Sanjayan: There’s a Better Way to Communicate about Climate Change

Conservancy Lead Scientist Sanjayan observes a polar bear scavaging the remains of a whale in Kaktovik on the arctic coastal plain inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Image credit: Sanjayan/TNC

Conservancy Lead Scientist Sanjayan in Kaktovik on the arctic coastal plain inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Image credit: Sanjayan/TNC

Bob Lalasz directs science communications for The Nature Conservancy.

The Orion Magazine blog put up this week an excellent post by Conservancy lead scientist Sanjayan on how his recent trip to Santiago — and the recent, two-day disappearance of that city’s otherwise plentiful water supply — has catalyzed his thinking about how scientists can better communicate the effects of climate change.

While global warming was almost certainly a cause of Santiago’s taps suddenly running dry, Sanjayan writes for Orion that he was surprised there to find that “no one has asked me specifically about climate change — about parts-per-billion, about carbon markets, about a carbon tax, about pipelines, or Kyoto, Copehhagen, or Doha — all the ways U.S. environmentalists and journalists often talk about it.”

Instead, Santiago’s residents wanted to talk about…water supply. So he quickly pivoted to focus on the water issue itself — on a local concern — and conservation measures for the watershed, while avoiding lectures about necessary behavior changes related to emissions. And through this approach, he found people receptive to hearing about climate change.

It’s a fresh and flexible look at why audience-sensitive science communications actually works. Anyone tired of the counterproductive rhetoric and approaches that have dominated climate comms for the last two decades will welcome the model Sanjayan puts forward here.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

Bob Lalasz is the director of science communications at The Nature Conservancy and the editor of the new Cool Green Science. A long-time editor and writer, he was previously the Conservancy's associate director of digital marketing. He now blogs here about the Conservancy's scientific research and on-the-ground work as well as larger conservation science and science communications issues.



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