Five tips for climate-ready communication

There’s a shift in climate change communication that is transforming the way that we talk about climate change science.

We no longer have to communicate to ‘prove’ the science. The science is sorted. Nor do we have to continue to go over basic terms and concepts. People know about greenhouse gases, and understand that their increasing concentrations are warming the planet.

The challenge now for climate communicators (and scientists) is making climate science accessible, useful and relevant to people, so they can use it to prepare for the impacts that a changing climate will deliver.

But how do we do this?

Here are my five tips for climate-ready communication:

  1. Remember that the science doesn’t have to be front and centre to be valued and of value.
  2. Make it relatable – local references provide a context people understand.
  3. Accentuate the positive.
  4. Cater for the different ways that people interpret information.
  5. Layer your information from general to detailed.

Climate-ready Victoria: a case study

climate-readyIn collaboration with Paul Holper (Scientell), we recently worked with the Victorian Government to prepare a series of regional brochures explaining the likely impacts of climate change and describing how best to adapt to them. This project provided the perfect opportunity to apply our five tips for climate-ready communication.

  1. We put the science in the back seat. While the latest climate science (the 2015 climate projections from CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology) was at the core of these products, it was not the focus of them. There’s no denying that this science is world-leading, and to those working in the field it’s all quite engrossing stuff. However, for the rest of us who don’t know our HadGEM2.0 from our MIROC5, the science can be incomprehensible and distancing.
  1. We made the material locally relevant. Climate change can feel like a global, almost abstract, issue that is ‘out there’ and too big to deal with now in our daily lives. We provided information about key towns in each region, showing the likely impacts of climate change in the readers’ backyards.
  1. We gave examples of what is already being achieved. The purpose of these publications is to inform and empower people to take action to adapt to a changing climate. We provided many examples of groups that were already taking steps in this direction to illustrate that you don’t have to be a G-20 government to make a difference. We wanted to show that communities all over Victoria are already getting climate-ready, so there’s no reason the reader couldn’t take positive action either.
  1. We catered for a range of ways for people to take in information. Some people are visual and interpret an image or a graph much more easily than a paragraph of text, while others lose the plot when they look at a plot, finding it much easier to understand a few lines of well crafted prose. So, we used different graph styles, photos and text. The text was clearly signposted with clear headings and subheadings, as well as pictograms that were repeated in infographics.
  1. We provided layers of information, so people could delve as little or as much as they wanted. Some people are happy with an overview, while others want to drill deeply into the detail. We used summary boxes and key message/statement headings, so the important points could be taken in at a glance. We expanded on these points in text and figures, and provided data sheets for people who really wanted the nuts and bolts. We also provided links to sources of further information.

The Climate-ready Victoria brochures and data sheets are available at www.climatechange.vic.gov.au/understand.