Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Friday, September 27, 2013

Climate change: we are losing the debate

"It's one of those days when I feel I got off on the wrong planet. Terrifying report on climate breakdown greeted with indifference and guff." (tweeted by George Monbiot)

The new IPCC report is out and it tells us what we already know and that most people still refuse to believe or choose to ignore. Nothing new in the debate; nothing will change. The best that will happen is that the report will generate a moderate interest for some days before disappearing from the mediasphere. At worst, someone will find in it something that can be interpreted as a mistake and that will be enough to demolish the whole report in the media, just as it happened for the previous report with the story of the melting Himalayan glaciers.

Scientists are still working on the basis of the idea that their job is to examine, analyze, and report; then it is over. Maybe that's a correct definition of the duty of scientists in many fields, but scientists are also human beings and, as human beings, they must do more when their findings indicate that we are facing a terrible danger, as it is the case with climate change. They are the ones who can perceive the danger better than anyone else and it is their responsibility to tell people about that.

Imagine that you see someone who is going to jump out of the window of the fourth floor. You go there and you tell him "as a scientist, I can tell you what your speed will be when you reach the ground. But I won't tell you whether jumping out of the window is dangerous or not."

Now, look at the summary for policy makers of the IPCC report and look for the word "danger." You won't find it.
Let's face it: we are losing this debate. We need to start telling people what we really think about the dangers ahead. Otherwise, there is no hope.

(similar considerations have been expressed by Clive Hamilton in a post titled IPCC report will make no difference in culture of denial)


  1. The word "risk" appears in the title of a special report. Otherwise, various terms related to "danger" (i.e., peril, hazard, threat, menace, jeopardy endangerment, injury, and harm) also do not appear anywhere in the Approved Summary Report for Policymakers.

  2. ....establishing (or trying to establish) causes, effects, impacts and consequences, and courses of action are interlinked processes. Compartementalzing them and saying that certain groups e.g. scientists, or politicians or policy-makers, or engineers, or technologists, or administrators or others can only be involved in their own specialized field of expertise during a particular phase and that a "baton" can be passed from one group to the next as in a relay race is certainly flawed. And in particular if at every hand off special interests and the media distort the messages or information or misrepresent it. If we really wanted to solve the problem (do we?) these different societal groups and communities should sit down and talk together frequently and discuss the problems openly and from various perspectives to try to come up with the form of policies, programs, projects and implementing institutions, or of systemic changes and reforms or complete paradigm shifts....

  3. "If we really wanted to solve the problem (do we?)..."

    Good question.
    I'm not sure "we" do.