Officially, we are not doing enough to prevent the irreversible effects of climate change…again. It is not a surprise. The latest news in the climate world last week was the release of the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This particular report may serve as a final warning as the report’s findings indicate that “limiting warming to about 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires that global greenhouse gas emissions peak before 2025 at the latest” before the irreversible effects of climate change.
Comprised of scientists from around the world, the IPCC produces a comprehensive review of climate science every six to seven years regarding physical climate science, impacts and adaptations, and options for reducing emissions to further reduce warming. The Official 2022 Mitigation Report is a 17-chapter publication of nearly 3,000 pages. Fortunately, there’s a handy technical summary, a summary for policymakers, and a short video recap, all full of the latest and most important facts and figures that serve as the Sparknotes version of the IPCC.
Despite the report’s relatively dark tone, it offers us a chance to bridge the gaps between scientific discovery and legitimate public understanding. Studies have shown that although concern and commitment to climate change are increasing, this is not translating into more ambitious political action. It is more important than ever that we find methods of communicating climate information effectively to reflect the legitimate urgency surrounding the situation. The majority of the world are not scientifically trained, and it is imperative that they are able to fully understand the information to fuel collective action.
In a representative democracy like ours, the public holds the power. It is crucial that voters and decision-makers understand the element of variability when it comes to climate science. We can predict outcomes based on data-driven models, but there are still margins of error depending on the actions we take over the next few years.
Scientists know that sea levels are rising, but the actual extent depends heavily on how the world tackles carbon emissions. As a result, it is understandably difficult to implement legislation with any degree of flexibility, let alone understand that this element of probability does not undermine the seriousness of the situation.
We may all be numb to bad climate news at this point, but underneath its technical vocabulary, this IPCC report actually leveraged many different messaging techniques to reach a wider audience, offering social solutions to mitigation. of climate change. It models the potential economic impacts of leaving the crisis unaddressed and highlights the importance of implementing lifestyle changes to reduce demand. Although the general findings of the report have been discussed in the media, the framing is just as important as the facts. It is difficult for anyone to visualize the grimly portrayed future of our planet with abstract systematic concepts until it is already upon us.
All this talk about science education and the climate emergency begs the question: is it in the job description of scientists to be activists? At this point, climate change has become hopelessly tied to political beliefs, but the scientific findings speak for themselves. Activism and critical climate messaging are interchangeable at this point, and the most effective way to spread the message is to diversify our communication channels to reach as many people as possible.
This IPCC report, while grim, is a step in the right direction – reconciling scientific implications with socio-economic and political realities requires interdisciplinary analysis, and any kind of investment in voter understanding is a win for society. scientific communication. Perhaps repackaging information in various forms does not yield the immediate tangible results of studying global carbon cycles, but as this report indicates, tackling climate change will require strong public support and a change of behavior. It may take time to see the effects of humanizing the battle against our human-modified landscapes, but climate science needs to be understood well beyond academia for maximum engagement and action.
Even if science communication reaches perfect lay terms, there will not be a sea change in policy-making. People constantly want to push the burden onto the next generation – but the conversation needs to get into mainstream media without all the clickbait and doomsday headlines. Talking about climate change is undeniably scary – there’s an element of unintended denial because it’s essentially impossible to fight nature and win.
There is still a long way to go, but we have to make up for a lot of lost time. It is a phenomenon for which we are collectively responsible and from which all will suffer the repercussions. Whichever way you see it, climate messaging needs to be inclusive of everyone. The data itself is clear, but we have work to do to ensure that the language we use to describe climate change is equally accessible.
Montana Denton is a senior writer on environmental issues, sustainability and society. His column, “Triple Bottom Line,” airs every other Thursday.