25 February 2013

AGU Video: Speak up about climate change, science communicators say

Posted by mcadams

More scientists should enter the climate change discussion, say five climate communication professionals who paused for a few minutes at the 2012 AGU Fall Meeting to advocate for broader participation from scientists. In the latest AGU video seen here, each shared a few thoughts on the importance of speaking up and on preparing ahead in order to make a connection with general audiences. Here are their top tips from the video:

1. Take responsibility and talk about climate change.

“Scientists should really think carefully about the messages that they want to get across to people – and that takes some work,” says Susan Joy Hassol, director of the outreach organization Climate Communication, in Boulder, Colo., and Asheville, N.C.

Hassol helps climate scientists develop plain-language messages about their research to share with policy-makers, the press and the public. It’s critical that climate scientists emphasize the importance of their work to people of all backgrounds, Hassol says.

“If we want to make sure that we don’t leave our children with a problem that they can’t solve, this is the most important thing there is to do.”

2. Know your audience.

Part of preparing to share science research is considering who you are talking to. Richard Somerville, a distinguished professor emeritus and research professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, tells scientists to think about their audience. Is it a congressman voting on a bill? A political group? A business person? Scientists who can talk about how a particular person or group might be affected will help to make a connection with that person or group.

“You have to understand why people are coming to you. Very few people want to be simply informed about climate research for its own sake,” Somerville says.

3. Explain what we know and why it matters.

Scientists often want to start with what they don’t know. The public, though, wants to hear what scientists do know.

“We know that climate is changing, we know that it’s humans who are causing it, we know that the impacts will be severe and many of them are already showing…and we know that there [are] things we can do about it,” says Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Scientists don’t have to try to change people’s values, though, to get them to care. Instead, they need to tap into people’s existing values.

“We all want a healthy economy. We all want good health. We all want a better life for our children,” Hayhoe says. “If we start from these values and show how they connect to the issue of climate change, people are already there.”

4. Keep it simple.

One of the most critical things to do when communicating the complex facts surrounding climate change is to keep it simple.

“Distill what you think is the most important point and speak it clearly,” says photographer James Balog, founder and director of the Extreme Ice Survey and creative director of Earth Vision Trust, based in Boulder, Colo.

5. Be passionate!

Though it might seem difficult, there is value in communicating about climate science says Hunter Cutting, director of strategic communications at the climate communications organization Climate Nexus, with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Start with the science, Cutting says, but then move to the threats of climate change, and ultimately, the opportunities to fix it.

Cutting’s concerns for the future and his children’s quality of life, he says, are why he speaks up.

“It’s becoming a moral responsibility. It’s simply not okay to be quiet about climate change anymore.”

Mary Catherine Adams, AGU public information specialist