proponents, who — despite having majority public support for many policies, a larger issue public, and a larger number of organizations working on climate change — continue to pursue relatively diverse agendas, with less coordination and focus. The balance of power and influence between these different coalitions can have very significant effects on the policy-making process.
A third priority is to build the “silent permission” for action among the 70 percent of Americans in the middle four groups of the Six Americas. These audiences are unlikely to become active members of the climate change issue public (for example, the Alarmed), but critically, they do represent the majority of voters. They are unlikely to ever lobby a public official, call their members of Congress, march in the streets, or donate money to a climate change organization. But most elected officials need their silent permission to pass climate policies — their tacit support and willingness to not punish political leaders at the ballot box for taking action. A slightly more ambitious goal for this silent majority is to persuade them to prefer political candidate X over candidate Y, because candidate X favors stronger climate change action.