Communicating climate science

I notice that the University College London (UCL) Policy Commission on Communicating Climate Science’s report called Time For Change, hasn’t gone down very well with many people. I think it is a genuine attempt to try and do something positive, but doesn’t quite get it. Broadly speaking I think it does the standard thing of mixing science and policy, and suggesting that all we need is some kind of marketing scheme to improve communication (that’s a bit simplistic, so not entirely fair, but maybe not far off). I thought I might just briefly comment on the conclusions.

The report conclusions include

A climate science ‘meta-narrative’ is required that delivers the results of climate science in a manner that is accurate, engaging, coherent, relevant, and which – by making clear the limits of certainty and knowledge – is robust against new discoveries and unfolding events. Multiple narrative threads, that are consistent and harmonious with each other, are necessary both to reflect the complex nature of the climate science, and to connect with audiences with different states of knowledge, interests, values and needs.

Although climate scientists have – generally speaking – an obligation to communicate with the public and with policy makers, they’re not trying to sell a product to a group of consumers. Communicating science simply requires explaining the evidence and the interpretations to an audience. It’s not trivial, in that the make up of the audience matters and the quality of the presentation matters, but it’s not really all that hard. Designing some kind of narrative that scientists would be expected to follow, would be a very questionable thing to do. Scientists have their own perspectives and their own experiences, and so you can’t really expect them to toe some kind of party line. I would certainly like to see climate scientists being a little more forceful and having more confidence to present their science to the public, but that’s not quite the same as suggesting some kind of meta-narrative.

The report also includes

Policy issues raised by climate science are complicated by many factors such as decisions on energy, food and water supplies, quality of life, equity, affordability, security, sustainability and societal resilience. Whilst
climate science can inform such policy deliberations, it cannot be their arbiter.

I agree with this point and the last sentence is indeed crucial. I would argue that the policy issues are the most complicated and uncertain aspects of this whole topic. If we could get people to recognise the strength of the scientific evidence so that we can actually have a constructive discussion about the policy options, I think that would be a great step forward. I’m not sure that this report really helps in that respect, though.

Another conclusion is

Efforts to understand the climate system better are important, but they should not be allowed to divert attention and effort from decision-making and policy formulation based on what is already
known and can be addressed.

I’m not quite sure what this is getting at. This reads as if it’s implying that scientists trying to understand things better are preventing us from using the existing evidence to start making policy decisions. If so, this seems odd given that we’ve now had 5 IPCC reports that present the evidence clearly and thoroughly. However, if they actually meant that dissenters should stop undermining the scientific evidence so as to prevent us from starting to address the policy implications, then I would agree. Maybe they could have made that clearer, if so.

The final comment I might make is about this conclusion

Climate scientists are finding themselves ill-prepared to engage with the often emotionally, politically and ideologically charged public discourse on the evaluation and use of their science. This is proving
unhelpful to evidence-based policy formulation, and is damaging their public standing. As a result, there is a pressing need to re-examine and clarify the roles of climate scientists in policy, decision-making and public engagement. Their professional norms, values and practices need to be reconsidered and revised accordingly.

This is maybe the most irritating – to me at least – conclusion that they’ve drawn. It is indeed true that climate scientists are finding it hard to engage and it may even be true that there is a lack of trust. However, what I think is not true, is that this is the fault of climate scientists. Yes, there was Climategate, but so what? Does anyone sensible really think that a bunch of stolen emails from 10 years ago really has any significance with respect to the scientific evidence? There are also a host of resources for those who would like to learn more about climate science, more than almost any other field today. If climate scientists are having trouble communicating their science and are being accused of being untrustworthy, maybe the problem isn’t them, but those who’re doing the accusing. If those who wrote this report really want help, they could put some effort into convincing people that if they want to understand climate science, they should talk to, and listen to, the experts. The most sensible thing I’ve read on this recently is this.

