Friday, February 3, 2012

9 Tips to Communicating the Climate Challenge

When nearly half of all Americans do not believe in climate change, communicators like me have dropped the ball.  There is work to be done. 

Here are nine tips to communicating climate science to anyone anywhere;  the "fight" knows no boundaries.  Hopefully, this will help us on the road to a clean energy economy, and to healthier people enjoying healthier oceans.

1. Share the Love.

People respond positively to a true story of why you love the oceans or the mountains or humming birds.  When the death and destruction end of the world talk so prevalent in the climate change dialogue comes, people shut down.  But people tune into a personal passion.  The nice thing is there is no right or wrong with this;  it's yours.  What you say will sink in, and likely sink deep.

2. Give Hope. Talk Benefits.

Talk about what can be done, more than describing the doom and gloom. From Skeptical Scientist:

"People are less likely to accept scientific evidence if it's presented in a pessimistic (i.e. we're headed towards catastrophic climate change) as opposed to an optimistic (i.e. we can achieve the necessary emissions cuts, and we've already taken some steps in the right direction) fashion...people are more likely to accept that evidence and threat if they know there's something they can do about it.

"Climate change...poses an opportunity with major potential benefits (i.e. cleaner air, domestic security, energy independence, job creation, etc.).  If we present the issue as a challenge we need to rise to as opposed to a catastrophic path we're on, people are more likely to accept the scientific evidence." 

3. Listen.

No one really likes to be preached at or lectured at.  If you spend more time listening that will be greatly appreciated.  And it helps you figure out what's really driving this or that person's view.

4. Tell Good Stories.

The narrative wins the day.  If you can tell a story to illustrate a point, it will have much more staying power than dry descriptions and stats.  That's not always easy but worth a try.

5. Choose your Words.

Personally, I think the opposition has successfully demonized or smudged the term "climate change" to a point where it actually hurts the conversation.  Plus, it may be too big; out of reach of most people's mindset.  I like the term "pollution" since everyone knows what that is, and I doubt anyone will say they prefer pollution.  If someone says they like pollution, walk away.

6. Lose the Attitude.

Whatever are you talking about?  You know, the tendency to think you're smarter than this person, that they're pawns in the corporate machine, that they're so stupid to fall for any of the opposition's slight of hand, that you're just better than them period because you're saving the world and they're not.

I know it's your issue, I know you are up to date on all of it, maybe you even have an advanced degree or two, but put all that away.  It is the the fastest way to lose your audience. 

7. Assess your Audience.

There is no one answer -- sometimes you have to see what works.  Ask questions (and not "What are you an idiot?").  It takes patience and persistence.  See My Face Off with a Climate Denier

8. Listen to Kenny. 

As Kenny Rogers said: "Know when to walk away, know when to run."  I've had many climate discussions with people, often on the street.  At the end of the day, some people are beyond reach for a variety of reasons, usually irrational and personal.  Next!

9. Make Your Key Points (also courtesy of Skeptical Science)

    * climate change is real
    * humans are causing it
    * there's a scientific consensus on these issues
    * the consequences will be harmful
    * we can limit the impacts

Good luck!  Stuffing the atmosphere with carbon pollution is a hugely important issue, perhaps the issue for everyone on the planet.  The more people that understand it, the more important and real change can be made.

1 comment:

JenKlopp said...

awesome approach that should be used in all kinds of human interactions. (See the political sphere)