Communicating climate change

Hey, readers. This is my second blog and it’s actually a follow-up to my previous blog titled “Misconceptions about Climate Change”. I was delighted to see that many people read it and more than a few of the readers took the time to give me insightful, yet critical comments. I feel obliged to mention Ms. Abayomi as well as Mr. Jon Pippetone for their feedback. On my last post, I have realized that, I attempted to tackle multiple issues but did not successfully do justice to any one of them. If you don’t remember I started off by talking about communication of information regarding climate change between the scientists and politicians as well everyday citizens and then I dove into misconceptions about climate change without giving any suggestions for the previous. I do apologize for this and I will shamelessly blame this on the fact that I had many things to say and also it was my first blog and I was maybe a bit naive. I have decided that the latter part of this post will focus on what I originally started. I will begin with a restating of what I mentioned before and add on to that with some new suggestions as well as some statistics and evidence. Unfortunately, I have decided to omit the misconceptions part because that is another sub-topic, one that I do not wish to dive into until I have gathered much more information. To those who were looking forward to info regarding that topic, I not only send my apologies but have also posted web links to web-pages that do discuss some misconceptions that you can look into.

                Climate change is a very serious issue for not only the well being of our planet Earth but the well being and survivals of us, as a species. Chances are that, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, you are aware of this. Heck, even if you’ve been ice skating with some emperor penguins in the Antarctic

 or fishing with a few polar bears in the Arctic you’ve would’ve noticed the melting ice and glaciers slowly breaking down. Though not as heavily publicized and valued, maybe rightfully so, as cancer awareness, the AIDS epidemic, or even the rising population paired with dwindling resources, climate change has been gaining notoriety at fairly quick pace.

                In my opinion and I’m sure many people would agree with me, one of the biggest problems facing the battle against climate change is perhaps the transfer of essential information regarding the topic. Scientists, most of whom have exclusive background in the sciences do not always have the easiest time conveying the information concerning climate change to politicians and policy makers, most of whom usually have very little to no formal training, especially of higher level, in the environmental sciences.

click for source

Perhaps, in their attempt to “dumb down” the stats and details of climate change, they accidentally downplay the importance or even severity of the problem. Not only that, but I have also noticed that even the statistics (i.e. graphs) that are presented in scientific journals and articles, even those in Nature or Science are sometimes misleading. One things about stats and graphs that one must remember when looking at one is that data, and especially the way it is represented can be manipulated ever so subtly to produce rather dramatic results. Something as simple as at what value a graph uses as its starting point can have an instrumental effect on the overall message it is relaying to the reader.


Compare two graphs both depicting global warming over time. One graph starts in the 1800’s and ends in 2009. This graph shows that the planet has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius over that time period. The second graph starts in 1940 and ends in 2009 as well, but since the start point is later the net increase does seem as dramatic or as great a value in the first graph. ( There are two excellent graphs showing this that my professor showed me in class and I promise and upload them in this blog post as soon as I get it from him as I am unable to find the graphs nor the links at the current time!)

 This is an example of data, that is very similar shows quite different message, not necessarily because the data has been maliciously manipulated to provide faulty facts, but because the creator of the graph has chosen the data which he wants to share and in a certain way. This is a case where science meets social values, a meaty topic which can have a book about it but one that I will not spend too much time on other than to raise awareness. The important message which I wish to convey is that based on which graph one looks at, whether be an interested reader or influential political figure, it may influence the reaction in a totally different way. The first graph would cause alarm and pose an immediate course of action while the second graph would give the sense of not so urgent, and possibly more time to work on a course of action for the issue.

With so many different organizations and scientists researching and publishing on the issue, it is actually quite difficult to come to solid conclusions and that is one of the reasons that there are many people who don’t feel the urgency to act now! The other issue that I had with the communication of climate change is the disagreement between the scientists themselves who are working in the field. (Click for video about prominent figure being sued for claims he made!) It is very true that science is about disagreement and conflicting views. That is the main reason that science has developed to be as thorough as it is today. Without debate, scientists would be able to prove, or disprove theories, and science would not be able to advance. If scientists Copernicus and Kepler had not challenged the view of the philosopher and mathematician Ptolemy and the church, we might still believe in the geocentric model of the solar system where the sun and all the planets revolve around the Earth rather than the heliocentric model where the planets, including Earth, orbit the Sun . Discussion and conflict are essential and fundamental parts of science. But, that is not what I am arguing, I simply state that the disagreement between the thousands of scientists who believe in and explain climate change and those who disagree with the idea and claim it is a hoax is sending an unclear message to society which consists of many people who rely on the words of these men of science to provide accurate information. Whether you realize it or not, those who oppose climate change get publicity on major networks such as Fox news almost as much as those supporting climate change (click link for video). Sometimes the opposing views are an even hotter story for the news stations who want as much attention as possible. When this happens, viewers don’t know who to trust. Let’s be honest, its much sweeter to hear that climate change is not true or not as bad as they say because it provides relief to those who may possibly be worried.

