2:24 PM

More on Climate Change Communication

I'm just back from the Western States Communication Association conference (held, luckily for me, in beautiful Monterey, California).  I mostly participate in the Environmental Communication interest group there, and as always, there were a number of panels and presentations focusing on climate change communication.

My impression of a lot of the scholar and practitioners working in the field is that they are tired of having the discussions about the science of climate change--about whether or not the climate change we're seeing is primarily being caused by humans--and instead have moved past that very difficult debate to looking at policy actions.  They're tired of the work of trying to convince people that climate change is "real."

In other words, let's quit worrying quite so much about trying to persuade the unpersuadable and instead just talk about what to do next.  In essence, they seem to be arguing we should do an end-run around the science-related aspects of climate change, which are mired down in political allegiances, personal values, and human emotion.

This largely makes sense to me.  If most Americans believe climate change is happening (and polls show they do--they just don't agree on what's causing it, or on its severity) and if we can waste a whole lot of energy trying to teach people the science of climate change and they still might not change their minds, why do it?

I'm not saying climate science isn't important, or that science literacy isn't important, but why not just go straight to talking about what to do about it?  Why not talk about health effects, or energy independence, or living lives in a pleasanter world?

For example, a report on a new study shows that if you tell people about climate change and indicate it's going to be very severe, very dire, they are less likely to believe climate change is really happening, primarily because it doesn't jive with their believe that the world is just, and that things end up working out in the end.

The just world belief is a hard thing to change.  So why try?  Why not go straight to what's to be done?

This is kind of what the Monterey Bay Aquarium's new climate change exhibit is doing, by the way.  There's not much about climate science or meteorology in there--just a lot of cool, mod-designed posters and illustrations of rising sea levels, and an opportunity to write your congressperson, electronically at a kiosk, right there.  And about which energy sources might be key to solving the problem.  You don't feel bogged down in trying to understand climate modeling, but you do get a sense of hey, this is where we are, and this is where we need to go.  Seemed effective--not dire, not heavy-handed, but serious and interesting--to me.

What do you guys think?  Any problem with leaving communication of the science of climate change behind?

Comments (3)

That kind of sounds like, give up the fight.

I have to confess, I am coming from the other direction, and I dont necessarily think that climate change is due from humans, and that it might just be cyclical. I mean what, we've been here 10,000 years at most? And I know that this is a super unpopular opinion(i've been told several times how wrong I am).

What I dont want to see, is kind of what they are suggesting, is to not feel the need to prove your point.

Thats how Science works! Emperical data from lots of trials or over a long time! Do you think most scientists give up on their theories after trying to explain it 100 times?

I think that as we said in class, over time a theory establishes itself and people eventually accept it. They should continue to present evidence for human influence while moving forward with policy and legislation.

In response to Zach, humans have been here 2 million years and only activities in the last 200 years have contributed to global climate change. What I would like to see stopped is the emotional 'save the polar bears' angle that some enviromentalist play. Climate is cyclical, and we are currently leaving the last ice age. That ice is bound to melt no matter what, humans are just speeding the process up.

I like the progressive thought that we should just move forward on the issue. As for many things energy related, it takes so much time and money to get through the legislative process that i think we should be driving things like CCS and Clean Coal before they're "ready." I also like the two comments before me as I think they both make a good arguement. For me, I wonder if countries that are making progressive efforts to curb our environmental impact will even be able to make a difference with so many third world countries becoming industrial and polluting the atmosphere. The only way i see this as feasable though, is if someone is looking ahead and addressing the future issues.