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Science communication in the context of climate change

Climate Change is not being communicated well enough in Mass Media.

By Paul Lubrano

Climate change is a phenomenon that is, for most of us, part of our daily life. At their very foundation, sciences such as climatology and anthropology drive the collection of a considerable amount of information. Climate change today, is a central problem for humanity. There is thus an increasing need to communicate with the general population in hopes to drive political changes. In this article I try to explain, according to my own experience as a young researcher, what the role of scientists could be in this context.

Climate change is a global phenomenon that is often difficult to appreciate on a local scale. By communicating to the public, scientists from all over the world can help to enlarge a local population’s point of view.

US president Donald Trump famously tweeted a few months ago:

“It snowed over 4 inches this past weekend in New York City. It is still October. So much for Global Warming.” (1)

Undeniably, low temperatures have stricken some areas of the US, but this point solely should not be enough to dismiss the entire phenomena of global warming and climate change. We live in a time of crisis where emotions are increasingly used to transmit manipulative narratives, leading to biased debates. A more methodical and large scale view is required in order to replace the hasted judgements with scientific arguments. This requires an open mind to recognise the seriousness of climate change and commitment to combat it. The need of the hour is thus, to find more effective paths of communication between scientists and the general public.

Thus, in the context of climate change, sciences can play a crucial part in encouraging people to think by themselves and develop a critical approach. The essence of scientific knowledge is that it is self correcting. Even absolutes can be subjected to scientific questioning. Scientists, in my opinion, can play a critical role in involving the general public into an exchange of opinions and generating local and global awareness on climate change.

In a video of “conférences gesticulées” (literally gesticulate conferences) called “Climat d‘urgence”(2), French scientist Matthieu Doray involves the public by narrating his career story and his work. He uses a very relaxed and engaged tonality, demystifying science and using humor to create an atmosphere perfect to deliver his message. This, to me, is a perfect example for how the communication around climate change needs to be. Science is not a religion, scientists are not priests, so involving the public as equal can work towards a heightened general awareness and stronger commitment towards the cause. This awareness, once spread can aid in creating a community built on positivity and equality, perfect to drive the much requisite change.

In this context of “horizontal communication”, I view scientists as the vectors of their work but not the leaders of community action. They would act as a bridge between scientific and indigenous knowledge systems, coming together for resolving the climate change crisis. The drivers of the change shall be the newly-built community which could further build new bridges to others, spreading the message efficiently.

Figure 1: The French scientist Mathieu Doray during his “conférence gesticulée”. He presents here the major sources of greenhouse gases in France in an accessible manner(2).

Nowadays, I believe that climate change issues are not communicated by the best persons. The mass media, tend to follow an oversimplified narrative undermining the complexity and seriousness of the phenomenon by merely relaying reports of technocratic institutions more than scientists themselves. This non-pedagogic approach favored most of the time, generates fear and helpless inaction in the public. The more inaccessible and unintelligible an information is, greater the suspicion that surrounds it. I could cite the example of the report of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) which recorded a “Global warming of 1.5°C” (3). This report, albeit complete and professional, is still aimed at “policymakers” and not the populations that these policies aim to influence. While I think the work by the authors is commendable, their reports and information are conveyed by people from politics and media rather than directly by them through workshops and conversations with the general public.

Figure 2: On the opposite, the IPCC’s report “Global warming of 1.5 °C” (3) is a 32 pages report that does not encourage the general public to get the information, even though that was certainly not its aim.

There is a huge need for governments and scientists to unite so that the communication around climate change ensues between scientists and the population on a horizontal level, as I mentioned above. Helping initiatives such as the “Eurêkafé” (4)located in Toulouse (France), could be a starting point. This café opened recently and is the property of two scientists (Samuel Juillot and Arnold Oswald). It invites people and other scientists to talk about science at a table over a nice drink. At the “conference gesticulées”, the atmosphere is relaxed and favors dialogue, associating sciences and knowledge with positive emotions. Mass media could also be used to highlight these initiatives and can also play a massively beneficial role. This is for now, I believe, a utopia, as it would mean that the system has finally understood how to drive changes: by using sciences as a mean to drive action instead of a tool to create fear and need.

What is said in this short essay emerges simply from my own experience. Perhaps some of you have encountered other ways of communication on climate change that have worked well around you. How do you see scientists nowadays? Do you have ideas on how climate change should be communicated?

I hope that you will find climate scientists around you to talk on these issues. Horizontal communication can solve many problems. Climate change is one of them. If you know anything else on this topic (other initiatives like the “Eurêkafé” or the “conférences gesticulées”, please share!

Footnotes


1. Dylan Matthews, “Donald Trump has tweeted climate change skepticism 115 times. Here’s all of it.”

2. Mathieu Doray, Climat d’urgence, conférence gesticulée

3. Myles Allen et al., « Global warming of 1.5 °C », INPCC, 2018

4. Samuel Juillot and Arnold Oswald, “L’Eurêkafé“

About the Author

Image may contain: 1 person, bird, eyeglasses and outdoor

Paul Lubrano, from France: Background I am a biotechnologist that works with bacteria to produce diverse compounds like vitamins and replace the polluting chemistry currently used in our industries. I am passionate by many aspects of Science and eventually would like to become a professor. I am worried about climate change and would love to encourage people to talk to scientists directly. I do not believe in our system to fix the current issues, so it is by debating and communicating that I think we will find a solution!

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