Historically, one of science and conservation’s biggest downfalls has been its inability to communicate critical facts and data in a way that resonates with broader audiences. Oftentimes, scientific reports are littered with jargon-heavy wording, complex language, and a rather unexciting tone.
These reports get buried deep in some academic journal or policy release, never communicating their message to the public or having a chance to make an impact.
One of the fields where this misstep in communication is most evident is the climate conversation. For example, one of the major bodies that produces climate reports is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If you’ve ever delved into an IPCC report, then you know how complex and intimidating they can be. They are often hundreds of pages long, filled with complex figures, contain an overwhelming amount of data, and use very specific scientific language. These reports are excluding for anyone working outside of the field of science because they are too hard to understand and not written in a way that curates a meaningful connection with the audience.
Now, the point of the IPCC reports isn’t to communicate to the mass public. These reports are specifically meant to be research-heavy because they are establishing facts and data points for world leaders and governments. The issue arises when individuals attempt to communicate the information in this report to the outside world. This is often done by journalists, media agencies, conservation organisations, and science communicators. Too often in these communications, we tend to fall into two traps that cause a disconnect between the science and the audience.
Trap #1 – The Doomsday Downfall
The first trap is one that has plagued climate communications for the past several decades. This is when individuals and organisations attempt to convey the issues in climate by focusing on the severity of the problems, otherwise known as the “Climate Doomsday Trap.” It’s the idea of focusing on the problem and not providing any solutions or hopes for the audience. We’ve all seen these types of communications. They cover major headlines around the world, reading “Code Red on Climate” or “Point of No Return”, and tend to be the more coveted route when communicating environmental issues. The understanding of these communications is becoming more evident as time moves forward, but there is still a tendency for major media organisations to focus on these sensationalist headlines, which can deter the broader audience from engaging with the information.
Don’t get us wrong, there is a very real need to convey the severity of these issues, but focusing strictly on the negative has been proven to deter people from climate conversations. That’s why these types of communications are often the most controversial and a large part of the reason climate change has become political in so many countries.
Trap #2 – The Complexity Downfall
The second trap is focused on the idea of failing to make the information digestible and understandable for broader audiences. These forms of communication are similar to IPCC reports, because they are filled with technical information and concepts are difficult to understand for the average audience. They are jargon-heavy, difficult to read, and too cut and dry for the mass public. These climate communications often fail to bridge the gap and can deter audiences, exclude them from the conversation, and prevent them from getting involved.
For these reasons, there is a need for more universal forms of storytelling and communication that can help convey complex information to broader audiences. This means using simpler language, utilising different mediums, and making solutions to climate change exciting and inspiring.
The Role of Narrative – Fixing the Problem
Finding ways to avoid these pitfalls and communicate climate issues is incredibly difficult and takes a lot of practice, but is a necessary part of our ability to mitigate the crisis and enact lasting change for the planet. To understand the ways we can work on these communication issues, we can look at some examples of individuals and organisations that have been successfully crafting inspiring and meaningful narratives around climate for a global audience.
In a recent post, we reflected on the work of David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, and how they use the power of storytelling to create enticing narratives that convey information about these issues. These two science communicators have mastered the ability to resonate with a global audience, finding ways to create an emotional connection to the science while using broader and more digestible terms. Attenborough and Thunberg are two of our best examples because they provide a snapshot of what crafting successful climate narratives can do for our planet. Thunberg has become the leader of a global youth movement to enact change that has resulted in the support of millions worldwide. Attenborough is arguably one of the most distinctive voices in media, and his work has been proven to inspire change in many areas of environmental action.
Another area where we see the use of effective climate narratives is on social media platforms, including TikTok and YouTube. For example, Earthrise Studio and Silverback Films collaborated on a YouTube project for the COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The video series was called “Seat at the Table,” and it followed the real stories of individuals from around the world who were affected by the climate crisis. The show was powerful because it interwove a human element into this conflict and helped make the crisis feel more personal. In addition, the series focused on ways that individuals around the world were making positive impacts to mitigate climate change, providing viewers with hope that there were solutions to these big and overwhelming problems.
These are just examples of successful climate narratives that have bridged the gap between the information and the audience. Truthfully, there are various ways to create effective climate communications and the more creative we can get, the more likely we are to persuade individuals to get involved in efforts to protect the planet.
How to Create Climate Narratives That Convey Information
The work of these individuals provides an idea of ways that climate information can be effectively communicated to broader audiences, whether it’s using different mediums, including visual storytelling, art, or even audio storytelling. Their work highlights the ways broader and more universal messaging can provide information that resonates with our audience and makes an impact on their actions.
Try these tactics to help you create meaningful messaging that leaves an impact on your audience.
- Adopt a Conversational Tone - Adopt a less formal writing style that can make the information more approachable and engaging for broader audiences. Using clear and concise language, along with relatable wording, can help simplify complex scientific concepts.
- Use Visuals - The use of compelling visuals, such as infographics, maps, and photographs, can help convey complex information in a more digestible format. Using visuals can complement the written narrative and make the report more compelling for individuals who learn differently or have a hard time relating to the text.
- Make It Personal - Provide real-life examples and stories from communities affected by climate change, making the information more relatable and personal (this could be examples of local flooding, or other natural disasters in the audiences immediate area). These stories can illustrate the local and regional impacts of climate change, humanising the issues, and making them more emotional to the audience.
- Use Main Characters - Include personal accounts from scientists, policymakers, and individuals working in these fields can make the information more engaging. The use of main characters also makes the issues more relatable because audiences will be able to picture themselves in similar situations and relate to the emotions, values, and struggles of the main characters.
The climate crisis is in large part a communications crisis. That’s why working through these issues and pitfalls in science and climate communications is critical to help address the issues with our environment.
As communicators, it’s our job to take the information and strike the right balance between scientific accuracy and storytelling to facilitate understanding and increase accessibility. The more engaging we can make this material, the easier it is for policymakers and individuals to take informed and decisive action against the climate crisis. Together, we can recognise where we have faltered and learn from our mistakes to move forward on the right path toward a healthier planet. With a successful strategy, creative thinking, and a desire to bridge the gap, anyone can help be a part of the movement to protect the future of our people and the planet.