I love America. I love the diversity of America, I love America’s natural landscape, and I feel very lucky as a women to have been born at this time in America. To be clear I do not think that America is perfect by any means; there are a lot of things that we need to be better at. One of those is our response to climate change. As COP21 nears the end of its second and final week I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be an American scientist at this moment in history. Is there anything I should or could do in my career that would affect even in a tiny way how our country responds to climate change? Here are a few of my thoughts.
1. America is lagging behind (way behind) other countries in belief and concern about climate change. This is embarrassing, especially when the actions of my fellow American’s could undermine the COP21 negotiations (for more on that click here). I guess the glass half full way of looking at this is if you are interested in translation ecology the USA has a high need.
Source: Ipsos MORI
Source: PEW Research Center
2. The appropriate role for scientist’s in policy and decision making is still somewhat contentious and undergoing a rapid evolution (for more on this check out Matt's blog entry). But the role scientists as educators seems somewhat natural. As an American scientist how should I effectively communicate about climate change. In my short tenure as a scientist that is interested in talking to people about climate change I have received lots of advice:
DON’T talk about uncertainty
DO develop a narrative about why you as an individual (not a scientist) care about climate change
DON’T use jargon
DO emphasis that the effects of climate change will (and are) being experienced in our life time
DON’T make people feel powerless and depressed, provide people meaningful actions they can take
DO be self-deprecating
I find this list daunting. Last year I had the opportunity to participate in a series of science delivery workshops supported by the USGS and the California and Pacific Northwest Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and every time I give a presentation to or discuss climate change science with natural resource managers I can feel it bouncing around in my head. It is impossible to follow all these do’s and don’ts. I worry about saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing in the wrong way. I worry that what I say and how I say it could detract from my message and stall or delay actions. But I am likely giving myself way too much credit because every group I have worked with has been composed climate change believers. However if I stay in this field, in America, I am likely to encounter skeptics (see above) and there odds are they are not going to trust me (see below).
Source: Ipsos MORI
People of the blog-o-sphere, what have your experiences been talking to non- science professionals about climate change? Do you have any do’s or don’ts? Do you take issue with any of the ones I have listed here?
3. We can’t be afraid of failing in our efforts to communicate about climate change, and we should always be searching for ways to fail differently. I was at the CERF conference a few weeks ago and I had the privilege of hearing Margaret Davidson give a plenary talk. Anyone who has seen her talk probably knows it is a memorable experience. She began her talk by admonished all of us for being so full of ourselves that we thought we could save the world and ended by encouraging everyone to adopt a climate skeptic. The follow up questions included half joking questions such as, “How do speak like this without getting your a** canned, for all these years?” But my favorite piece of advice she gave was to not be afraid to fail, but fail differently. We have got to mix it up and try new ways to communicate about climate change. If we fail, lets at least fail in a new way. I am not sure how exactly I will rise to the challenge of Margaret Davidson’s advice. One thing I have been thinking about is my tendency to avoid talking about climate change with my friends and family. Like most American’s I have climate skeptics in my family and I know from the few conversations I have had with friends that for them climate change is an abstract far off concern. In my personal life talking about climate change feels like a chore, it can be uncomfortable, and I do not want people to think I am proselytizing. But maybe my voice as a friend, cousin, and niece is more powerful then as a scientist.
Do any readers have thoughts about new approaches in your personal or professional lives to communicate about climate change?
Google chrome users: click here to download a RSS extension