So, for what it’s worth, that’s what I think. I haven’t read it in extensive detail so there may be some positive aspects to it. It does claim to be trying to clarify the science-policy interface, but then seems to just mash them together in some odd way that would seem to then make it difficult for science to remain objective. It also quotes Roger Pielke Jr’s honest broker book in quite some detail and that – in my opinion – doesn’t instil much confidence. If anyone would like to convince me (or others) that there are more positive aspects to this report than there – at first – appears, feel free to do so.

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52 Responses to Communicating climate science

  1. John Hartz says:

    Your first sentnce uses the acronym “UCL”. Please replace it with the actual words.

  2. Yes, I was being a bit lazy there. Done 🙂

  3. Louise says:

    The authors seem to be having some trouble communicating their science. Perhaps somebody could get a grant and do a PhD to find out what their problems are and to recommend how to communicate their science without polarising their audience?

  4. Louise,
    You seem to be suggesting that we start a new research area that studies those who study climate scientists. This could get endlessly recursive and we know that recursive things can really annoy some people (recursively).

  5. Steve Bloom says:

    Not just Pielke, but Hulme and Sarewitz too. Meh.

    Re Rapley, I don’t recall being impressed by any of his past communication efforts.

    On net the selection of authors and reviewers seems a bit skewed:

    Lead authors

    Professor Chris Rapley CBE, UCL Earth Sciences (Commission Chair)
    Dr Kris de Meyer, Department of Informatics, King’s College London

    Co-authors

    Dr James Carney, Social & Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, University of Oxford
    Dr Richard Clarke, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
    Dr Candice Howarth, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University
    Dr Nick Smith, UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology
    Dr Jack Stilgoe, UCL Science & Technology Studies
    Dr Stuart Youngs, Creative Director, Purpose

    Contributors

    Dr Chris Brierley, UCL Geography
    Ms Anne Haugvaldstad, UCL Masters Student
    Dr Beau Lotto, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
    Professor Susan Michie, UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology
    Dr Michelle Shipworth, UCL Energy Institute
    Professor David Tuckett, UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology

    External Reviewers

    Ian Christie, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey
    Dr Adam Cooper, UCL Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP)
    Dr Adam Corner, Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), and School of Psychology, Cardiff University
    Dr Tamsin Edwards, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol (All Models Are Wrong)
    Prof Sir Brian Heap, European Academies Science Advisory Council
    Prof Paul Hoggett, Department of Health and Social Sciences, University of the West of England
    Prof Mike Hulme, Department of Geography, Kings College London
    Dr Igor Krupnik, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution
    Dr Jane Lubchenco, US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
    James Painter, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University
    Dr Jonathan Rowson, Social Brain Centre, Royal Society of Arts
    Prof Hans von Storch, Institute for Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum
    Geesthacht – Zentrum für Material- und Küstenforschung in Geesthacht
    Dr Sally Weintrobe, Fellow of the Institute of Psychoanalysis

  6. Windchaser says:

    Anders, with proper study, we could examine the recursive effect of studying science communication, and see if the results ever converge.

    For example: does the science of communication get easier to communicate as it gets further and further abstracted from the source of contention, for example? Or does the same hostility and confusion that was found with the root science also apply to every recursive iteration?

  7. Your first sentence uses the acronym “UCL”. Please replace it with the actual words.

    ATTP did that, but what I found surprising is that the report itself contains the full name only in the reference to paper [100], and even there the relationship is not mentioned.

  8. Windchaser,
    My gut feeling is that such an infinite series does not converge, but I guess we’ll never know until we actual do the study.

    Steve,
    Yes, I don’t recognise many of the names but some that I do don’t instil a great deal of confidence.

  9. Pekka,
    You’ll probably find that some marketing person has decided that it should be the UCL brand and that that should supersede the actual name of the university (you may think I’m joking, but you’d only be half right).

  10. Steve Bloom says:

    Krugman has some relevant thoughts today:

    On the Social Responsibility of Wonks

    Jared Bernstein agonizes over the role of wonkish analysis (which spell-check keeps trying to change to “monkish”) in a political environment in which “facts and smart policy are on the run.” It’s something I worry about too.

