Our two distinguished guests for the night were Karen Brandon, the Community Officer of Oxford’s Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and Tara Clarke, Training and Consultancy Coordinator at Climate Outreach. With both a panel and interactive audience exercises, this event was very insightful.
Firstly, the panel covered an engaging discussion not just on why communicating climate change is important, but how to communicate these ideas. While climate experts are highly valued, their expertise must be communicated to a wider population in an engaging manner that potentially offers solutions. Karen thus provides us three pointers of: telling a story, telling it simply, and knowing your audience. While story-telling and simplification are often seen as the opposites of scientific principles, this is not the case if you tell a simple story that is backed by research and data. Good examples of papers that do this are Dufflo’s (2017) Economists as Plumbers and Oppenheimer’s (2005) Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity Furthermore, story-telling is not centered around a single authority but is poly-centric, with SEI’s Farmer Field School in Bali and Learning Lab in Lusaka demonstrating how to effectively communicate climate change information, and have experts learn practical knowledge from locals. Thus, Karen believes that communicating climate change should ultimately be
Tara focused more on how to talk about climate change by engaging individual and communal value systems. Beginning with an interactive segment discussing why people do not talk about climate change, reasons range from it being too complex, to being too irrelevant to their everyday lives. Thus, we need to study people’s values in different contexts, which you can easily illustrate on a Schwartz Value Map, and begin to see how climate change can be used to appeal to these values. One example would be CO’s Climate Visualization exercise, where participants asked to comment on a variety of pictures, and thus determine what they valued. Once you have these values, its time to grapple with how to talk to people about climate change. Avoiding a ‘doom and gloom’ and a blame approach is a must, along with not overly focusing on facts and figures, the economics of climate change, and distant future scenarios. Instead, the core of good climate change communication is in believing in yourself, the cause you stand for, and that you can make a difference. Through understanding what people care about, and strengthening your own conviction towards climate change, this can help us make effective, convincing arguments about climate change.
The practical activities then involved handling a Schwartz Map and various climate change associated pictures respectively, giving the audience hands on experience in how to visualize and discuss people’s value systems, and how to communicate climate change relative to these understandings. Lastly, the panel concluded with an engaging Q&A session, tackling how to communicate climate change to different extremes of the conservative-liberal spectrum, address data that does suggest a ‘doom and gloom’ climate scenario, protect examples (or annecdotes) against counterexamples, and communicate lifestyle changes, such as becoming vegetarian. Karen and Tara both offered outstanding answers that mainly focused on finding common ground, beginning with small changes – especially for lifestyle changes – and finding the right speaker for the right job.
Just as how climate change affects the entire globe, so does it affect multiple areas of knowledge. Communicating climate change should not simply be restricted to the field of statistics and hard science, but should also touch on what people value in their everyday lives. As Karen mentioned, this involves learning from other people in a multi-directional sharing of climate change information. In addition, Tara’s point on being sincere and genuine not only helps you better connect with and communicate climate change to people, but is refreshing in a world of fake news that misrepresents climate change.
OCS Media and Research Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.