ClimateTalk: Science and Solutions | Susan Joy Hassol | TEDxUMontana

ClimateTalk: Science and Solutions | Susan Joy Hassol | TEDxUMontana

[whooshing sound] [dramatic music] [applause] Climate change is a serious challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. We’re stymied in getting to the solutions because of an underlying challenge, a communication failure rooted
in language and ideology. Some aspects of this failure
are inadvertent and innocent, like how some scientists communicate. Others are intentional and insidious, like the active disinformation campaign. Other aspects involve
ingrained world views. Resolution of this communication
failure is essential, as it can unleash our ability
to solve the climate problem. My thinking’s evolved over the 25 years that I’ve been working in
climate change communication. When I first started working
with climate scientists, I realized that people had a hard time
understanding some of them. I’d say, it’s going to get a lot warmer, and how much depends on our emissions, and they’d say, mathematical
model simulations have both explicitly resolved
in parameterized properties suggest a range of global means
surface air temperature perdivations depending on assumptions
about anthroprogenic emissions and their radiated forcings. Further research is required. Did you get all that? So I figured if I could just help them translate science into
English, people would get it, and then we could get on
with solving the problem. Of course that assumed that if people just
understood the problem, we’d act to fix it. Turns out, that’s not the major issue. But, communicating science to the public, it involves a number of things: simple, clear messages in plain language, repeating them often, and
communicating using stories, because they’re sticky and memorable. But scientists’ training
teaches them to use jargon, and include all the details
and caviats right up front, never repeat what’s already known, and the data speak for themselves, there’s no need for stories. You can see the problem,
scientists are from Mars, the public’s from Venus,
but just like men being from Mars, and women being from
Venus, this doesn’t mean that they don’t love and trust each other. Just that sometimes a little
communication help is needed. Besides jargon, I realized that scientists used a lot of words that
the public also used. They just used them to mean
entirely different things, and no one had ever recognized this. So for example, scientists often use the
term, positive feedback. Which, to most of us sounds
like a good thing, right? You do a good job, you
get positive feedback, but scientists use the
term positive feedback to describe a vicious cycle
in the climate system, whereby warming causes even more warming so the process feeds on
itself, it’s not positive. And when scientists
describe the possible ranges around a particular
measurement or projection, they call those ranges, error bars, but to the public, error just means wrong. I think when I retire I’ll
open a tavern for scientists, I’ll call it The Error Bar.
[audience laughter] I’ve identified 150 of these words that mean entirely different
things to scientists than they do to the public. I’ve been talking about them for decades. I’ve even published papers about them. I worked with my scientist colleagues on lots of other issues, in
language and communication. We developed effective metaphors and they became better storytellers. We designed graphics that people
could actually understand, and all of these efforts
have been really worthwhile. Some scientists are
always good communicators, and many more have joined their ranks. Scientists have now clearly communicated that we know that the world
is unequivocally warming, and we know the cause. We’ve increased the amount of
heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40% through our dependence
on coal, oil, and gas. And we’re seeing the impacts now in longer, hotter heatwaves, in rain coming in heavier downpours, and our coastal cities
beginning to feel the brunt of encroaching seas, and there’s
a lot we can do about it; both to reduce future climate change and to deal with it’s consequences. Scientists overwhelmingly
agree on all of this. In fact, based on the evidence, 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global
warming is happening, and scientists are not the only ones. The U.S. military is very
concerned about climate change. They call it a threat multiplier, because it exacerbates a range
of risks to our security, from the spread of infectious diseases, to conflicts over resources and refugees. So with the facts so clear, how did we get into this
communication crisis, and why are we stuck here? This is where the
intentional and insidious part of the problem comes in. There is a well-organized, well-funded, disinformation campaign,
designed to confuse and cast doubt on the science. There have been many books written documenting this campaign,
including this one, which details how big-moneyed interests promoted a handful of
scientists to obscure the truth on issues from tobacco
smoke to global warming. The merchants of doubt take
advantage of language confusion, like those words I mentioned that mean different things to scientists than they do to the public. Take the word uncertainty for example. The disinformation
campaign exploits the fact that the public use of uncertainty is, we’re really not sure what’s going on, even though scientists mean
no such thing when the use it. Scientists use uncertainty to
describe the possible ranges around a particular measurement, like those error bars I mentioned. And scientists use uncertainty to describe the range of possible
warming that we face. A little more or a lot more
depending on our emissions. Scientists will call that
the uncertainty range, but we are as certain that human activity causes global warming, as we are that cigarette
smoking causes lung cancer. Or take the word theory. Scientists use the word theory to describe something
that is very well-established in science, and can be used to make predictions, like the theory of gravity. But, the public usage
of theory is much different. It’s just a hunch or a guess.
Just some theory. So there are those who will exploit that by repeating that global
warming is only a theory. Well next time you hear that remember, gravity is only a theory too. [audience laughter] The disinformation campaign also misleads with divisive rhetoric and false choices, like pitting the environment
against the economy, as if we had to choose between them. In fact, recent research shows that the costs of climate
change to the economy are huge, so it’s not just an environmental issue, it’s a economic one, and while it will cost
something to deal with, it’ll cost a lot more if
we don’t deal with it. And the longer we wait to act, the more expensive it gets. So these are just a few of the ways that the disinformation campaign carries out it’s intensive effort to undermine public understanding of the science and the solutions. Which leads us to another
