In honor of the great communicator Abraham Lincoln, who would turn 202-years-old today, I thought I’d mention a handful of ways climate experts can better communicate the urgency of their findings regarding impacts that are already starting to change life as we know it on Earth. This is more important now than ever, as people are increasingly tuning out when the topic of climate change is broached.
Perhaps help is on the way. American University communications expert Matthew Nisbet has come up with a sensible “post-partisan communications infrastructure,” as outlined at the excellent Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media website:
- Civic education and communications efforts need to be locally based, and not nationally based, with initiatives “timed and focused in the states and regions where there is the greatest need and demand.” Looking ahead to the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, he said the areas likely to face the “heaviest” campaigning “are also the states where many Republican and Democratic members of Congress remain undecided about climate change.”
- He sees expert groups such as science societies and universities as critical in the effort to “discuss, learn, connect, and voice their opinions about climate change and energy.”
- Such an effort would involve “many different partner organizations and institutions,” including public media organizations, regional universities, museums and zoos, religious institutions, public libraries, and other civic groups.
- Funding – which Nisbet estimates at between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per state — would come from U.S. government funding agencies (NSF, NOAA, Energy) and from scientific societies, foundations, and corporate sponsors.
- “Carefully planned, intensely promoted” monthly deliberative forums in major population centers and at schools, labor unions, churches, and malls would recruit roughly 100 participants from the area for each forum, and they would be provided background materials in advance of the sessions.
- Monthly state-specific polling and focus groups on climate change and energy would be conducted by local faculty experts from regional universities.
- “Regional digital news communities” would address climate, energy, and policy issues applicable to needs and events of each individual state, including “original reporting and professionally edited news content.”
- Opinion leaders drawn from all socio-economic groups and chosen on the basis of their issue expertise, rather than their position, would be recruited and trained as “peer-educators,” sharing information and news, encouraging participation, and helping others “participate, learn, and connect” on the climate issue.
As Lincoln once said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A lot of work needs to be done to bring people together to understand and do something about climate change.
Happy birthday, Abe, and we’ll keep working on this thing until we get it right. After all, The Nature Conservancy and its partners play a key role in trying to clearly communicate the best climate science so that the public can demand action from their legislators. As an organization with a strong presence performing local science and conservation on the ground in all 50 states and more than 30 countries around the world, we have an unlimited amount of amazing stories that deserve an audience.
Paul Mackie is associate director of strategic communications for climate change at The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: Flickr user williamhartz
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