Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has had enough of scientists and UN officials using “weirdo words” when talking about climate change. By talking in scientific jargon and acronyms, the climate-change lobby is just confusing us, she said. Rightly so.
Her comments came at around the same time as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS – another acronym to add to the list) directly urged Americans to act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The AAAS scientists said they acted out of concern for the fact that Americans still failed to appreciate the gravity of climate change and were hoping to persuade people to look at climate change as an issue of risk management.
They plan to send out scientists on speaking tours to try to begin a debate on managing those risks.
Closer to home, experts from Manchester University recently spoke out to argue that we needed to park the cause question and simply recognise that extreme weather is occurring more often and we need to act and adapt to it.
On the one hand we have a need to cut back on the science speak and on the other we’re seeing a trend for scientists talking directly to the public. To say it’s a complicated communications landscape would be an understatement!
These occurrences raise an interesting question on the role of science and scientists in the communication of climate change to the wider public.
Whilst we can only agree with the need for less complex and technical communications, many have also long argued that scientists have been missing from the media debate and welcomed the scientists’ interventions.
The communication of science, not communication by scientists, has an important role to play in the public engagement with climate change.
If we want to see mainstream public action and concern for climate change, there is a tremendous job to be done to shift the climate change debate and close the consensus gap.
Source: The Guardian
There is a huge gap between the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming, and the public perception that scientists are evenly divided on the subject.
This consensus gap is preventing people from engaging with climate change. We simply aren’t hard wired to deal with uncertainty; we cope with anxiety by minimising uncertainty, our most natural reaction being to avoid uncertainty altogether.
Whether motivated by a desire to present both sides of the argument, or by the commercial appeal of sensationalist headlines, or a combination thereof, the media is maintaining us in a state of uncertainty. This matters because it impedes the success of future communications efforts.
We do absolutely need to avoid “weirdo words and science jargon”. What we need in its place is loud and mainstream communication on the certainty of the science. This is our role and our responsibility as media professionals.
Last Monday saw the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s first update in seven years on the scale of the threat of climate change. So far, the media seems to have backed the science with unity and comfort. Let’s hope this continues and gives us a stable platform from which to start engaging people and telling a different story.
Kathleen Enright is Practice Lead for OgilvyEarth, Ogilvy’s sustainability communications practice.