communication issue. The difficulty that some
people have separating the reality of the
science of climate change from how they might feel about some of the potential solutions. As I thought about the
language that’s often been used to talk about solutions to climate change, I realized that maybe it wasn’t the science
some people were rejecting. It was how they perceived the solutions,
so words like regulate, restrict, cut, control, conserve, and tax, these are words that get
some peoples’ hackles up, because they sound
ideologically objectionable. I’ve been pointing to this
problem for a long time, and a recent study supports my concerns. Researchers at Duke
University’s business school did an experiment with self-described democrats and republicans. All the participants in this experiment heard the same science of climate change and projections of the future, but half of them heard that science coupled with a free market
solution and the other half heard it coupled with
a regulatory solution. A majority of the democrats
agreed with the science, regardless of which solution
set it was paired with. Among the republicans,
a majority also agreed with the science when it was paired with a free market solution. But those republicans
who heard the science paired with a regulatory solution were much less likely to
agree with the science. Now this is important information, and it suggests a more productive way to frame the solutions. For example, pricing fossil fuels to account for their
real costs to society, is a market-based way to
drive energy innovation, but if you call it a tax, some people will be instantly alienated. Now there are those who choose
those words inadvertently, but others, who want to stall action, do it intentionally, wanting to get peoples’ hackles up. Now another problem that we face in the communication of climate change is that some people just don’t recognize the immediacy and urgency
of the climate change issue. At a talk I gave recently,
someone in the audience said, “well we’ve been talking about
this crisis for decades,” and we’re not on fire. No? Tell that to people
in the American west, where the fire season’s getting longer,
and the fires larger and there are clear
connections to climate change. Hotter, drier conditions,
more insect-killed trees and earlier melting of snow pack. My questioners seem to be
under the common misconception that climate changes may be
a problem for the future, we’ll cross that bridge
when we come to it he said. Oops. Going to be tough
to cross that bridge. We’re seeing a lot more
of this kind of flooding. Due to the increasing trend
in very heavy downpours, and that’s caused by warming, because a warmer atmosphere
holds more moisture. All of these things are happening now. The problem is, not everyone
is connecting the dots, between what we’re experiencing, and the human influence on climate. And the media are not helping. When wildfires were
ravaging the American west in 2012 and 2013, the media spent a lot of coverage on the fire fighting efforts, but did they mention climate as a factor in the increasing trend in wildfires? Not so much. Just 3% of the fire
fighting coverage in 2012 and 6% of that media coverage in 2013 even mentioned climate change. Now in addition to not
connecting the dots, the media, the media also
give undue amounts of airtime to contrarian points of view, and in general, they just give the topic of climate change short shrift. The media may not tell us what to think, but they tell us what to think about, and it’s not global warming, and for many of us, when
people do think about it, they think of it as something far away, like melting ice at the
poles and polar bears. Something that affects
someone else somewhere else. But it’s happening here and now, in our own backyards. You know, the Arctic is
the opposite of Las Vegas. What happens in the Arctic,
does not stay in the Arctic. So that melting ice on Greenland, what that means for us is sea level rise, and water in the streets
of coastal cities, like New York, and Miami, and New Orleans, and Houston. Houston, we have a problem. So what can we do? How can we take on this
communication problem, so we can tackle the climate problem? Well one thing we can do, is
we can change the language that we use to talk about
solutions to climate change. We can use words like
innovation, entrepreneurship, American ingenuity and exceptionalism, harnessing the power of the free market, and rising to the challenge of competing in the global clean energy economy. These are things we can all support, so we can get together, and get on with taking the actions needed to minimize disruptive climate change. In addition to the words, we can be more thoughtful
about who is saying them. We can identify and promote trusted messengers for each audience. This will help because
we all tend to believe what those who share our values believe, and climate change, unfortunately, has become part of the cultural divide, that defines our identities. As we work to change how
we talk to each other about global warming,
perhaps we can bridge that cultural chasm that’s opened up between us on this issue. We can connect on values
that we all share. We all want a cleaner, healthier
world, a vibrant economy, a better future for our children. None of us wants to leave our kids with a problem they can’t solve. We need to create a conversation around these shared values, and around how climate change
is affecting all of us, and the things that we care about. Where we live, and places we depend on, for food, water, and other necessities. And we need to avoid thinking that this issue in insurmountable. It’s actually empowering to recognize that we’re the cause of climate change. It’s a man-made problem and
it has man-made solutions. We can take that empowerment, and focus on the great opportunity
that we’re presented with in the transition to a clean
and prosperous energy economy. We’ve made great strides recently. The United States produced
more power from wind in 2014 than any other nation, and the price of solar power
has come down so rapidly, that it’s now cost-competitive
with conventional sources across most of our country. But other nations are
moving even more quickly, and producing larger shares of
their energy with renewables. The global race is on, not only to deploy existing technologies, but to invent and develop new ones. Those who win the race to innovate will profit in more ways than one. The solutions to climate change are here and available to us now, and they offer such a
wide array of benefits, in addition to maintaining
a livable climate. Yes! The solutions, the
benefits are so many, it really will be a better world. We just need to make it happen, and that starts with how we talk about it. Words matter, so it’s
time to change the words, so we can change the conversation, so we can change the world. Thank you. [audience applause]

