For many of us, the climate crisis and surrounding messaging can inspire feelings of fear, helplessness and anxiety. Oftentimes it might feel like there is no solution to the challenges posed by global warming. So what can museums and other cultural organisations do to get away from this and to talk about the issue in a way that inspires action?

Our bespoke system for understanding how likely each of the eight Culture Segments are to act for the planet, what motivates the action, and what messaging might drive them into further action highlights that doom and gloom messaging simply won’t inspire positive action and change in all groups, and can often lead to a feeling of paralysis.

Our research has found that the four most culturally active segments (Essence, Expression, Stimulation and Affirmation) each have different drivers for taking action to help the environment:

Essence have high levels of agency and empathy, and are likely to take individual action based on their principle that it’s urgent, worthwhile and our responsibility.

Expression have the highest levels of empathy of all the segments. They also feel that joining forces to take action is more effective and are driven by positive emotion and a sense of community.

Affirmation have a strong sense of environmental threat and concern which tends to leave them paralyzed. They need clear support and direction in order to take action

Stimulation tend to have faith in the ability of tech to provide solutions. They love a cause or campaign and are driven to take action by a sense of justice.

We found that none of these Segments are driven by stress, fear or guilt, and that these emotions are more likely to lead to a lack of action for some.

Additionally, The Association of Independent Museums (AIM)’s recent report, ‘Pleasure, Connection and Purpose’ also found that the public had the strongest response to museum campaigns more generally when strong personal emotions of purpose, such as pride, fulfilment and hope, were cultivated.

We’ve compiled some examples of museums and cultural organizations internationally who chose to take a more positive approach to thinking and talking about climate change, focusing instead on potential solutions to the challenges facing our planet.

Example 1: Peabody Essex Museum, Climate Action: Inspiring Change

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), felt that although a majority of Americans are anxious about the climate crisis, only a small percentage know how to talk about it or make a positive impact. Their 2023 exhibition Climate Action: Inspiring Change sought to communicate to audiences that individuals can make positive changes to help tackle the challenges of the climate crisis.

Climate Action brought together science, art and participatory activities to ‘raise awareness of the underlying issues of climate change, focusing on known solutions’. Their goal was to help visitors ‘move beyond fear and feelings of helplessness and make informed choices to take positive steps forward.’

PEM’s decision to focus on solutions rather than challenges allowed visitors to avoid the feelings of fear and helplessness which can result in paralysis in terms of taking action. Instead, visitors were empowered to make positive changes in their lives to address some of the challenges posed by climate change.

Example 2: The Barbican, Our Time on Earth

Immersive experiences can be a powerful way of engaging audiences with the environment. The Barbican took an immersive approach to addressing climate-related challenges in their 2022 exhibition Our Time on Earth. This exhibition fused art and science, ‘celebrating the power of global creativity to transform the conversation around the climate emergency.’

By journeying through immersive, interactive installations and digital works, visitors were able to share in a range of perspectives, explore different ways of existing on earth and find ways to reconnect with our planet. The exhibition also set out to encourage visitors to ‘take an active role and leave feeling empowered to make positive change.’

Example 3: The Climate Museum, Manhattan pop-up event

The Climate Museum’s recent 2022-23 Manhattan pop-up event focused on inspiring visitors to take action on climate change through a blend of social science and art. As part of this event, the museum set up a Climate Action Incubator, which allowed visitors to reflect on environmental issues in conversation with other visitors, learn more about the climate emergency and take positive action.

The incubator took the form of feedback walls, where visitors used stickers to express their opinions on climate change, spaces to discuss the challenges with other visitors and booths where visitors could record responses around how climate change has impacted their lives.

For more information on Culture Segments and environmental messaging at your organisation, please contact Consultant and Eco Lead Laura Karban: