Communication on…Changing Communication

The newest frontier in the world of climate change data sometimes seems to be how we talk about it.  From information-graphics to theater, the movement to include creativity in the world of climate science communication seems to be at its height to date. People are studying the psychology of communicating science, while others are saying it is not cerebral initiatives and research that will help us figure this out. I am somewhat in between these camps to be honest. I think the more we can understand about how people process seemingly abstract information, the better we can design educational initiatives. I do not however think this research should  happen in a vacuum that doesn’t take into account the complexity of that processing for human beings.

I am almost certain that the advertising industry has loads of tips on how you can manipulate people to believe that a certain something is worth paying attention to or striving for.  We have yet to fully exploit those powers (and they are SUPREME POWERS) in the world of promoting behavior change for environmental benefit. This includes everything from not driving your car all the time to installing motion sensing lights in hallways. Who else lives in an apartment building where the stairwell lights are on 24/7? It is unnerving to say the least.

Beyond this know-how though, I am entirely certain that there is a plethora of young, creative people interested in communicating these issues to the public. Our experience in developing City Atlas–a bottom up sustainability plan for NYC that harnesses the creative talent present here, has been an almost overwhelming first hand experience in that. It has also been an interesting process in story-telling and discussion rather than lecturing and imposing. That will launch in July and we are curious to see how it will work in actuality. New Yorkers talking to other New Yorkers about sustainability initiatives. It may just work.

It is unfortunate that the federal government has made little progress in promoting a climate change conscious agenda. But today, more mainstream news outlets are paying attention to the issue in addition to all the smaller organizations and media outlets that were before. They didn’t go so far as to put the words climate change on the cover, but last week’s issue of Newsweek tells Americans that new extreme weather patterns are here to stay–and we are woefully unprepared.  The article itself does use the term climate change.  Mainstream media running more stories about climate issues is definitely a step in the right direction.

The reality is that there is no simple fix to the challenges of climate change.  And that is a tough reality to accept in an era of instant gratification. We have talked about the need for collaboration and cooperation and which of each is required of whom. But HOW we talk about this seems to be catching up slightly later. I am glad it finally is. And I really do believe it finally is. Now it is up to those of us who really do see the need to step it up in the communication innovation realm to bring it back to the lay human level. As Randy Olson says in his article The Nerd Loop: Why I’m Losing Interest in Communicating Climate Change, “The “thinkier” you get, the tinier your audience.” So, let’s think big audience and simple message as we devise new ways to talk about our shared challenge.

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