50 Years of Climate Communications – What Have We Learned? And How Can We Improve?
On November 5, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson received the first official warning about the dangers of climate change. 50 years later, we still face challenges in communicating the scientific evidence of climate change and the urgency of finding solutions. In this Forbes article, weather and climate expert Dr. Marshall Shepherd outlines four key communication hurdles we still need to overcome.
1. Social media and blogs give everyone a forum. While Twitter and other social media can be excellent ways to raise climate awareness, these platforms can also give incorrect statements too much weight and attention. Our research has found that people are more receptive to climate messages when they come from someone the audience trusts and respects, such as a faith or community leader, or a renowned scientist or health professional. Social media can be a powerful way for those leaders to spread the truth about climate change and activate their constituents.
2. Scientists use too much jargon. When speaking to the public, scientists and other climate communicators should take care to use ordinary language instead of scientific buzzwords, and should avoid charts and graphs. Imagery, metaphors, and real-life comparisons are much more effective ways to make climate change understandable and relevant.
3. Lack of climate literacy is an issue. Partly for the reason listed above, people still have a poor understanding of the facts around climate change. We need to do a better job at countering misperceptions: helping people see the difference between climate and weather, for example, and that climate change is not just about left vs. right. It’s also important to let people know that there is something they can do about climate change, so they feel empowered rather than overwhelmed.
4. Was a particular event caused by climate change? It’s often hard to know for sure, or to know how much of a role climate change played. But people are starting to notice local impacts such as severe drought or storms, and making the link to climate change. As much as possible within scientific parameters, we need to reinforce those connections. And if new evidence emerges that makes the connection stronger, we need to share that evidence.
For more tips and best practices for climate messaging, download our guide: Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication.
By Dr. Marshall Shepherd, contributor to Forbes
I have come to Washington to participate in a symposium organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest professional science organization in the world,and the Carnegie Institution for Science. The symposium is reflecting on Climate Science 50 years after the first warning to a United States President on Climate Change.
The AAAS website for the symposium notes:
On 5 November, 1965, the group now known as the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) cautioned President Lyndon B. Johnson that continued accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting from fossil-fuel burning would “almost certainly cause significant changes” and “could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings.”
This symposium will reflect on the science, technology, policy, and communication challenges centered around climate change. I will use my spot on the agenda to discuss 4 key challenges to overcome in communicating climate science.
Image credit: National Archives Blog website