Current research shows that emotions can motivate climate engagement and action, but precisely how has received scant attention. We propose that strong emotional responses to climate change result from perceiving one's “objects of care” as threatened by climate change, which motivates caring about climate change itself, and in turn predicts behaviour. In two studies, we find that climate scientists (N = 44) experience greater emotional intensity about climate change than do students (N = 94) and the general population (N = 205), and that patterns of emotional responses explain differences in support for climate change policy. Scientists tied their emotional responses to concern about consequences of climate change to future generations and the planet, as well as personal identities associated with responsibility to act. Our findings suggest that “objects of care” that link people to climate change may be crucial to understanding why some people feel more strongly about the issue than others, and how emotions can prompt action.