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The science of climate change communication: CRESCENDO workshop to gain confidence, experience and knowledge. 25th Sept 2017, Paris, France

By Alberto Muñoz (UNIVLEEDS, UK), Nada Caud (IPSL-CNRS, France) and Asher Minns (UEA, UK).

There is a wealth of scientific evidence for climate change – enough to fill five IPCC reports – but there is much less known about how to communicate this climate change research to the public. On September 25th CRESCENDO organised a one-day practical workshop for early and mid-career researchers in CRESCENDO to gain knowledge of the science of climate change communication, and the confidence to apply this knowledge in practice with non-academic audiences.

The training day was led by Asher Minns, RT5 leader in CRESCENDO and Head of Communication at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in partnership with Chris Shaw of Climate Outreach in a workshop co-created by Asher and Adam Corner as part of the HELIX project.

The workshop consisted of 5 sessions and covered a set of very clear aims:

1) Provide an introduction to the social and political context of communicating climate change as well as specific tips and guidance for researchers (introducing the science of communicating climate change);

2) Increase the confidence and capacity of climate change researchers to effectively engage the public (building climate change communication confidence); and

3) Initiate new links between early-career researchers who can provide peer-support for each other in the future (building new networks).

A further partnership on the day was with French graphic artist Barbara Govin who through her sketches illustrated the content, discussions and take home messages of the entire workshop (see illustrations below).

Session 1: Understanding how you are heard and choosing your voice. We learned how to concisely communicate your research to a lay audience. For that, it is essential a better understanding of different audiences and their needs. What works and what does not when explaining your research to the public? What are the challenges to overcome? There are words difficult for people to understand like model, simulation, programming, uncertainty, interaction, process… Hence our aim is to find a better way to describe them. This can be achieve by the ‘why’ and the ‘what’, by telling a story, a narrative, describing pictures and using everyday language. We also understood the different roles scientists have in society, who we are as communicators and how we can navigate the boundaries between communicating climate change and political views/public perceptions.  Scientists can adopt different roles (Pure scientists, Honest brokers, Science arbiter or Issue advocate). Which one(s) do we most identify with? We learned that it is fine to move across the roles in order to help develop a clearer presentation of the science of climate change, or to engage the public on the science behind, or to produce policy-relevant knowledge.

Session 2: Communicating uncertainty. A question remains unsolved when trying to communicate the science of climate change – Why uncertainty is a communication challenge for scientists? To us it means ‘the degree of confidence’, but to everyone else ‘ignorance’. We learned clear recommendations for effective communication of uncertainty:

  1. Manage your audience’s expectations: align the style of the scientific messages to the public’s beliefs about science (Rabinovich and Morton, 2012);
  2. Start with what you know, not what you don’t know;
  3. Shift from ‘uncertainty’ to ‘risk’, the public is more familiar with the term risk; and
  4. Communicate through images and stories.

Session 3: Overcoming the psychological distance of climate change. We all have a limited amount of ‘concern’ to go round: daily problems take precedent. Climate change is a difficult phenomenon to detect and track accurately based on personal experience, and some of those reasons that put a barrier between scientists and the public, politicians, policy makers and members of the media are psychological and cultural, and related to the perception of climate change (Weber 2010). How do we bridge this gap? The key is to establish clearer links between our own area of specialist research and the ‘everyday’ issues it relates to. Thus this is to try to connect our research with everyday things that are relevant to it and how it relates to ‘things people love’, that have a meaning to them, like food, traditions, experiences, hence gaining increased confidence in communicating about them.

Session 4: What is really driving public beliefs about climate change? Previous research in the field of public psychology tells us that there are 10 motivationally distinct value types that are likely to be recognized within and across cultures and used to form value priorities (Schwartz 1992). These are guiding principles in an individual’s life divided in two basic dimensions that organise value systems into an integrated motivational structure with consistent value conflicts and compatibilities. For instance, individuals who give high priority to security and power values are likely to find nationalism a compatible political expression of their guiding principles. In contrast, individuals who give high priority to universalism and self-direction values are likely to view nationalism as the antithesis of their guiding principles. Understanding what is driving public engagement with climate change, and scepticism, would reflect on the role of researchers in engaging sceptical audiences. Scientists can bring the two parts (‘dimensions’) together and hence engage the public and make them feel closer to the subject.

Session 5: ‘Science and stories’:  Finally, the key to communicate climate science is the use of the ‘narrative form’, learning how to communicate about science as a ‘story’. Aristotle (384-322 BC) identified three guiding principles to tell any story: i) Ethos (credibility/character); ii) Pathos (appeal to emotion); and iii) Logos (reasoned discourse/evidence in support of your argument). Applying these, we can summary the steps to tell an engaging story about climate change as follows:

  • Take responsibility for how you are heard: This is completely different to what it is that you think you said;
  • Find and build your authentic voice;
  • Frame your voice to your audience values;
  • Beware of the psychological distance of climate change;
  • Consider the difference between risk vs uncertainty, and responses;
  • Show the human face of science and get over your physics envy. Climate research is done by real people researchers, not robots.

