January 4, 2019

Making Climate Change Personal

Posted by bwebster

Today’s post is part of a series written by student bloggers from the AGU Fall Meeting 2018.

By: Haley Ritger, a PhD student at the University of Georgia. Haley holds master’s degrees in public affairs and environmental science from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Attendees gather at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the 2018 Fall Meeting. Photo Credit: Haley Ritger

As 28,500 registrants gather to present and discuss 8,000 papers at this year’s Fall Meeting and simultaneously kick-off the year-long AGU Centennial Celebration, we reflect on the essential role of science to the wellbeing of our country and the world. AGU is working to foster partnerships seeking solutions to the grand challenge of climate change, to lead in ethics and open data access, and to give scientists the tools to tell their stories and effect positive change. On the first day of this year’s meeting, the Presidential Forum keynote and a session on communicating climate change provided insights to attendees about scientists as a nexus between understanding the challenges and finding solutions to climate change.

Presidential Forum speaker Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple and former EPA administrator, gave a wide-ranging address that touched on her own personal story and journey to Apple, her philosophy on addressing climate change, as well as the Apple’s actions and leadership on reducing emissions and waste.

In a lively session titled Communicating Climate Change: Informing Politicians and Policy Makers, conveners gathered an eclectic group of scientists to present and discuss how to have effective and constructive discussions with policymakers and to highlight the variety of ways to approach and broach the subject.

Some overarching ideas emerged from these sessions:

Focus on solutions

Richard Alley, using the Yale Climate Opinion Maps to illustrate his point, explained, “A vast amount of America thinks we should solve a problem that they aren’t convinced exists.” According to another panelist, Jerry Taylor, the general population is lightly engaged and lightly informed, but they are sociotropic voters; people want to vote for the good of the country. If scientists and policymakers can offer positive solutions to support, people may be naturally inclined to agree. During her keynote, Lisa Jackson highlighted the business case for investing in mitigating and adapting to climate change: businesses want to continue to operate into the future, and they need to invest in the future of our planet to stay in business.

Lisa Jackson delivers the Presidential Forum Keynote Address Monday, December 10, 2018 at the AGU Fall Meeting. Photo Credit: Haley Ritger

Diverse voices matter

Lisa Jackson pointed to data that shows that harnessing the minds of people from diverse backgrounds improves outcomes. To take on the challenges of climate change we need as many perspectives as possible. It is also true that different people can communicate effectively with different audiences. Richard Alley pointed out that esteemed military professionals can reach a different audience than he can.

Stories are powerful

Storytelling is a shared human experience, and one of the best ways to communicate is to tell stories. During his presentation, Anthony Leiserowitz, illustrating with the Yale Climate Opinion Maps, explained that a large portion of the country thinks climate change is happening, but don’t think it’s urgent. People conceptualize climate change as something that impacts the distant future or faraway people. Highlighting stories about the impacts that are happening now, in this country, can help people connect to the urgency of climate change; like Lisa Jackson did when she talked about helping to evacuate her family during Hurricane Katrina and seeing the devastation around her new home in California due to recent wildfires

Make it personal to find common ground

One of the most effective tools you have is your humanity. Tell your personal story about the work you do and the experiences you’ve had. Talk about why climate change matters to you on a personal level. At the end of the day, you are a person who lives on this planet and the things you care about as a citizen of the Earth are shared among all people. As Kathie Dello remarked during the panel discussion, “Connect on the things that matter to us—our landscape, our kids, our jobs.”