Communicators must be more than
‘narrators of doom’, but recognise the need
for ‘active hope’, constructed from realistic
goals, imaginable paths, doable tasks and
a meaningful role in addressing the
problems at hand. New, more dialogical
forms of communication, with various
audiences in a range of venues are needed,
in which new high-end climate messages can
be conveyed and processed with citizens
and decision makers.
Tim Rayner and Asher Minns
Tyndall Working Paper 162, November 2015
More Text from Summary.
While societal and political acceptance of the reality of anthropogenic climate change is widespread, at least in developed countries, the urgency and scale of the challenges that recent science indicates it may represent are far less recognised. With the probability that global mean temperature rise can be kept below the internationally recognised 2°C target continuing to diminish, and growing evidence of limits to adaptation, citizens as well as economic and political decision makers need to engage with knowledge about the likelihood and implications of severe future impacts, and the scale of mitigation required to avoid them, the likes of which few want to hear. A further unwelcome message is that scientific uncertainty may in many cases remain, and continue to prevent accurate predictions about impacts from being made. Communication based on ‘information-deficit’ or ‘linear-rational’ models has failed to motivate either citizens, the business community or political decision makers sufficiently. Better engagement of policymakers, planners, business leaders and wider society with climate scientists and other experts, to evaluate evidence and move towards more adaptive responses, requires new approaches to communication.
The EU-funded HELIX project brought together around 30 individuals from a range of disciplinary and organisational backgrounds for a workshop to discuss how unwelcome messages related to ‘high-end’ scenarios can most effectively be communicated and engaged with. Overall, it was agreed that care is needed to emphasise the full extent of climate risks, not always captured in current scientific communication. Instead of highlighting a range of impacts, the seriousness of which is uncertain, it is more effective to say: ‘There is an awful possible future and we can’t rule it out’. Participants suggested that the specific circumstances in which particular audiences find themselves need to be the starting point of communication efforts. Honest assessments of the prospects of high-end climate change should be offered, but unless emotional and psychological implications are acknowledged and handled sensitively, and the complexity of dealing with the thousands of decisions that might be affected by such change simplified, confronting audiences with the prospect of a 4°C world is more likely to provoke rejection, fatalism and disengagement than adaptive responses. Communicators must be more than ‘narrators of doom’, but recognise the need for ‘active hope’, constructed from realistic goals, imaginable paths, doable tasks and a meaningful role in addressing the problems at hand. New, more dialogical forms of communication, with various audiences in a range of venues are needed, in which new highend climate messages can be conveyed and processed with citizens and decision makers. Ideally, these processes should be facilitated by highly skilled individuals or teams. These currently less common forms of communication will require additional investment and training, a role that HELIX is also recognising and undertaking. Moving climate change communication into this new Dialogue-Emotions-Values in Context (DEVCO) mode is a major challenge, but the worse climate news gets, the more prominent and continuous attention will need to be to enable society effectively to address climate risks.