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How can climate scientists better communicate their work to the public? by Jonathan Parfrey

(Climate Resolve, Executive Director & Founder)

At Climate Resolve we believe the “global” part of global warming is just as intimidating as the “warming” part. Today, most Americans feel overwhelmed and ineffectual in the face of the climate crisis. Therefore, this global threat must be made comprehensible by downscaling and humanizing the scientific information. Simply, Climate Resolve works to make climate change relevant in people’s busy lives.

We follow the following five-part communications framework:

1. Emphasize the LOCAL.

When travelers are asked where they’re from, they typically name a city. They’ll say “I’m from Los Angeles,” They don’t say “I’m from the West Coast, in the Southern California Bight.” People identify with specific places; where their home is located. Therefore, to be relevant, climate impacts need to be described down to the neighborhood level. I’m afraid the National Climate Assessment may NOT move the dial. By contrast, we believe city-by-city climate assessments may move the dial.

2. Put PEOPLE in the picture.

Polar bears are cool — but the fate of polar bears do not rise as a major priority in the lives of most Americans. Moreover, people learn life lessons in the form of stories, stories about people, people they relate to. Descriptions of glacial sea-ice and glacier melt simply don’t touch most people’s hearts. You need to put a human face in every report.

3. Climate ADAPTATION is a gateway drug. (And that’s good.)

For years people felt adaptation was a form of quitting. Adaptation was building bomb shelters rather than stopping the bombs. Well, we disagree. Adaptation helps people think through the problem — and helps them realize that mitigation is a key cost-saving solution when compared with the cost of major climate impacts.

4. Climate communication needs to be VISUALLY attractive.

We feel that busy people need visual guides to help them sort through all this information. Narrative prose has its limits. Could be maps, charts, graphics, illustrations, info-graphics, pictures of people — BUT needs to be attractive, clean and smart and easy to understand.

5. Need to present SOLUTIONS.

Studies show that people shutdown when presented with negative information. We believe that climate impacts must be leavened with positive stories about either reducing or adapting to climate impacts. That’s why Climate Resolve is rolling out a major campaign on reducing Urban Heat Island Effect.

Jonathan Parfrey is the Executive Director & Founder of Climate Resolve.

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