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Many Challenges to 'Communicating Climate Change'

Larry Chamblin

350 Pensacola hosted a talk this week on climate change and why there’s such a deep divide over the issue. The event was held Tuesday, July 7 at the Bayview Senior Resource Center. Larry Chamblin, a local climate activist and member of 350 Pensacola, made the presentation, titled: “Public Opinion, Politics, and the Challenge of Communicating Climate Change.”

“It’s a huge challenge,” says Chamblin, referencing the split public opinion.

Chamblin cites the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the 2009 report, which talks about ‘Global Warming’s Six Americas,’ which ranges from those who are very alarmed, like Chamblin, to those who dismiss it and think it’s a hoax. In between are most people, who are a little confused, doubtful, may believe in climate change, but they’re not sure.

Given that the nation is so politically and ideologically, Chamblin says a message that might work with one group won’t work with another.                                                                                         

He says one of the most disturbing things that makes communicating climate change such a challenge is polling that shows citizens have not become more concerned about climate change over time. He notes a Gallup poll finding that 35 percent of the people were ‘very concerned’ about climate change back in 1990. A survey of people in 2014 shows 34% to be ‘very concerned.’ Additionally, Chamblin notes the countless reports from organizations such as the Intergovernmental on Climate Change and the American Association for the Advancement of Science saying this is a series problem, “Yet, look where the public is, so we have a big challenge here,” he says.

Despite agreement from the scientific community (NASA reports 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening), scientists and others are having a difficult time communicating climate change. Chamblin says at the heart of the issue is that the magnitude and urgency of the climate change situation is often too much for people to handle, “They’re just not ready for it and too much information overwhelms them.”

Also, there are several buzzwords have that cause problems. Included are terms like ‘global warming,’ ‘rising sea levels,’ and even ‘climate change.’

Another part of the challenge is convincing people that there is a connection between climate change and the extreme weather events that have been occurring. The argument is that severe storms, flooding, and the like have always occurred. Chamblin agrees, but says computer models are predicting more such weather events than in the past. Further, he believes greenhouse gas emissions are ‘amping up the weather.’ As an example he says without the effect of climate change, the storm event in the Pensacola area on April 30 might have brought 18 inches instead of 24 inches, which could make a big difference in the amount of flooding.

The point of the discussion on ‘the challenge of communicating climate change’ is to find a way to talk about the issue more effectively as a means to spur action.

Chamblin says the key is to not give people so much information, especially a lot of technical information about what the climate scientists are saying, “You need to give people hope. You need to give them concrete examples of how climate change is affecting them and their families,’ and he adds the arguments need to be framed in a different way.

For example, heavy rains at the wrong time will cause crop failures. Droughts, like in Texas and California, have huge impacts. There’re also health effects from extreme heat and diseases from pests that have more common to more tropical areas.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.