So What It’s Warmer? – Climate Change Messaging Must Evolve Now

So What It’s Warmer? – Climate Change Messaging Must Evolve Now

I often make the point that there is a dangerous inertia in how climate science is discussed that does not resonate with the public. We are well past the time for the narrative to evolve on how scientists, media, and policymakers discuss climate change. At what point are such records not "breaking news" anymore? Two important points in that piece were to (1) get to the point (graphic above) and (2) keep the message miniature, memorable and meaningful. I argue that such headlines are not "meaningful" to the public or a policymaker. Even as scientists understand the implications of 1 to 4 degrees of warming, many people, particularly in the United States, will go "Meh, I like that its 80 degrees F in February (as it was in Atlanta yesterday)." It is placing such warming within the context of their lives, "kitchen table" issues, well-being, and health. For me, the most important information in the aforementioned NOAA press release was, In 2018, the U.S. experienced 14 weather and climate disasters, each with losses exceeding $1 billion and all totaling around $91 billion in damages. Both the number of events and their cumulative cost ranked fourth highest since records began in 1980. I challenge you to consider how many products you will use this week from those sectors.

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In my Forbes articles, I try to provide credible scientific information in a manner that a scientist, student, policymaker, or someone at the Mall can understand. I often use the “So What?” litmus test to convey my thoughts because many scientists get “stuck in the mud” of their discipline thoughts and jargon. As a scientist and professor, I navigate the “academic treadmill” and the broader “gym” of media, policymakers, and public groups. I often make the point that there is a dangerous inertia in how climate science is discussed that does not resonate with the public. Recently, NASA and NOAA announced that 2018 was the fourth hottest year for the planet since record-keeping began. This was the dominant headline. It was also the topic that reporters reached out to me about. We are well past the time for the narrative to evolve on how scientists, media, and policymakers discuss climate change.

Impacts of Hurricane Michael on agriculture in Georgia. Georgia Department of Agriculture website

I recall telling a reporter recently to ask me something different than the “temperatures are warm” thing. My point was that we are in a changed climate paradigm. Record warmth and new records are the “new normal.” At what point are such records not “breaking news” anymore? In a press release on February 6th, NOAA led with:

Earth’s long-term warming trend continued in 2018 as persistent warmth across large swaths of land and ocean resulted in the globe’s fourth hottest year in NOAA’s 139-year climate record. The year ranks just behind 2016 (warmest), 2015 (second warmest) and 2017 (third warmest)…In separate analyses of global temperatures, scientists from NASA, the United Kingdom Met Office and the World Meteorological Organization also reached the same heat ranking.

Most major news outlets led with a similar narrative. These facts are interesting, important and terrifying at the same time. However, is it really breaking news? Technically, I suppose it is, but you get my point right? I fully expect 2019 to be in the top 5 and possibly even number one given potential El Nino impacts.

For the public, science information needs to…

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