When I started in the climate movement I went in search of “magic words.” Something simple that I could say that would motivate others to take action. Perhaps you’ve also wished for those words.

I found it was a fool’s errand. Not the search for magic words themselves. But the idea that there is just one simple phrase or frame that we can utter that will change everything.

Climate change is complex and ubiquitous (not a magic word.) There are lots of causes and lots of solutions. People are complicated. So no single phrase is going to necessarily help. But there are lots of ways to attract and motivate others. Call them magic word techniques. I’m going to show you one below.

Unfortunately, we often ignore what works and go with our gut. Figuring out how to improve a phrase or an appeal takes time and effort. We often rationalize that we don’t have time. After all, addressing climate change is urgent. But when we take a short cut, we often don’t get the results we want. Sometimes we don’t even realize this. Often because we are too busy to measure the results.

But just as there are different ways to say things, there are lots of words and techniques that are better than others. Here’s just one. It is a small way to create identity.

We are often told that we must vote to make change. The phrases that we use are “Vote!” or “Vote for….” The word “Vote” is a verb and an action. We use it as an imperative in an appeal to get others “to vote.” In our culture, action is a virtue. We “take action!”

But psychologists and linguists have figured something else out. That creating identity often creates action rather than the other way around. (In a recent post I used the Marlboro man to show how powerful identity is in getting people to see themselves differently.) But how do we create identity?

Change a verb to a noun.

Instead of telling people “To vote,” tell them to “Be a voter.” This small change results in a 15% to 20% uplift in people actually voting. If this doesn’t sound like a lot, read my Myth of the Funnel post. Let’s say you have a 5% improvement by asking people “to vote,” but a 15% improvement by saying “Be a voter.” That’s a 300% improvement in actions taken.

We can extend this to any climate appeal. Fund raising for example. You can “Donate” (verb) or “Be a Donor or Sustainer,” (nouns). Or “Be a top 100 sustainer.” You can “Take climate action now,” (action) or “Be a Climate Activist,” (noun). If you don’t believe me, try a test. Ask your kids to “clear the table” or ask them “who wants to be a helper” and clean the table tonight. Yeah, your sample size isn’t going to be big enough to work. But you’re going to “be a tester” anyway.

Why does this work? The simplest answer is that identity imparts more stability and permanence than just taking action. The noun or identity term confers more significance. It makes us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. It gives us identity. We are donors, activists, and helpers.

Of course this magic word technique is not a silver bullet. Many things are required to build identity. But it’s so simple and so easy we might as well use it.

Do you fight for clean energy or are you a clean energy warrior? Are you someone who is good at climate communication or are you a climate communication champion?

Thanks for all you do.

We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™


L. Hobart Stocking
Facebook: @SkyWaterEarthConnected
Twitter: @SkyWaterEarth