The way we talk about climate change can impact the solutions we develop, experts said
That’s not ideal, some experts say.
“The first step to action on climate change is to talk about it, that’s the number one thing we can do,” said Lucky Tran, a science communicator at Columbia University who focuses in part on climate justice. “We can’t solve any problems, especially at the global scale, if we don’t talk about the problem and the best way to address it.”
And when it comes to the climate, he added, “How we talk about climate change really shapes what solutions we have for climate change.”
Here’s what Tran and other experts say you need to know about broaching climate-related issues.
Climate change communication has historically focused on trying to convince people that global warming is real, happening and caused by humans. But public opinion polling shows that there are already “huge majorities in the country” who understand those things to be true, said Jon Krosnick, a social psychologist and professor at Stanford University.
Krosnick, who has researched American public opinion on global warming, argued that continued efforts that largely focus on persuading people about the realities of climate change “is going to be wasted money, wasted effort, wasted air.”
Instead, discussions about just how “green” the American public is, as well as general insights from polling that reflect people’s views on climate change, may do more to impact how government officials act, he said.
“The American public doesn’t realize how green it is, and even elected representatives don’t realize how green the American public is,” he said. “You don’t have to change anybody’s opinion. You just have to make the unanimities or near unanimities more salient for people.”
How climate change is discussed could also impact approaches to solutions, other experts said.
“It’s important for climate communication today to really focus on how to include different perspectives, different ideologies that can give viable hope — because there is hope — in terms of how to address climate change differently than what’s been proposed in the past,” said Hanna Morris, an assistant professor at the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto, who researches climate change media and communication.
It sometimes seems as though climate change conversations can be divided into two narratives: People are either overly optimistic about solutions — or claim it’s “too late” to act.