    On one side, if wonks don’t point out what we really should be doing, who will? To take a current pressing example, it may be that nobody in the British political mainstream is willing to take a stand against austerity, but economists should nonetheless keep pointing out that it’s really bad policy.

    On the other hand, if wonks only propose things that won’t happen, what good are they?

    The best answer I can come up with is to work on two tracks — to talk about first-best policies but also be prepared to support second-best policies if that’s what is on offer. Obamacare is a Rube Goldberg device that is nonetheless much better than nothing — and it’s working. Carbon taxes would be the way to go in a better world, but in this one various administrative actions may be the best you can do.

    It’s a tricky balancing act. You don’t want to give up on good ideas and make it seem as if flawed political compromises are better than they are — and if they’re bad enough, you have to oppose them. (And how do we know if they’re bad enough? Um ….) But you certainly haven’t done your job if you just lay out your fine theory and walk away from the real choices on offer.

    Nobody said life would be easy. [See post for links.]

    The key insight for science in general, and for climate science in particular, is that the problem with getting society to take a course consistent with the science has little to do with how scientists have approached things since the same oppositional syndrome is apparent across a range of issues. I don’t see anything in the report addressing that larger context.

  11. I truly hope that those quotes are not representative. Summarising we should stop doing science, it may give the impression the science is not settled and we should shut up and let the honest brokers do the talking. (The honest brokers that implicitly accuse all scientists of being dishonest and being singular in their complete understanding of science and politics.)

  12. Steve,
    I think his suggestion is broadly sensible, although maybe not easy.

    The best answer I can come up with is to work on two tracks — to talk about first-best policies but also be prepared to support second-best policies if that’s what is on offer.

  13. Victor,
    Yes, that is certainly an impression I got from what I read, although the entire report is rather long and not written in a way that is particularly accessible (plus when I download the PDF the characters go beserk, so I can’t print it out).

  14. izen says:

    science provides explanatory narratives, some are simple, or can be accurately simplified, others are difficult to convey. You need to be into the Dickensian Victorian novel, or the Russian epic to find narrative descriptions of a complexity to rival aspects of the physical, chemical and biological world.

    I always wonder whether this sort of recursive analysis of the communication assumes that the ability of the audience to grasp the narrative that science provides is of more importance than the scientific accuracy of the explanation. The involvement of Mike Hulme deepens this suspicion. He seems like a literary critic that condemns the style without engaging with the substance.

  15. izen,

    I always wonder whether this sort of recursive analysis of the communication assumes that the ability of the audience to grasp the narrative that science provides is of more importance than the scientific accuracy of the explanation.

    I’d never thought of it that way, but now that you mention it that does seem like a plausible explanation. The message being understandable is more important than whether the message results in an understanding that is accurate or not.

    He seems like a literary critic that condemns the style without engaging with the substance.

    This does seem quite common. Quite a few who seem quite comfortable criticising but don’t provide alternatives and don’t realise that the form of their criticism makes the communication itself even more difficult.

  16. Andrew Dessler says:

    I am really irritated with the “hippie punching” that people engage in when they argue that scientists need to do a better job. This is frequently advanced by people who hate the climate science community (e.g., Pielke Jr) but can’t bring themselves to reject the science. I think that scientists have done a great job telling everyone about the risk of climate change. As Kahan et al. have shown, those who don’t believe science do so to protect their worldview, not because of how scientists communicate. Politicians need to grow a backbone and lead on this issue …

  17. Andrew,
    I saw your tweet (as you may have noticed) and I agree. Until politicians actually grow some backbone, recognise that they’re meant to do what’s best for the society that’s elected them, and realise that the best people to get advice from is the body of experts, nothing scientists can do will make much difference. I also agree that scientists have been doing a great job. It’s probably easier to find credible and useful information about climate science than about any other science (well, other than Astronomy, that is). All you really need to do is work out what’s credible and what isn’t and that really isn’t that difficult.

  18. Steve,

    That text of Krugman seems, indeed, relevant to the UCL report. In my reading the report is about the same balance between best and second best, but formulated in such a way that following the recommendations might lead to implementing the third best.

