18 January 2014

The Challenges of Climate Change Communication

Posted by Dan Satterfield

This is a re-post from the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. It’s a subject that meteorologists who work in TV deal with every day. Even if communicating climate is not part of your job, you’ll still learn some real science about climate. If your job is in any way connected to communicating science, this is a must see/read.

Richard Alley, Susi Moser Featured in Yale Forum

Communications Webinar

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30oClimate image

The second in the ongoing new ’30onClimate’ webinar series covers a wide range of issues from the differing, but complementary, perspectives of two leading voices on science communications.

A new 30-minute webinar on climate change communications covers a wide area of topical issues, as earth scientist Richard Alley of Penn State University and social scientist Susi Moser take on questions posed by Yale Forum regular contributor Bruce Lieberman and several sent in by individuals across the country.

Coming from their distinctly different career paths and areas of specialty, Alley and Moser offered insightful analyses on issues ranging from:

  • how the public understands or misunderstands weather vs. climate distinctions in situations involving unusual events such as the “polar vortex” or the instance of the Russian research vessel recently locked-in by ice while conducting climate research in Antarctica;
  • how a wide range of what Moser called “intervening variables” can color individual’s reactions to a particular set of scientific facts, with people drawing differing conclusions from the same basic points;
  • ways scientists can best frame a discussion so that it opens an audience to hearing about the evidence-based science. “The physics is the same for me as for anyone else,” Alley emphasized at one point, saying he personally stays away from recommending policy or personal actions that should be taken in light of that evidence;
  • the plusses and minuses associated with popular Hollywood treatments of climate change, in part stemming from those productions having to first be entertaining and only after that be “accurate”;
  • the implications of inevitable uncertainty in addressing climate change, uncertainties which Alley said “are mostly on the bad side … grossly on the bad side”;
  • the challenges inherent in communicating with that large segment of society — clearly a majority — not characterized as solidly “anxious” or “dismissive” about climate change and its impacts … but generally less resolutely firm about their feelings and, in any case, far less vocal than those at the “extreme” ends of public concern; and
  • challenges involved in addressing equity and ethical considerations raised by climate change, and scientists’ ethical responsibilities in sharing their research findings with a lay audience. “We really do have to tell the people what we know” based on scientists’ research, Alley said, much of which he acknowledged is publicly funded.