The Do's and Don'ts About Communicating Climate Change

May 10, 2021
Hello SciCom Team

Are you a scientist trying to communicate a convincing, thoughtful message about climate change in your presentation, speech, academic paper, or in the media? Good luck! Getting some people to understand and believe in climate change is harder than riding a unicycle in a hurricane, which is becoming a serious cause for concern for clowns due to climate change.

But there are some good ways to convey your message so it actually gets through to people. After all, we only have one planet (so far), so we should probably take care of it, right? Here are some of the do’s and don’ts for communicating about climate change:

  1. DO keep it simple with visuals and good humor

Many people are attracted to visual representations as a way of understanding concepts around us. It’s why people love watching power washing videos and why Wes Anderson still has a job. All that symmetry is oddly satisfying! So, using visual representations that back up your research can really help getting the message across and keep your audience’s attention.

Using humor can also be a great way to change minds and hearts. Why do you think so many people get their news from late night shows? Or, why did you come to Hello SciCom for your science communication needs? Because if you want people to understand your work, you gotta deliver the ha-ha’s first (industry term).

And, good news! You can actually do both of these at the same time. From defending your research to delivering a speech, using a visual joke is a good way to get your audience on your side. Here’s an example involving Kermit the Frog:

A meme that says "waiting for your government to do something about climate change"
(Source: Climate Change Memes)

Who doesn’t love Kermit the Frog?

  1. DON’T talk down to your audience

At the same time, be aware of your audience demographics so as to make sure you’re not talking down to your audience. Nothing will turn them off faster than an authority figure who treats them like toddlers. Unless you’re speaking to toddlers, of course. Then it’s totally appropriate... if a little pointless because toddlers really can’t do much about climate change. We’ve checked.

This can also stop you from doing a one-size-fits-all presentation. It’s easy to convince someone who already believes in climate change that it’s a big deal that needs attention. But what if you have to speak to a room full of climate deniers or conservative politicians? Now you have to change tactics by talking about these important issues in a way that appeals to your audience’s values while communicating your message.

  1. DO tackle common misconceptions and misinformation

The last four years has taught all of us that fake news is everywhere and it is ridiculously hard to catch sometimes –– especially when it comes to science reporting. With so many misinformed YouTube channels, fake news sites, and Facebook memes that our Aunt Linda can’t stop sharing, it can be difficult for people to sort out the facts from the fiction. So address these issues directly and back yourself up with your hot, hot research.

  1. DON’T shame people for believing that stuff

And while you’re addressing the pseudoscience out there, keep in mind that some smart guy once said that to err is human, and misinformation is so insidious that even savvy internet users can get fooled. Example: We have definitely clicked on an article called “Doctors Agree that Everyone Should Eat This ONE THING Everyday for Gut Health.” Fact: No, they don’t.

You probably already know this but climate science is as hard and complicated as the love interest in an Avril Lavigne song. So make your space a shame-free zone.

  1. DO empower your audience with actionable solutions

If you don’t have anxiety about climate change, then you’re probably not paying attention. The possibility of humanity-ending disasters in a fiery hellscape will do that to a person. This is one of the reasons why people tune out climate change facts, even though now is the most dire time to take them seriously. Making your presentation or speech not be so much of a bummer is a good way to make your audience feel comfortable and open to listen. Yes, some of these climate change models can be bleak, but there are actual things people can do to fight it, including demanding climate change legislation. Because we can install as many energy-efficient light bulbs and low flow toilets as we want –– what really makes a difference is policy.

  1. DO talk about the unexpected effects of climate change

Climate change isn’t just about droughts, hurricanes, and rising global temperatures. It’s also about the little things that can actually be even more convincing to certain people. For instance, did you know that pollution can also shrink the average penis size for future generations? It can. And for a lot of men out there, this alone should make them take this threat seriously. This is also a fun time to throw out a good, old fashioned dick joke! See? Humor works.

But besides that, climate change can also contribute to a whole score of issues, ranging from medical problems like allergies and Lyme disease to other effects like having fewer avocados and Belgian beers. Who would want to live in a world like that?

  1. DO mention positive trends

Not everyone is shrugging off good research. In fact, more and more companies (like automotive and aviation companies) are trying to go carbon neutral, and the world’s reliance on petroleum is actually going down. Not to mention, green alternatives like solar power and wind power are becoming more accessible, and therefore, less costly to everyday people. While there is still a long road ahead, let’s all take comfort in that the old excuses not to use sustainable energy (not available, too expensive, etc.) are increasingly going the way of VCRs and answering machines. Who do you know besides your grandma that actually has those things?

  1. DO have confidence in yourself as a climate change leader

There’s a reason why you’re being asked to give your presentation, speech, TedTalk, etc. Even if you don’t look or sound like most of your colleagues, you know what you’re talking about. If a Swedish teenager can get people to listen, so can you.