  19. Marlowe Johnson says:

    yep. resist the temptation to frame things in goldilock terms by including a third ‘throw away’ option. it has a nasty habit of being the one that gets picked.

  20. Louise says:

    Interesting discussion between Barry Woods and one of the authors on twitter right now. Barry ‘telling it like it is’ in his description of Skeptical Science. I’m sure you can imagine the scene…

    Lew called people nutters
    Forcible retraction of paper
    John Brooks dressed as a Nazi for kicks
    etc

    PS How is a paper ‘forcibly’ retracted?

  21. Louise,
    Although I try to avoid discussing those who I’ve banned, I should at least acknowledge that Barry was the motivation behind this tweet of mine

    As far as I can tell, in order to satisfy certain people, all climate scientists who’ve every told them they’re wrong should immediately resign so as to be replaced by people who can be trusted (which I think means “people who don’t disagree with me”).

  22. guthrie says:

    UCL is well known for being run by managers wedded to managerialism and other dodgy areas of practise. Hence the use of “UCL” branding is no surprise at all.

  23. jsam says:

    The UCL response is that of very reasonable people confronting a reasonable problem in a reasonable environment.

    Unfortunately neither the problem nor the environment are reasonable.

  24. AnOilMan says:

    Did Barry Woods wear his Mullet Proof Vest?

    (That’s not a spelling mistake.)

  25. jsam,
    Yes, that may well be a fair assessment. I certainly disagree with quite a bit of what they suggest, but I think their intentions were fine.

  26. Eli Rabett says:

    UCL MIT UCLA and so it goes

  27. Eli Rabett says:

    FWIW, this report is high Pielkeism, an effort to control the discourse. UCLers want to sit at the interface between science and policy and direct what is allowed to leak through in both directions. That, if nothing else, is the mission of types like Roger, Tamsin and Hans.

  28. Eli,

    an effort to control the discourse.

    Yes, it certainly appears that way.

  29. jsam says:

    Now that the changes are upon us and apparent some gear shifting is called for. Yes, continue to warn that the effects will worsen, by all means. But what will attract attention is painful decisions and costs. Get the engineers on-side. http://www.ice.org.uk/News-Public-Affairs/ICE-News/Difficult-decisions-ahead-in-delivering-infrastruc

  30. andrew adams says:

    I wouldn’t lump Tamsin in with the Pielkes of this world. Whatever one thinks of the merits of her particular approach to communication her purpose isn’t to prevent or delay action and whenever I’ve seen or heard her talk about the science her views have been perfectly mainstream.

  31. Andrew,
    Yes, I agree. I think Tamsin simply has a more optimistic view of the merits of trying to discuss science with certain people. I wish her luck. In fact, I hope that she succeeds. I also was involved in a brief exchange in which she was trying to get Matt Ridley to correct an obvious error in his most recent article.

  32. andrew adams says:

    Anders,

    Yes, I saw her exchange with Ridley – she was pretty forthright with her criticisms, I think even Steve Bloom would have approved 😉

    Like you, I’m not optimistic about her chances of success in convincing the skeptics. I know she has had a positive reaction from certain people but it doesn’t seem to have made them more receptive to the mainstream scientific position in general.

    But just as the UCLers don’t get to control the discourse neither do we, so I’m not going to say she shouldn’t keep trying. And as your say, good luck to her.

  33. Steve Bloom says:

    That infamous Guardian piece does make me want to lump Tamsin in with RP Jr. to a degree, although obviously there are significant differences. But still:

    “I believe advocacy by climate scientists has damaged trust in the science. We risk our credibility, our reputation for objectivity, if we are not absolutely neutral.”

    She has not, to my knowledge, retracted this.

  34. jsam says:

    Good news on communication. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/jun/26/commonsense-prevails-as-bbc-upholds-today-programme-climate-complaint

    Expect an avalanche of BS from the GWPF over the next few days. The Chief Gremlinologist will be on the case. Statistical constructs will be deployed.

  35. jsam,
    If so, the correct response is clearly that – quantum mechanically – Lawson will be both present and not present. Every BBC broadcast on climate change will essentially have a tiny bit of Lawson; in fact there will be 300 missing Lawsons.

