Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Frog jumps to "Resource Crisis"

(image h/t Mike Haywood)

One year of blogging with the frog has been a remarkable learning experience. At this point, I think I have learned enough to conclude that it is better to merge this blog with my other one, "Resource Crisis". The frog doesn't disappear, it just jumps there.

One year ago, I started the blog titled "The frog that jumped out." The first post appeared on April 28 2013 and from then on I published 127 posts for a total audience of more than 80,000 contacts. Not a bad result for a blog that was a totally personal effort - without any attempt to use SEO or other Web tricks to diffuse it.

This year of blogging on "The Frog" has been a learning experience that changed my views of how to act on the climate problem. At the beginning, I thought that there was a problem of communication; that the fact that nothing was being done about climate change was the result of us not being able to pass the message in the right way. That is something that many scientists have discovered. The result has often been a search of better methods of communication. It has led, for instance, to books such as "Don't be such a scientist" where the main idea is that scientists should improve their skills of communicating with the public by becoming clearer and more entertaining. That, in itself, is not a bad idea: scientists are often extremely poor at communicating: boring, pompous, incomprehensible, and even worse. Improving on that is surely a welcome trend.

But transforming yourself into a Ronald McDonald of climate science doesn't solve the problem. No amount of gee-whiz power will carry the message across to people who don't want to hear it. The mistake in this idea is steeped in the so called "information deficit" model. It says that people are not doing anything about climate change because they are not informed enough. Therefore, if we find a way to explain to them how things stand, they'll do something. Hence, the idea of "sweetening the pill". Alas, no. It doesn't work that way.

The real problem can be summarized by a comment that I received from a friend of mine (DJ at Bottleneck Foundation):

"The main problem is that the deniers are rolling rocks downhill in human mindspace and we are rolling them uphill. "

I think this concept explains a lot of things, although I would personally modify it as follows: "The main problem is that we are trying to roll rocks in human mindspace and the deniers are trying to keep them where they stand".

That is, in order to fight the dire effects of human caused climate change, it is not enough that the problem is recognized. We need to generate deep changes in the way society functions. But this is almost impossible to do because society is simply not geared for deep changes. Our society, as most complex systems, exists because it has built-in mechanisms that resist change. It is much easier to keep things as they stand than changing them.
So, effecting change is a systemic problem, not just a communication problem. That makes the problem more difficult but, at the same time, gives a different perspective to it. Systemic changes occur all the time - they are simply unavoidable. No matter how much society tries to resist change, it must, eventually, cede to physical reality. So, at some moment in the future, we'll have to stop our emissions of fossil carbon in the atmosphere either as the result of depletion or as the result of the damage generated by climate change. The problem is that we are not doing that fast enough to avoid a traumatic adaptation (this is what I call the "Seneca effect"). However, the end result is certain: it is only a question of which trajectory we'll follow. Eventually, we'll have to learn to live within the limits of this planet.

These considerations affect the future of this small blog, "The frog that jumped out". Once you see the climate problem as a systemic problem, you see that the solution is not just communicating what the problem is (although that's also necessary) but promoting a whole array of actions that go from new technologies to new kinds of social and economic behavior. As a result, I think that the focus of this blog on communication alone is a bit too narrow. So, my idea is to merge it with my other blog, Resource Crisis, which has a similar focus. After all, the climate crisis is also a question of resource depletion: we are depleting the capability of the atmosphere to absorb the products of the combustion of fossil carbon without overheating.

"The Frog" does not disappear from the Web, I'll still keep it as a repository of posts specifically dealing with climate change. But most of the action will be on the other blog, Resource Crisis. So, thanks to all of you for your attention and your support and I hope we can continue the discussion there!


  1. Ugo, you may enjoy my essay on Compassionate Systems.



  2. Very interesting post, indeed! Thanks, Ruben

  3. Bye-bye Frog, it was very nice and fun knowing you but don't worry, we haven't abandoned you; we are still right there next to you, somehow hoping to jump out... one way or another.