Science-based communications have failed to effectively counter the barrage of misinformation about climate change. This is partly due to the sheer volume of politically motivated subterfuge. This is especially true in the United States where climate change denial is being sold to the public by both the GOP and the fossil fuel industry. Most Republican legislators have made it clear that they are opposed to a fact-based understanding of climate change. Nonetheless, science is critical to the health of a society and if we are to reach larger numbers of people we need to be more effective. We must help shape the way climate change is perceived. To start with we need to make it relevant to people here and now. Rather than a seemingly amorphous global threat we must focus on climate threats as they apply in local contexts in the present. This includes immediate impacts on health, agriculture, the economy and our natural resources.
We have to counteract the slew of misinformation being generated by partisan interests. Despite being grossly inaccurate, these non-scientific surveys can overwhelm scientific surveys in popular media. We need to help non-scientists to appreciate the difference between studies with rigour and those without.
However, we must do more than just strive to ensure that our climate communications are free of factual inaccuracies, unsupported statements and logical flaws. Here are some additional recommendations to help us effectively communicate climate science.
It must be made emphatically clear that few statements have more scientific veracity than the evidence connecting human activity and climate change. Historical impacts must be differentiated from future vulnerabilities. This last point is important because historical impacts have been shown to do a far better job at reinforcing understanding then future vulnerabilities. When talking about future impacts it must be clearly stated that these are scientific projections, not predictions.
We need to show that scientific conclusions effect people. We specifically need to show how people are being hurt by the changing climate. If people understand these facts they are more likely to respond particularly if they see the threat as pertinent to them.
In addition to highlighting local impacts, we need to make it clear that this is a global issue. The overarching implications of climate change make it one of the most pressing global challenges of our day. As such climate change has the potential to unify people.
Climate science must be rendered in approachable narratives so that we can reach vast swaths of the general public. We need climate communications that bridge the political divide and help the electorate to make informed voting decisions. Science-based narratives must employ emotion and perhaps most importantly we need to help people to understand that there are a wide range of viable solutions.
If we want to address the climate crisis we will need the involvement of all sectors of society including governments. To get responsible political leadership we need better informed voters and this means we need more effective strategies for sharing science with the public.