  36. BBD says:

    From the Guardian article:

    What is now needed is for an investigation by the BBC and BBC Trust into why the report by Jones has not been fully implemented, and to strengthen its editorial procedures such that the responsibility to achieve due accuracy in its news programmes is not sacrificed again for the sake of a muddled notion of impartiality between scientists and climate change ‘sceptics’.

    Although this should not mean that ‘sceptics’ are banned from appearing on BBC news programmes, it does mean that editors should take into account the greater risk they create of inaccurate and misleading information being broadcast, and to take necessary precautions.

    That would be triffic but Auntie is a funny old girl. So sensitive to some things; so inert to others.

  37. andrew adams says:

    Steve,

    Oh sure, I still disagree with much of Tamsin’s Guardian article, particularly that bit you quoted. But I don’t think she had any ulterior motive for writing it.

  38. Steve Bloom says:

    Indeed her motive seems entirely apparent, Andrew!

  39. Dr. Tamsin Edwards is a competent scientist who’s earned my respect. I appreciated her attempts to get Matt Ridley to correct his latest obvious error, even though my personal opinion on advocacy differs from hers.

  40. Joshua says:

    I see this claim often made:

    This is proving unhelpful to evidence-based policy formulation, and is damaging their public standing.

    And it bugs me every time I read it. This claim is being made evidence-free. Where is the evidence of those “damage [in] public standing?”

    From the evidence I’ve seen, there is a segment of the public that is inclined, as the outcome of cultural cognition, to judge certain scientists in a rather predictable manner. I haven’t seen solid evidence of a change over time that is caused by what climate scientists have or haven’t said or the style in which they’ve said it.

    How are these analysts reaching their conclusions about the link between the public and what climate scientists say when the vast majority of the public isn’t particularly familiar what climate scientists have or haven’t said or how they’ve said it? The public, for the most part, judges climate scientists not on what they say, but on the basis of group identification.

    This is projection on the part of the authors. As scientists, they should be offering evidence for the kind of causal relationship that they describe. If anyone could point me to evidence supporting their claim (one that has been made so often now), I would appreciate it. Instead, it seems to me that the claim has become an article of faith among certain observers of the climate wars, not a product of careful analysis.

  41. Steve Bloom says:

    I don’t question Tamsin’s competence as a scientist, although I strongly suspect her physical intuition about the direction things are headed is far too optimistic.

  42. Joshua,
    Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. That’s indeed one of my major issues. There will be people who both claim that trust has been damaged and that climate scientists should change how they behave, and yet I’ve seen no convincing evidence to suggest that either of those is correct. If they think this is true, they should do the work and show it. Also, even if there is a lack of trust, that doesn’t mean climate scientists should change their behaviour. It is likely completely unjustified (there’s no reason to think climate scientists are any different to other scientists). So, as far as I’m concerned, if those involved in writing this report really want to help, they could first try and determine if there is a lack of trust and, secondly, determine if it is justified or not. If not, they would help much more if they put more effort into convincing people that climate scientists are no more or less trustworthy than anyone else, rather than suggesting that climate scientists should change how they communicate so as to improve trust. Continually referring to Climategate and Pielke Jr’s honest broker ideas, doesn’t really help, in my opinion.

    What I would be fascinated to know is what those who wrote this report think now, given that they’ve been inundated with comments from the usual suspects who continually claim that lack of trust is the major problem and that there’s no trustworthy climate science resource available. You’d like to think that they’re starting to realise that the problem isn’t really the climate scientists, but a scientifically ignorant vocal minority.

  43. andrew adams says:

    I’m with Dumb Scientist – sometimes people just disagree on stuff and I don’t doubt Tamsin’s honesty or integrity.

  44. Yes, I agree with Andrew and Dumb Scientist and, maybe, we should avoid over-analysing people’s motives. 🙂

  45. izen says:

    There is a topical news story in the UK that has similarities to the climate debate.
    A scientific group on nutrition has announced that sugar consumption should be cut by at least 50%.

