I found an article by Matt Nisbet called The IPCC Report is a Wake Up Call for Scholars, Advocates, and Philanthropists. The underlying message in the article is
We have focused too heavily on public mobilization and exposing denial, ignoring other strategies likely to accelerate societal change.
The basic argument is that we’ve spent a lot of money trying to moblise people and exposing, and trying to understand, climate science denial and little has happened. It’s time to try something different.
Although I think it’s always worth thinking about how to do better, I typically find myself irritated by these kind of articles. One problem I have is that it’s never entirely clear quite what the alternative really is. This article points out that once alternatives to fossil fuels become cheap enough, the political motivation to delay action would subside. It also discusses how we could develop, and implement, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies that would allow us to continue using fossil fuels. Well, yes, these are both probably true (although CCS may prove very difficult). However, how does this take into account that if we want to avoid some of the more severe impacts of anthropogenically-driven climate change we need to start reducing emissions very soon and get them to essentially zero potentially within decades?
Another issue I have with these kind of articles is that they never seem to consider that one of the reasons the current strategy has been ineffective is the spread of misinformation by those who oppose any kind of climate action. Those trying to communicate about climate science are operating in an environment in which there are many who dispute the basics of climate science and are able to promote their views in some very prominent media outlets. It would seem helpful if those who were giving advice about how to be more effective would be willing to at least acknowledge the existence of such people and highlight that they are indeed wrong about the scientific evidence.
On a similar note, the article criticises explicitly highlighting the existence of climate science “denial”. Again, climate science “denial” does indeed seem to exist. Maybe if there was less focus on it, communication might be easier and more effective. On the other hand, this seems a bit like a form of deficit model thinking; just do something different and everything will be better. As far as I can tell, the reasons why some people reject climate science, and the need to do something about climate change, are complex and often associated with their political/cultural identity. Criticising the tactics used by climate communicators seems more like a convenient excuse than a real reason why some don’t accept the evidence for anthropogenically-driven climate change.
Of course, I do think it is worth thinking about how to engage with those who are pre-disposed to reject the risks associated with climate change, and some are indeed doing so (Katharine Hayhoe, for example). However, I don’t think this is easy and I don’t really think that if climate communicators had behaved differently in the past that it would have made much different to where we are today.
Okay, I was intending to keep this short and have, as usual, failed. One thing I feel strongly about is that if (when?) we realise that we really should have done more to address climate change, the fault will not lie with those who tried to communicate about these risks, even if they could have done better. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t continually try to do better, but I do think we should be careful of creating a narrative suggesting that the problem was the tactics used by climate communicators. Of course, maybe I’m missing something about what is being presented in these kind of articles (probably am to some extent), so would be keen to hear what other people think.