On September 21, 2014, a team of students with the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication joined over 310,000 people in the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March, to voice support for a safe climate. The march was an exuberant and colorful display of diverse voices united in common cause. Our students conducted 167 interviews of marchers and documented in photos and audio recordings what messages were being communicated and why. Today we’re releasing their report, which presents the major themes they observed and heard from the demonstrators.
When asked, “Why are you marching about global warming today?” participants were most likely to say they were marching as part of a group, because they were passionate about the issue, or because global warming is fundamental to their work. Other common reasons included the need to create public pressure for action on global warming and to advocate on behalf of children and future generations.
When asked what gave them hope, three different themes emerged – those who were: (1) doubtful — the situation is grave; (2) hopeful — because of the march itself, and “because I have to be”; (3) very hopeful — examples of positive change are happening all around us.
Analyzing the visual messages, a number of popular themes emerged, including Replacing Fossil Fuels with Clean Energy, references to the Environment and Nature, and Food and Farming. When asked “Why this particular message?” many interviewees cited the need for Clean Energy, followed by trying to influence Politics and Government, Corporate Accountability, and improving Public Health.
Some marchers were asked: “When you think of ‘global warming,’ what is the first word, phrase, or image that comes to your mind?” Their associations were consistent with the results of a nationally representative survey in which we asked a similar question. People frequently referred to Melting Ice (e.g., “north and south poles melting”), Floods (e.g., “coastal inundation”), Alarm (e.g., “catastrophe”), as well as Emotion (e.g., “worry”), Nature (e.g., “extinction”), and Weather (e.g., “weather extremes”).
Some marchers were also asked, “When you think of global warming solutions what is the first word or image that comes to your mind?” They most often mentioned Energy (e.g., “solar power”), People (e.g., “people power”), and Politics (e.g., “how we vote” or “carbon taxes”).
As you will see, our students have produced a very interesting synthesis of photos, direct quotes, and content analysis, capturing the major themes they identified in the interviews conducted that day.
The demonstrators at the People’s Climate March came with a variety of motivations and messages, demonstrating the diversity of voices now demanding change. It was an inspiring day and we hope those working for a safe climate will find the report useful.
The report entitled “Messages from the March: A Thematic Analysis of Interviews at the New York City People’s Climate March” can be downloaded below.