Click for source

Coming back to what I was discussing in the before about scientists conveying information to politicians, I think  before any fingers can be pointed at politicians policy makers, I believe that the facts should be clear. Take for example the conferences that are held between leaders of the United Nations as well as the most economically powerful nations of the world. At these conferences(recently in Cancun and Copenhagan, it is a combination of scientists, economists, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, etc. that present the facts as well as possible solutions. It is only after hearing all the data and opinions that the government officials start discussing plans of action. The battle against climate change requires co-operation between the government, world leaders, scientists not only working in the field but as well as in other fields, and business people. No one group or entity can be singled out as the ones who are not doing their job. This is not to say that the citizens of this planet, no matter what social class or status don’t have at least a moral obligation to do their part. You, me, and everyone in society cannot wait for the officials to bring change. We have to get the ball rolling. I understand that many of us may have our reasons for not wanting to get involved. These may include that one may be dismissive about the notion of climate change, one may not want to get involved either because they have other things in their lives that they prioritize above the issue of climate change, or one may feel he/she does not know enough about the issue to voice their concerns. The most important factor in getting people to call for action is getting people to understand the scope of the problem. Data and statistics are not very useful if the viewer does not understand it. Anyone can throw out numbers but to attach meaning and value to those numbers is the most important part. I’m sure many of us have heard the quote, “Knowledge is Power” and it is very true.

 This is why it is important that every student, no matter field of interest should be exposed to sciences as well as other fields. Getting people educated on the matter is a great idea and starting at students is probably the most efficient way. Students are already in school  so it will easier to get the information across to mass numbers whether it be elementary schools all the way to college and universities. Students have the ability to grasp and understand the information well and it is them who climate change will affect in their futures and it is students who can get together and push for action. Think about it,  it is much easier to integrate courses about the issue into the curriculum or syllabus than it is to provide information to people who are already in the workforce who lead busy lives or to seniors who may not really care much anymore. The good news is that many of the top universities across the nation and in parts of the world have already took this road and are providing some very interesting and essential courses on environmental sciences. This ranges from introductory courses on climate change such as a seminar I’m currently enrolled at the University of Toronto to more in-depth courses that really dive into the issue. Click on the links for a list of courses in environmental change offered at U of T, Harvard & MIT, as well as some universities in the United Kingdom.              

There is much more I would love to talk about but I believe that I have done enough for this one blog post. I hope to post another blog with a more statistical tone which addresses some misconceptions and some of the efforts to change them. I also hope to give you more feedback on my own journey into this subject matter and my experiences in my climate change seminar at University of Toronto. I hope what you have read above in this blog has gotten you thinking about finding reliable information from courses and programs offered across the continent. I have mentioned that information that is out there about climate change, especially in the media can be unclear since so many people from different fields, backgrounds, and levels of education are represented there. If you want to be able to have a good chance of analyzing and judging the information, the best idea is to enrol in courses and learn more. Only then can communication about the issue be transferred more smoothly and efficiently which is essential if we want to call for action and bring about change. Let not only politicians and those in power know how serious society about the issue of climate change but also those around you. Try to bring it up in conversations, we already talk about the weather when there is nothing else to talk about. Communication of information is important and it is the responsibility of all of us to take the initiative!!

                If you want to know a bit about how other fields of science such as biology can be related to climate change, check out this blog by one of my peers Tony at the University. He talks about how global temperatures could have affected body size in animals of the past. Another one of my peers, Dustin, posted a post on advertising climate which explores whether the ads are effective in getting the message across. I recommend checking both out as they relate to what I was talking about in this blog.

                I look forward to your comments which are ever so helpful. I want to try something where I encourage every reader to post a comment saying what they have done to either fight climate change or know more about it. Please and Thank you!!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.