REFERENCES:

Websites:

Further Reading:

  • Anderson, K. & Bows, A. (2012). A new paradigm for climate change. Nature Climate Change 2, 639-640.
  • Brulle, R.J., Carmichael, J., & Jenkins, C. (2012). Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010. Climatic Change 114,169-188.
  • Capstick, S. B., Pidgeon, N. and Whitehead, M. (2013). Public perceptions of climate change in Wales: Summary findings of a survey of the Welsh public conducted during November and December 2012. Climate Change Consortium of Wales. Available here.
  • Capstick, S. B. and Pidgeon, N. F. (2014). Public perception of cold weather events as evidence for and against climate change. Climatic Change (10.1007/s10584-013-1003-1)
  • Corner, A. & Hahn, U. (2009). Evaluating Scientific Arguments: Evidence, Uncertainty & Argument Strength. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 15 (3) 199-212.
  • Corner, A., Whitmarsh, L. & Xenias, D. (2012). Uncertainty, scepticism and attitudes towards climate change: biased assimilation and attitude polarisation. Climatic Change 114. 463-478.
  • Corner, A. (2013). A new conversation with the centre-right about climate change: values, frames and narratives. Climate Outreach Information Network, Oxford.
  • Corner, A., van Eck, C. (2014). Science & stories: Bringing the IPCC to life. Climate Outreach Information Network, Oxford.
  • Corner & Groves (2014). Breaking the climate change communication deadlock. Nature Climate Change 4, 743-745.
  • ECIU – Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (2014). Study shows widespread misconceptions about energy and climate change. Retrieved from: http://eciu.net/press-releases/2014/survey-reveals-widespread-misconceptions-about-energy-and-climate-change
  • Evans et al (2013). Considering local adaptation increases willingness to mitigate. Global Environmental Change, 25, 69-75.
  • Guy, S., Kashima, Y., Walker, I. & O’Neill, S. (2014). Investigating the effects of knowledge and ideology on climate change beliefs European Journal of Social Psychology 5, 421-429.
  • Harris, A., Corner, A., Xu, J. & Du, X. (2013). Lost in translation? Interpretations of the probability phrases used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in China and the UK. Climatic Change 121, 415-425.
  • Kahan D. (2012). Why are we poles apart on climate change? Nature 488, 255.
  • Leviston, Z., Walker, I. & Morwinski, S. (2012). Your opinion on climate change might not be as common as you think. Nature Climate Change 3, 334-337.
  • Marshall, G. (2014). After The Floods: Communicating Climate Change Around Extreme Weather. Climate Outreach Information Network, Oxford.
  • McCright, A.M ; Dunlap, R.E (2011). Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Global Environmental Change 21(4), 1163-1172.
  • Meijers, M. H. C. & Rutjens, B. T. (2014). Affirming belief in scientific progress reduces environmentally friendly behaviour European Journal of Social Psychology 5, 487-495.
  • Nelson, M.P. & Vucetich, J.A. (2009). On advocacy by environmental scientists: what, whether, why, and how. Conserv Biol 23 (5) 1090-1101.
  • Pidgeon, N.F. & Fischhoff, B. (2011). The role of social and decision sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks. Nature Climate Change 1, 35-41.
  • Pielke Jnr, R. (2007). The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. Cambridge University Press.
  • Rabinovich, A. & Morton, T. A. (2012). Unquestioned Answers or Unanswered Questions: Beliefs About Science Guide Responses to Uncertainty in Climate Change Risk Communication. Risk Analysis 32, 992–1002.
  • Rapley, C. G. & de Meyer, K. (2014). Climate science reconsidered. Nature Climate Change 4, 745-746.
  • Rayner, T., Minns., A. (2015) The challenge of communicating unwelcome climate messages. Tyndall Centre Working Paper 162
  • Schwartz, S.H. (1992). Universals in the Content and Structure of Values: Theoretical Advances and Empirical Tests in 20 Countries. United Kingdom: Academic Press, Inc.
  • Spence, A., Poortinga, W., Pidgeon, N (2012). The Psychological Distance of Climate Change. Risk Analysis 32, 957-972.
  • Weber, E (2010). What shapes perceptions of climate change? WIREs Climate Change 3, 332-342.
  • Whitmarsh, L (2011). Scepticism and uncertainty about climate change: Dimensions, determinants and change over time. Global Environmental Change 21(2), 690-700.

 

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