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Science and Yale Environment 360 on Climate Fatigue

Richard Kerr’s recent news feature at Science magazine offers a compelling look at the many communication challenges on climate change, especially at a time of apparent “climate fatigue.” As Roger Pielke comments in the Science article, by sounding the alarm on climate change too loudly, campaigners may be causing important segments of the audience to tune out their message.

In a separate article at Yale Environment 360, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger offer a similar argument to those I have made in the past, most recently in a paper at the journal Environment. Here’s how Nordhaus and Schellenberger sum up one of the main drivers of public indifference to climate change:

The lesson of recent years would appear to be that apocalyptic threats — when their impacts are relatively far off in the future, difficult to imagine or visualize, and emanate from everyday activities, not an external and hostile source — are not easily acknowledged and are unlikely to become priority concerns for most people. In fact, the louder and more alarmed climate advocates become in these efforts, the more they polarize the issue, driving away a conservative or moderate for every liberal they recruit to the cause.

So what might be an alternative engagement strategy? I am quoted at the end of the Science news feature arguing that we need to conceive of the communication challenge not in terms of short term campaigns but long term civic education: What does it mean to be a citizen in an era of disruptive climate change and scarce energy? Part of this challenge requires rebuilding the media infrastructure at the local and regional level so that communities can collectively plan, connect, and adapt to various impacts.

I elaborated on these ideas in a recent blog post on climate change education and review the research in this area in a recent co-authored paper at the American Journal of Botany (PDF).

Many of the issues emphasized in the Science and Yale Environment 360 articles will be addressed in a special workshop session next month at the meetings of the American Geophysical Union. Go here for more information.


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