Thursday, March 18, 2010

Communicating Climate Change in Everyday Conversation with a Skeptic

Communicating climate change is necessary, communicating climate change to skeptics is most important.

Climate change is a tough topic to bring about in the United States, increasingly so for the rest of the world due to a powerful skepticism movement. However, if we are to have educated responses and responsible voters there will need to an understanding of climate change for everyone that is affected. The current status quo of ignoring the issue will not do. It was Lord Stern, whose pivotal study the Stern Review is the most widely referred to report on the Economics of Climate Change that said "It is intensive public discussion that will, in my view, be the ultimate enforcement mechanism." Unfortunately, we are not there and it is due to everyday conversations and communication.

Problems in communicating climate change: for greater depth, our blogger Brian Kahn has put together a series regarding the challenges of communicating climate change. Global warming has already reached a consensus among most scientists (90% of the scientific journal Earth scientists believe the earth is warming. 82% believe that human activity causes the increase in climate temperature.) Brian goes into length three things: language, media, and visualizing. These three elements of communication are poorly utilized and the cause of such climate change illiteracy in the US.

Politics: climate change has become more than just a scientific phenomena briefly mentioned in textbooks or television ads. It has become a political issue, with a line drawn between conservatives and liberals; or more accurately between economists and environmentalists. Once political lines are drawn, the conversation turns away from facts and solutions to “who’s right and therefore better.” In that situation everyone loses.

It must be understood quickly that unless we can pull the issue of climate change away from being categorized as a political ideology or religious view we’re never going to have a fruitful conversation on climate change. Without fruitful climate change conversations we won’t have the “ultimate enforcement mechanism” Stern mentions above. In order to win, you must lose. That is to say, you must treat the conversation like a friendly transaction between two scholars looking for the truth, not trying to convince the other is wrong.

How an everyday conversation should go between a climate change skeptic and an advocate against climate change: first, the topic is brought up. “So what are your views on climate change?” Their answer may be: “It’s a natural cycle that happens every 10,000 years, not man-made.” Bingo, we have a skeptic. You could cite all the climate change reports you’ve read and they would put forth theirs. Or you’d be better to discuss probabilities. Climate change has this fat-tail problem: small probabilities for highly catastrophic consequences: one computer model has shown if we become carbon neutral at 550ppm (with a strong global effort) there's a 4.2% probability of reaching an 8C rise in temperature (Stern, 2008). Ask them: what if we’re wrong to ignore climate change? Would you have wanted governments to put up 1% of GDP to save lives? If nothing else, than just to save money? Turn the conversation away from who’s right or wrong and make it about what if we could have done something, just in case it’s as bad as or worse than what many scientists suggest. You’ll rediscover common ground with skeptics needed to do good for the future; we’ll build from there.

Photo Credit : Anders V


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36 comments:

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