Communicators Communicating About Climate

With a few weeks of more intensive on-the-job attention being paid to climate and coastal impacts under my belt, I am more aware of the communications issues involved.  I would tend to agree with recent scholarly discussions about the science of science communications that concrete coastal adaptation issues will get more traction than abstract and politicized  issues of  international carbon pollution policy and global warming temperature math.

So yes:

Because being out of step with one’s cultural group in struggles over the nation’s “soul” can carry devastating personal consequences, and because nothing a person believes or does as an individual voter or consumer can affect the risks that climate change pose for him or anyone else, it is perfectly predictable—perfectly rational even—for people to engage the issue of climate change as a purely symbolic or expressive issue.

In contrast, from Florida to Arizona, from New York to Colorado and California, ongoing political deliberations over adaptation are affecting people not as members of warring cultural factions but as property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers — identities they all share. The people who are furnishing them with pertinent scientific evidence about the risks they face and how to abate them are not the national representatives of competing political brands but rather their municipal representatives, their neighbors, and even their local utility companies.

What’s more, the sorts of issues they are addressing—damage to property and infrastructure from flooding, reduced access to scarce water supplies, diminished farming yields as a result of drought—are matters they deal with all the time. They are the issues they have always dealt with as members of the regions in which they live; they have a natural shared vocabulary for thinking and talking about these issues, the use of which reinforces their sense of linked fate and reassures them they are working with others whose interests are aligned with theirs.

The challenge, of course, is how those of us “environmentalists” — burdened with a brand identity associated with warring cultural factions — further “the ongoing political deliberations over adaptation.” Our very existence at a round table discussion has the potential of polluting potentially productive communications and deliberations.

The problem is, I don’t think this conclusion:

In this communication environment, people of diverse values are much more likely to converge on, rather than become confused about, the scientific evidence most relevant to securing the welfare of all.

follows necessarily. Certainly not without some sort of advocacy somewhere along the line. Property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers may understand the evidence if the evidence is served up to them by less problematic communicators, but they aren’t going to act necessarily. Or act quickly enough.  It’s an interesting advocacy challenge, to be sure, but I think there’s more to addressing climate change than waging some sort of proxy battle.