13 thoughts on “ClimateTalk: Science and Solutions | Susan Joy Hassol | TEDxUMontana”

  1. I think that it is naïve to think that reasoned discussion will change the minds of those who are hardened deniers.  These deniers fall into one or both categories: 1.  Paid sociopaths who don't believe in the science because they are paid not to believe in the science and do everything they can to thwart policy responses because that is their personal gain method.  or 2. ideologically compromised individuals who through psychological and/or emotional and/or intellectual corruption require a canonized identity structure to give them a positive sense of self (often juxtaposed with a need for a negative sense of the other).

    These are a group that represents about 20% of the U.S. population.  Education won't do it, encouragement won't do it.  The only thing that is going to assist the transition is a catastrophic climactic event an undeniable one, like a complete melt-out of the arctic sea ice.  I suspect even then there will be those hardened deniers who will say, "It happened before, with the Vikings. . ."

    These people are the true 'flat-earthers" they have bought into identity politics and propagandist lies for so long that they have no ability to perceive the true nature of reality.  When reality does present itself, they flee from it in anger because it reveals their intensive, life-long conditioning.  Subject to any emotional rhetoric from trusted sources, clinging to a false consciousness and suffering from a shattered identity structure they fall victim to the sociopaths who wish to subjugate humanity under a climate-driven depopulation and devolution into a neo-feudal society.

  2. Sounds like Obama should be enormously popular, as he's using all these clever communication devices, and he avoids all those 'wrong' words.  It is really tough. It is a dirty struggle, with the wrong guys getting the chance to repeat their wrong messages all over the media.

    Why did the US democrats not try a carbon tax, but went for a market based mechanism to cap & trade carbon emissions? Why did their opponents choose to call it cap & tax, and refuse to give it any reasonable hearing?  I do have the impression that it was tried.  But the media did not help, and the opposing party had no interest in trying to listen, or understand. They wanted to block.  Any success for Obama would be bad for them.


  3. Communication agenda driven junk science can be hard, as in this case. No, I’m not a climate change denier. I’m a denier of dangerous global human caused warming. Big difference!
    How to convince me that I can be wrong? Easy. A prerequisite for dangerous global warming to happen is that the climate sensitivity is very high. Just show me a scientific paper based on credible empirical measured data that indicate that the climate sensitivity is very high.

  4. Checkout James Hansen's 'Golden Opportunity' and compare it with Charles Krauthammer's "Tax gas – a lot". This is the best way to put a Price on Carbon (pollution). It would transform the world's fossil fuel addiction and create millions of jobs leading to the well-being of people and the Planet.

  5. Dear Sirs, To fight global warming, have the United Nations create 'The Global 50/50 Lottery', the world's first honest global lottery, to raise the massive funds needed to buy clean electricity generating wind, solar, ocean and water systems, to replace the electricity from our coal burning electric power plants, which are emitting the carbon dioxide that is causing global warming. Remember, human greed is like a force of nature that can move mountains. If we can exploit it to fight global warming, we just might beat it!

  6. There's a "massive well-funded disinformation campaign", is there? That's ALWAYS the explanation for the astonishing fact that people aren't convinced by the most unconvincing scientific fad in recent memory. No POSSIBLE way it could be the fault of Teh Science!

    What is it with climate believalists and conspiracy theories?

  7. 9:26 the trouble is, the scale and speed necessary for solutions which avoid the worst effects of climate change, are not free-market solutions. The market has already shown itself to be inadequate for solving human generated excess CO2 in our atmosphere. Even simple pollution controls and recycling measures which increased profits, still had to be forced on businesses through regulation back in the 70's, or we wouldn't have the water quality and preserved wilderness we have today (and are rapidly losing.)

  8. Good talk. Especially in regards to educating the public about how certain words used scientifically.e g. The " theory" of gravity , are not how non scientists use the same words. E.g .A scientific theory is based on many facts ( research) . However, ignorance breeds ignorance , the merchants of doubt use this to spin their web of confusion.
    Conclusion. Human caused climate change is as real as the burning of fossil fuels which is really releasing emissions ( smoke, carbon dioxide etc etc ) into the air ( atmosphere). These real events are causing the climate to really change which overall will /is causing disruption to human civilisations.

    Some folk will really never accept any amount of evidence in regards to human caused climate change. If these people with there own agendas prevent humanity from significantly reducing it's ecosystem wrecking behaviours ( working against the natural order ) then over time the ecological catastrophe we are causing will continue to unfold.

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