The United States is a country that is often portrayed as one that is deeply divided on climate change. However, a recent study from the Yale Programme on Climate Change Communication indicates that there are significant areas where political divides can be bridged, which could lead to a consensus about how to respond to climate change and its impacts.
The Yale study is not all good news. It shows that there are areas where public opinion remains deeply divided, notably a only 49% of Americans believe most scientists think global warming is happening. Large areas of the U.S. think that that climate change is still scientifically contested (see the map below).
Given that though it is perhaps surprising that there is much more consensus around other issues. 70% of adults think global warming is happening, and 57% understand that it is mostly caused by human activities. This provides a solid foundation gathering support for taking action on climate change, especially on climate adaptation and resilience building.
Risk perceptions in the U.S. seem to support the idea that people are worried about the potential impacts of climate change on the environment. 61% of Americans are ‘worried’ about global warming, and solid majorities acknowledge that it will harm the environment (70%), future generations (70%) and people in developing countries (62%).
Interestingly well over half (58%) of survey respondents also said that climate change would harm people in the US, however only 41% of people thought it would harm them personally. This reinforces the need for policymakers and climate communicators to emphasise the impacts of climate change that are local and have demonstrable personal impacts for people today.
Even more striking perhaps is the level of consensus around policies to respond to climate change. 70% of U.S adults said environmental protection is “more important that economic growth” and there was widespread support for policies including funding renewable energy (85%), regulate CO2 as a pollutant (77%) and teaching about global warming in schools (79%). People also felt that citizens, Congress, governors, and local officials should also ‘do more’ to address global warming (65%, 62%, 56% and 57% respectively).
The widespread support for such policies is rarely talked about and may come as a surprise to many. Part of the reason for that could be the deafening silence around climate change in the media and in general public debate. As the map below shows, only 22% of adults in the US hear about climate change ‘at least once a week’, and 64% of people ‘never’ talk about it.
The willingness of Americans to engage with policy measures that could help mitigate and adapt to climate change provides a great deal of hope that the highly politicised question over global warming’s causes can be sidestepped. However, in order to achieve progress, it is clear that the issue needs to become much more prominent in national discourse. The media, politicians and people must therefore take responsibility for talking about climate change.
About the Data
Public opinion estimates are produced using a statistical model based on national survey data (n > 22,000) gathered between 2008 and 2018 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication. Positive (e.g., “Agree” or “Support”) and negative (“Disagree” or “Oppose”) responses are modeled separately; the light grey space on the bar charts therefore reflects respondents who marked “I don’t know”, “Not sure”, “Refused”, or similar options. For details see the “Methodology” tab on this page and Howe, P., Mildenberger, M., Marlon, J.R., and Leiserowitz, A., “Geographic variation in opinions on climate change at state and local scales in the USA,” Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2583. Email email@example.com for more information.
Information now travels along the internet. But what happens when sea levels rise and leave a flooded internet, its vital cables and traffic hubs under water?
US engineers have identified a problem nobody had ever expected to confront so soon: the approach of the flooded internet, caused by worldwide sea level rise. Within 15 years seawater could be lapping over buried fibre optic cables in New York, Seattle, Miami and other US coastal cities, according to a new study.
The consequences for global communications are unknown. But, as the glaciers melt, and the water in the oceans continues to expand as temperatures rise, the chances of urban flooding will increase.
And that means water where nobody expected it – over buried cables, data centres, traffic exchanges, termination points and other nerve centres of the physical internet, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.
“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” said Paul Barford, the computer scientist who led the study and presented it to a meeting of network scientists. “That surprised us. The expectation was we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”
“Keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective”
In fact, such buried infrastructure is usually sheathed in water-resistant protection, but water-resistant is not the same as waterproof. And while submarine cables are fashioned to withstand extended seawater corrosion and pressure, urban services don’t have quite the same level of future-proofing.
The US scientists looked only at the challenges for the US. They calculate that by 2033 an estimated 4,000 miles (6,400 kms) of buried fibre optic conduit will be under water. More than 1,100 traffic hubs – internet exchange points that handle massive quantities of information at colossal speeds – will be surrounded by water.
Many of the conduits at risk are already at or near sea level, and only a very slight further rise could bring extra risk, especially at those places where the submarine cables come ashore.
“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Professor Barford believes. “The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure. But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”
And, he told academics and industry scientists at an Applied Network Research Workshop: “This is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue.”
In 2017 the Caribbean was struck by a series of hurricanes, the largest of which, hurricane Irma, was the strongest open Atlantic storm on record. Irma’s peak wind speeds reached 180mph as it caused catastrophic damage to the islands of Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands.
Today we hear from someone who experienced the full force of Irma first-hand. Angela Burnett, a lifelong resident of the British Virgin Islands was working as the territory’s climate change officer when Irma struck, but even having experienced severe hurricanes in the past, she was deeply affected by the storm.
