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Here you will find the best articles and research on climate change communication.   Rather than attempt to be comprehensive, we simply select a few of the most useful and insightful articles we can find.

Most in this section will focus narrowly on certain aspects to the exclusion of others.    Some contradict what is said elsewhere.    Some may be controversial among climate communicators.     But each will offer something unique.

(For ClimateBites own synthesis of key "tips," drawn from these articles and elsewhere, see the folder "Summary - Tips for Effective Climate Communication")

Fear Won't Do It -- Clear, Realistic Solutions Will

Over the past few years, a growing body of social science research has pointed to one of the major challenges in communicating about climate change. This research suggests that by focusing narrowly on the risks of climate change, many spokespeople -- political leaders, environmentalists, and scientists-- may unintentionally trigger disbelief, diminished concern or withdrawal among audiences.

A study at the journal Psychological Science by researchers at UC Berkeley recommends a shift away from the threat to a much stronger focus on clear and realistic policy solutions.

Futerra's Five Minute Guide to Climate Communication: "Sell the Sizzle"
thumb_Futerra -- Sizzle

The Futerra Group is a London-based "communications firm that works on "green issues, corporate responsibility, and sustainability."

Their short and lively guide to climate communication is built around two themes:

1) "Sell the sizzle, not the sausage." Communicators need to emphasize whatever "gets the juices flowing and makes people hungry."

2) Heaven sizzles. Hell doesn't.  We need to "build a compelling vision of low-carbon heaven" because "ten years of warnings about 'Climate Hell' haven't held us back from rushing headlong toward it."

Why Deniers Out-Debate Scientists....Almost Every Time!
thumb_joe romm banner

Here's Joe Romm's now-classic piece on why climate scientist's almost always lose when they debate a clever denier.

Romm may be the only climate/energy specialist in the world who has also written a book on rhetoric - the art of persuasion.  So he knows what he's talking about.   Notice I said "art;" learning the principles of persuasion is but the first step; for most of us,  applying these principles requires lots of practice, feedback and discipline.

Romm explains why -- from Marc Anthony's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech to George W. Bush and Sarah Palin to Michael Crichton -- a speaker who comes across as a genuine "straight talker" (even if's just a pose, as in Marc Anthony's case) will always win over an audience better than a "smarty pants."   

How often have see seen an true expert leave a debate congratulating themselves on demolishing their ill-informed but folksy opponent, only to be shocked to discover that the audience overwhelmingly sided with the other guy?

Don't Ignore Climate Skeptics -- Talk to Them Differently

Andrew Hoffman, University of Michigan, has managed to squeeze an awful lot of solid advice into a short op-ed sized article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Skeptics who are at least partially open minded -- vs. closed-minded "disbelievers" -- have to be engaged at the level that their resistence has formed.  That means starting with values, "not hammering skeptics with more data and expressing dismay that they don't get it."

Improving How Scientists Communicate About Climate Change
thumb_Susan Hassol

 

Susan_HassolSusan J. Hassol has been a pioneer in helping the IPCC and others translate science into plain language.

Her short, 2008 piece in EOS (In just a few years, her short piece in EOS, became an instant classic. http://www.climatecommunication.org/PDFs/Eos.pdf.   In it, she offers lots of very specific, very practical advice, e.g.

One recommendation is to stop speaking in code. Words that seem perfectly common to scientists are still jargon to the wider world and always have simpler substitutes. Rather than "anthropogenic," you could say "human caused."  Instead of "spatial" and "temporal," try "space" and "time."

hassol somerville comm pyramid

Hassol and Dr. Richard Somerville (Tools/Great Presentations/Home Runs!) published a updated, illustrated and more comprehensive version, with a similar thrust in Physics Today (Oct 2011).

The expanded versionhas some excellent graphics -- models of simplicity and clarity -- such as the "inverted triangles" to the right.

Their jargon table (below) has been circulating widely in the climate communications blogosphere.

 

hassol somerville word jargon table - hi res

Peter Aldhous, Science in America: Selling the Truth

Peter Aldhous in New Scientist (October 2011) briefly reviews of the status of climate communication and research relevant to why it has not worked. 

He weaves together findings from both cognitive psychology and opinion survey thoroughly debunk the "information deficit model" of climate communication -- the idea that if you just keep injecting facts into people's heads, they'll eventually get it.     As one communication specialist remarks, that just feeding the public more information "is replicating the same failed experiment over and over again."

His prescription? 

"Taken together, studies of communication provide a recipe to allow science to better inform US political debate: find frames that work with broad sections of the population and stick closely to those narratives; seek allies from across the political spectrum who can reach out to diverse audiences; and remember that a graph can be worth a thousand words."

This analysis tracks pretty closely with three of ClimateBites' foci:  narratives, "unusual suspects," and graphics.

The Psychology of Climate Change Communication (CRED Guide)

CRED guideA Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public.   By the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University (2009)

This illustrated guide -- one of the early attempts to provide a comprehensive synthesis -- details many of the biases and barriers to scientific communication and information processing.   

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