Climate change communication could be done better. What went wrong? In an era when people are overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, marketers of just any idea must get it right. From the very start.
So where did communicating environmental issues and climate change fail to raise awareness and inspire change?
Climate change communication risk to non-scientists – citizens and politicians – could be more effective, according to a collaborative research paper in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Climate Change Communication: Public Concern
Despite much research that demonstrates potential dangers from climate change, public concern has not been increasing. One theory is that the public is not intimately familiar with the nature of the climate uncertainties in discussion. As such, it does little to support decision-making and change behavior.
For example, “a major challenge in communicating climate scientists is explaining to non-specialists the risks and uncertainties surrounding potential climate change”, says a new Perspectives piece in the science journal.
“Few citizens or political leaders understand the underlying science well enough to evaluate climate-related proposals and controversies,” the authors write. Perhaps at first appearing to support the idea of specialized knowledge – that only climate scientists can understand climate research.
But, co-author Professor Baruch Fischhoff quickly dispels the notion. “The goal of communicating climate change and science should be to help people understand the state of the science. Yet, this should be science relevant to the decisions that they face in their private and public lives. Further, all of our climate-related options have uncertainties, regarding health, economics, ecosystems, and international stability, among other things,” he says.
Professor Nick Pidgeon an environmental psychologist at Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, and Professor Fischhoff, a social and decision scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, wrote together “The role of social and decision sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks.”
“The temptation, in the face of rising climate scepticism, has been to simply emphasize the communication of scientific facts. But we need to move on from a sterile debate about whether global warming is happening or not. We indeed need to recognise that climate change poses fundamental questions of decision making and risk,” said co-author Pidgeon.
So key to effective climate change communications is what the authors call “strategic organisation” and “strategic listening.” Common sense, isn’t it?
Strategic Organisation and Strategic Listening
First, strategic organisation involves working in cross-disciplinary teams that include, at a minimum, climate scientists, decision scientists, social and communications specialists and other experts.
Second, strategic listening encourages climate scientists, who often have little direct contact with the public, to overcome flawed intuitions of how well they communicate.
Third, it also asks scientists to go beyond intuitive feeling and consider how well they communicate by using systematic feedback and empirical evaluation.
Finally, “I think that it is good for scientists to be in contact with the public, so that they can learn about its concerns and see how well, or poorly, they are communicating their knowledge,” says Fischhoff. “That way they can do a better job of producing and conveying the science that people need.”
he Economic and Social Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust jointly funded the research. The National Science Foundation (NSF) offered additional support.
What do you think? How shall scientists do better climate change communication to the public?
Credit: Cardiff University