Here are some reflections on the current state of climate change communications from my participation in a September roundtable hosted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research with participation from McKinsey, SustainAbility, Cater Communications Climate Communication and Climate Nexus, among others: Cultural norms matter, may be playing a major role in how we act about climate. Two channels exist for science communication – information driven and cultural driven. It turns out that in order to influence climate actors, addressing climate actions as a personal choice that others in our community are making works better than honing in on the science information. Yale’s cultural cognition project is loaded with interesting research about this, including a paper on Why We are Poles Apart on Climate Change. So
As a climate actor, I may be frustrated that scientific evidence does not equate to climate leadership. But, as a communications professional, I appreciate that my clients may be more compelled to act by what their peers and competitors are doing than by evidence of the benefits of those action to their business.
Language matters in communicating about climate change. Communicating the Science of Climate Change offers some great suggestions about science communications that apply to other complex information, too:
- Start with what we know, rather than with what we don’t.
- Use language the public understands, not necessarily the language of a particular industry.
- Consider community, political and ideological frames for storytelling to inspire action. A local frame proves particularly helpful. So the Colorado fires, Texas drought, and Illinois flooding all provide great entrepoints for helping people see that climate change is having an impact on THEM, not just on the earth
Video matters, too, in relating and relaying what is sparking climate change. On reflection, the most memorable part of the two day roundtable was an introduction to Earth the Operators Manual, and particularly its clever “How to Talk to An Ostrich” with tips on how to engage folks who stick their head in the sand about climate. In the spot called: Who says CO2 heats things up?" they note it was the US Air Force that studied CO2 most carefully: it's heat-trapping properties could interfere with heat-seeking missiles. This entire video effort inspires me to believe in the value of climate change communications as a means to cause climate action.
What do you think is the most effective climate change communication you’ve seen/heard recently?