To draw attention to those living, as she does, on the front lines of climate change, Angela embarked on a mission to tell the stories of the survivors and how it has changed them.
Transportation and logistics businesses rely on weather and climate data to stay on schedule and reduce risks. A new study led by Acclimatise shows how the sector uses data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information to reduce weather-related risks that might lead to costly disruptions in their service.
For express couriers like UPS and FedEx it is crucial to avoid delivery delays as they can cause cascading repercussions in their clients’ supply chains and also reduce consumer confidence. As UPS meteorologist, Randy Baker, puts it in the report “Someone awaiting a package in Bangkok doesn’t care if it snowed in Louisville, Kentucky. They want their stuff.”
The industry uses NCEI’s historical records to optimise their performance. One such dataset is the International Station Meteorological Climate Summary (ISMCS), or, commonly referred to as the “climate disk”. It contains detailed historical summaries of daily, hourly, and monthly reports of air temperature, precipitation, wind, clouds, pressure, and various other elements from 640 primary weather observation sites and more than 5,800 secondary sites worldwide.
Companies that make up a large portion of the $82 billion express courier industry depend on the ISMCS for many applications, such as landing visibility minimums, strategic planning of airport locations, transport of temperature-sensitive goods, de-icing decisions, and weather model verification.
During high heat, railway heat tolerances can be analysed to pre-emptively make decisions to avoid breaches, for example, train speeds can be decreased, loads can be reduced during peak heat, and railway workers can be dispatched to search for visible signs of track damage.
Impact on the economy
Given the on-going rise in package deliveries and the importance of bulk goods transported by rail, disruptions to both industries can have severe knock on effects that can also be felt economically.
Managing risks posed by weather and climate is thus not only practical but ultimately a business necessity and NCEI’s data plays a crucial part.
The effects of climate change are very visible in Greenland. The ice cap is shrinking, glaciers are receding, the flora and fauna is changing. Amidst these environmental changes are Greenland’s people, and many of them are embracing rising temperatures.
Warmer temperatures are increasing fish stocks in the region, and in the farming heartland the growing season has been extending. Meanwhile the melting of Greenland’s ice cap has accelerated severely with NASA estimating it now loses about 300 billion tonnes of ice each year. That is not only a great threat to Greenland’s ecosystem, but also contributes significantly to global sea level rise.
In this short documentary by ABC News Australia, Eric Campbell travels to Greenland and speaks to people about the changes they are witnessing and how they are adapting to them:
Climate change – or global warming – is a term we are all familiar with. The warming of the Earth’s atmosphere due to the consumption of fossil fuels by human activity was predicted in the 19th century. It can be seen in the increase in global temperature from the industrial revolution onwards, and has been a central political issue for decades.
Climate scientists who moonlight as communicators tend to bombard their audiences with facts and figures – to convince them how rapidly our planet is warming – and scientific evidence demonstrating why we are to blame. A classic example is Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and its sequel, which are loaded with graphs and statistics. However, it is becoming ever clearer that these methods don’t work as well as we’d like. In fact, more often than not, we are preaching to the converted, and can further polarise those who accept the science from those who don’t.
One way of potentially tapping into previously unreached audiences is via cli-fi, or climate-fiction. Cli-fi explores how the world may look in the process or aftermath of dealing with climate change, and not just that caused by burning fossil fuels.
Recently, I participated as a scientist in a forum with Screen Australia, looking at how cli-fi might communicate the issues around climate change in new ways. I’m a heatwave scientist and I’d love to see a cli-fi story bringing the experience of heatwaves to light. After the forum, Screen Australia put out a call for proposals for TV series and telemovies in the cli-fi genre.
We absolutely need and should rely on peer-reviewed scientific findings for public policy, and planning to stop climate change and adapt to it. But climate scientists should not expect everyone to be as concerned as they are when they show a plot of increasing global temperatures.
Cli-fi has the potential to work in the exact opposite way, through compelling storylines, dramatic visuals, and characters. By making people care about and individually connect to climate change, it can motivate them to seek out the scientific evidence for themselves.
The term “cli-fi” was coined at the turn of the millennium, but the genre has existed for much longer. One of the earliest examples is Jules Verne’s The Purchase of the North Pole, where the tilt of the Earth’s axis is altered by human endeavours (of the astronaut, not industrial kind), bringing an end to seasonal variability.
More modern examples of cli-fi take their prose from real-life contemporary issues, imagining the effects of human-caused climate change. Some pieces of cli-fi are perhaps closer to the truth than others
Is it possible that fertility rates will be affected by climate change? The television-adapted version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale blames pollution and environmental change for a world-wide plummet in fertility, thus giving a cli-fi undertone to the whole dystopian series. While there is no scientific evidence to currently back this scenario, as a new parent, it struck a chord with me personally. The thought of a world where virtually every couple is unable to experience the joys of parenthood, particularly due to climate change, is quite distressing.
