On November 30th, 2016 the EPA hosted its third and final Climate Talk of the semester. We were accompanied by guest speaker Stewart Cohen, a published author and senior climate scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Stewart gave a presentation discussing the nature of climate science and the disagreements that exist around climate issues, such as climate change. He then ended the presentation by discussing several approaches he thinks are most successful in closing the information gap that exists with climate change issues in the general public. Below is a summary of Stewart’s presentation and the discussion that followed.
I. Climate change science is not a new science
a. The first climate scientists in 1896 warned that adding CO2 to the atmosphere would cause global temperature to increase, a prediction that has been proven for the past century
II. Climate change science is not just climate science, but includes many disciplines, such as natural and social sciences, energy research, and engineering
III. The threat of climate change is on par with that of a recession or terrorist attacks (according to participants at the 2016 World Economic Forum)
IV. Why we disagree on climate change
a. Because the causes of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, are so dispersed around the world, there is no one source we can blame for causing it, and no direct link between a local emission source and a local climate impact
b. The complexities of climate change are hard to communicate to the general population
c. Since no one person or body owns the “information highway” on climate change science, there is a lot of misinformation that exists
V. Don’t frame climate change as an environmental challenge, frame it as a human challenge
a. We need to show the relevance of climate change risk to other issues, such as politics and the economy
b. We need to have more “boundary agents”- scientists who can communicate with the public
I. Scientific uncertainty is misunderstood by the public. Every field has uncertainty, including economics and public policy, and we need to try to communicate that more effectively.
II. Changing the tide on climate change needs to happen from the bottom up, which starts with one-on-one conversations. In order to be most effective, stick to what you know.
III. Strategies for communicating with the general public
a. Use art to communicate personal stories from communities that are already affected by climate change
b. Educate the next generation on climate change issues
c. Encourage scientists to step into the public discourse and have conversations with people from other disciplines and backgrounds
Climate change science has been around for a long time, but the largest hurdle to getting governments, the private sector, and the general public to act on the issue is the information gap that exists between climate change scientists and the general public. If we want large scale changes to happen at the top, we need to change the conversation on climate change from the bottom up. The best ways to do this are to show that climate change is a human problem that is impacting people now, and to get scientists, or anyone for that matter, to engage in the public conversation around climate science.
Thank you to everyone who came out and participated in the discussion!