    The government response is to say that they will take no policy action to regulate the food industry but rely on voluntary agreements. The ‘tone’ of the news reports has been incredulity that scientists are suggesting we should endure the austerity of drinking water at mealtimes, not fruit or fizzy drinks.

    There has not been any outcry that the scientists are untrustworthy on this subject, in fact there has been some comment that they have finally followed the evidence after years of intentional ambiguity because of the regulatory capture of the scientific advisory body by the sugar industry. It has been a matter of concern within the medical community for several decades that the main scientific nutritional advice has been dominated by industrial interests. This recent report is the first sign of the science getting out from under business interest.

    As far as I am aware there has been no attack on the integrity or accuracy of the science behind the nutritional advice, the issue is framed as individual responsibility to modify your diet versus government regulation to control the sale of foods that result in much increased levels of morbidity and mortality. That is a policy or philosophical problem, not a scientific one.

    So science has determined that eating to much sugar {burning to much fossil fuel} will result in obesity leading to chronic conditions like diabetes and catastrophic diseases such as heart attack and stroke {drought and weather extremes}.
    The discussion is centred around whether this is best dealt with by individuals regulating their behaviour, or regulating the much smaller number of businesses that enable and facilitate the excessive consumption of calories {CO2}.

    The issue is framed as a policy choice, not about whether the nutritional scientists are perpetuating a fraud to maintain their grants.

  46. Similar controversies as presently with climate change have a long history in nutrition and everything related to health. There are also similarities in disagreement on nuclear energy as well as other environmental issues than global warming. The way climate change is discussed is not fundamentally different of all that. People have been accused of all kind of wrong, conspiracies have been indicated, etc.

    Every case is also different, and the internet has changed much in the way discussion is possible and visible.

    The question whether certain kind of behavior damages the credibility of scientists or other specialists is not either uniquely presented in argumentation about climate science. Many people have thought similarly in the other fields as well, but I don’t know any evidence to show that the issue would really be as important as many think. Those, who present the argument are usually scientists, who feel the effect virtually self-evident, but it’s quite possible that they all err at least on the quantitative importance of the effect.

  47. OPatrick says:

    I think the sugar example provides an excellent opportunity to discuss some general concepts. The analogy between the two is close enough to be useful without all the baggage that comes with discussing climate change getting in the way (well, having said that I’ve already formed my next sentence with climate change in mind…).

    For example, Pekka says

    Those, who present the argument are usually scientists, who feel the effect virtually self-evident, but it’s quite possible that they all err at least on the quantitative importance of the effect.

    Of course it’s possible, but is it likely? From a policy perspective what matters is not whether scientist are certain about the exact impacts that high levels of sugar consumption are going to have, but whether they are confident enough to make it certain what an appropriate policy response will be.

    Anders, perhaps you could try out a sugar only thread, where any explicit mention of climate change is instantly moderated out? Could turn into an interesting game if nothing else.

  48. izen says:

    @- Pekka Pirilä says:
    “Those, who present the argument are usually scientists, who feel the effect virtually self-evident, but it’s quite possible that they all err at least on the quantitative importance of the effect.”

    Unless you think that scientists routinely exaggerate their results or overestimate the social impact it is equally likely they underestimate the importance of an effect as overestimate it.

    Or are you referring to the ‘honest brokers’ who claim that the way scientists and scientific institutions have presented climate science is the cause of the opposition to the policy choices implied by that science?

  49. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli lives with a broker. As far as Eli knows she is honest, but like all real brokers, she is in business to make a living, which is why Roger Jr and his fellows are clueless gits.

  50. David Young says:

    izen, This is an odd example as nutrition science such as it is is very controversial and has been wrong about a lot such as the harm done by fat in the diet. People are generally skeptical about these consensus positions and should be. Retrospective studies are poor quality evidence in these matters. Or one could mention nutritional supplements or vitamin supplements, or the value of yearly mammograms.

  51. jsam says:

    Nutrition seems a very good example. We’ve known of the effects of sugar for a generation. Yet we are only just getting started.

