Why Clear, Simple Messages Are the Key to Better Climate Understanding

understanding climate scienceThe overwhelming majority of scientists believe that climate change is happening and caused by humans. However, many Americans remain unaware of that fact. Why is that? It might be that the term “overwhelming majority” is too vague. In a recent study by researchers at George Mason University, specific numbers (in this case, 97.5 percent) worked much better than generalities in aligning people’s belief with the reality of scientific consensus. Also, when participants were asked to give an estimate of the consensus number in advance, they were more likely to accept the actual percentage.
 
As researchers Edward Maibach and Teresa Myers pointed out, numbers aren’t perceived in a vacuum – they need some context. Clear communication on this subject is especially important, because “the evidence suggests that understanding the expert consensus is a ‘gateway’ belief,” leading to greater acceptance of climate change.
 
Other ways to make climate science more clear and relatable include using metaphors and visual representations, and presenting the same information in multiple formats. Check out our report for more tips on communicating about climate.
 

There’s a Scientific Consensus on Climate Change?

Tom Jacobs, contributor to Pacific Standard Magazine
 
Much of the public remains unaware of that basic fact, but researchers have found two ways to increase people’s knowledge.
 
A resounding 97 percent of climate experts agree that climate change is both real and, at least in part, caused by human activities. But a huge chunk of the American public remains ignorant of this consensus, making it difficult to start conversations on the subject on firm factual ground.
 
According to the most recent numbers from Gallup, only 60 percent of Americans expressed agreement with the understated assertion that “most scientists believe global warming is occurring.” Eight percent disagreed, while 29 percent were unsure if scientists are of one mind on the issue.
 
This is not only frustrating but vitally important, since “the evidence suggests that understanding the expert consensus is a ‘gateway’ belief,” writes a research team led by Edward Maibach and Teresa Myers of George Mason University. Awareness that there is no real controversy within the scientific community “predisposes people to be more certain that climate change is happening, human-caused, serious, and solvable.”
 
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Image credit: Malte Pott/Shutterstock

One Response to “Why Clear, Simple Messages Are the Key to Better Climate Understanding”

  1. “Much of the public remains unaware of that basic fact, but researchers have found two ways to increase people’s knowledge.”

    What are they? Metaphor and visuals? Let’s do that!

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