  52. spettro says:

    The UCL report isn’t worth the hard drive sectors it is now saved on.

    The report appears to be typical of the genre in focusing on tailoring the creators to the message, instead of tailoring the message to the audiences. Yes, plural. As in plurality. These airy folks seem to think of the masses in the abstract.

    Some here have criticized the authors as marketers. That is unfair. To marketers. Real marketers know that the audience for culture-wrenching change isn’t some global amalgam of mindless consumers, but a rich collection of segments with very different interests and contexts, segments that, across national and cultural boundaries may, to a quantitative analyst seem to share a common demographic profile, but which are in truth as variegated as their core belief systems and locally shared life patterns.

    I have been thinking since Earth Day One about this problem of how to inform non-scientists about GW and climate change (CC) and then, how to motivate and mobilize them to force the politicos to get moving or get out of the way. Standing there 44 years ago with the highly educated crowds on Fifth Avenue, my liberated and wonderfully enthusiastic first wife saw a bright future for the environment, while I, realizing that the million or so surrounding us were NOT the primary audience, went back to our comfortable apartment in the Village feeling thoroughly depressed.

    Even in those early days of Limits to Growth and sustainability and too many babies and gung-ho globalization, it was obvious that engaging the critical constituencies in the few countries where they could actually cast a meaningful vote was going to be the barrier to understanding the rapidly emerging human dilemma.

    Fast forward to the unfortunate miscommunication by Mr. Gore, and here we are in the belly of the beast. Since 2008 I have again been wrestling with the problems of how to build a viable base for the radical GW/CC action program we must execute over the coming decades.

    Among my conclusions are these:

    1 Don’t lecture the Scientists on how to be better communicators; school the communications specialists on how to understand the science.

    2 Work the streets, not the country clubs and boardrooms and academic safe-havens. And today, the “street” means the web, along with all its information-moving components. The report pays lip service to “the internet” in a dozen or more sections, but only with buzzwords like “social media”. No specifics were explained in a 100 page screed of shapeless strategies! The words “smartphone”, “ebook”, “Kindle”, “Facebook”, “You Tube”, “Pinterest” and “iPad” do not appear. More tellingly, there is no mention of interactive gaming.

    3 Don’t confuse doing and feeling good with being effective. Of the approximately ten billion people on the planet by about 2050, the vast majority will already be beyond hope, and/or beyond reach thanks to the dual yoke of religious ignorance and anti-female cultural dictates. Fund the agenda and programmes that will free their daughters, feed their grandchildren, and unseat the regimes (corporate and religious and national) that are poisoning the planet.

    4 Focus resources on the few paths that have a probability of achieving results. We don’t need (and cannot get) billions of people to agree on an agenda of action plans in order to get them funded and deployed. My estimate on good days is about 300 million voting adults.

    5 Target, target, target. And keep score. Build messages and self-education tools around the interests and goals of those we would engage and enlist. Students, young parents, ambitious professionals, small business operators, seniors and retirees, all have specific needs and anxieties. Speak to these, not some amorphous mob. And speak in material terms, not moral ones.

    6 Keep it freakin’ SHORT. Tell them what they need to know in chapters that fit on a smartphone during a train commute or a cigarette break. It is up to the communicator to engage and hold the audience’s attention in a fragmented, multimedia cacophony, not the responsibility of the audiences to sit still and listen.

    7 Make it entertaining. And remember that fear is, along with prurience and humor, a vital element in entertainment.

    8 Provide tangible rewards. Not forgetting that some of the most rewarding are justifiable feelings of small group inclusiveness and achievement.

    9 Forget the parade of awards and honours and pompous posing. Put the message in the mouths of real people.

    10 Build and manage anger. The energy corporations and their bank and other allies are enemies, not our friends. And they will be until they see their long-term interest as being part of the solution instead of being the main and highly profitable source of the problem.

    Our species has engendered a collective future that will be hellish for our grandchildren and theirs. Denying this is, to me, far more damaging than the nay-saying noises of a wandering homeless wannabe Lord and his Watty, dotty crew.

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