Cli-fi also underpins the highly acclaimed Mad Max movie series. In a dystopian near-future, fossil fuel resources have depleted and the social and environmental impacts are vast. Australia has become a desolate wasteland and our society has all but collapsed.
Although such a scenario will be unlikely to occur in the next couple of decades, it is not completely unrealistic. We are burning fossil fuels far faster than they are forming, with some predictions that accessible sources will run out in the next century.
And some of our famous ecosystems are already very sick thanks to climate change.
And then there is Waterworld. Yet another dystopia, where there is no ice left on Earth and sea levels have risen 7.5km above current levels. Civilisations exists only in small settlements, where inhabitants dream of the mythical “dry land”. While the movie overestimates exactly how much water is locked away in ice (sea levels can only rise by up to 60-70 metres), many major global cities would be inundated and no longer exist. And while it will take thousands, not hundreds of years for complete melting to take place, sea level rise is already posing a problem for some coastal settlements and small islands. Moreover, Arctic ice is predicted to completely melt away well before the end of this century.
Sure, the scientific evidence underpinning these storylines is embellished to say the least, But they are certainly worth deliberating over if they ignite conversations with people that mainstream science fails to reach.
The power of fiction
In the long run, cli-fi might encourage audiences to modify their everyday lives (and maybe even who they vote for) to reduce their own carbon footprint.
From personal experience, some audiences tend to disengage from climate change because of how overwhelming the issue may seem. Global temperatures are rising at a rate not seen for millions of years, and we are currently not doing enough to avoid dangerous climate change. Understandably, the scale and weight of climate change likely encourages many to bury their heads firmly in the sand.
To this audience, cli-fi also has an important message to deliver – that of hope. That it is not, or will it be ever, too late to combat human-caused climate change.
Imagining a future where green energy is accessible to everyone, where global politicians work tirelessly to rapidly reduce emissions, or where new technologies are discovered that safely and permanently remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere are absolutely worth air time. Cli-fi can act as prose for science. And on the topic of mitigating climate change, there is no such thing as too much prose.
If you want to give cli-fi a try, check out David Middleton’s book “The Hwanung Solution”. It follows two British scientists who are sent to Siberia to assess how mysterious holes are appearing there. Is Russia about to take strategic advantage of the melting ice seas of the Arctic? And how does all this link to a mansion on the far north coast of Scotland? This gripping Bond-like adventure novel with a serious message will appeal to fans of adventure, thriller and espionage fiction.
With floodwaters at four feet and rising, a family in Houston, Texas abandoned their possessions and scrambled to their roof during Hurricane Harvey to sit with their pets and await rescue. Unable to reach first responders through 911 and with no one visible nearby, they used their cellphones to send out a call for help through a social media application called Nextdoor.
Within an hour a neighbor arrived in an empty canoe large enough to carry the family and their pets to safety. Thanks to a collaboration with Nextdoor, we learned of this and hundreds of similar rescues across Harvey’s path.
This story illustrates the power of systems like Nextdoor, an app designed to make communication between neighbors easy. Survivors in Houston have been using social media platforms such as Facebook, Nextdoor and Twitter to connect to rescuers, organize food and medical supplies, and find places for people to stay.
Everyone knows that they should have batteries and three days of water and food on hand as extreme weather events roll through. But in our view, friends and social media platforms reachable by phone are equally important, because they could be lifesavers.
Many people assume that standard emergency services – such as the 911 system, police, firefighters and FEMA – will rescue them from disasters. While these are critical services during normal times, they can become literally and figuratively swamped during major hurricanes and floods, as we saw in Houston during Harvey. Firefighters and police officers cannot respond to every phone call. In some cases, emergency call response centers have shut down or have become unreachable because of damaged communications systems.
In past disasters around the world, our research has shown that the actual first responders in the immediate aftermath have often been neighbors, family and friends. Under such conditions, social ties – the connections to our friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances – can save our lives, mitigate the damage from storms like Irma and Harvey and fast-track recovery.
Neighbors help each other find safety in the wake of Hurricane Harvey
While we are constantly bombarded with information from television, radio and newspapers – especially when a major storm is approaching – we tend to act on information that we trust. The governor of Florida has urged residents in Irma’s path to evacuate, but for many Floridians, hearing the same message from relatives or friends may be what triggers action.
After disasters end and recovery begins, social ties can help keep us anchored to a home or business. Victims may face long waits for insurance payouts, if they are lucky enough to have insurance, or have to make decisions about restoring homes and businesses in disaster areas. They also must confront the psychological challenge of returning to places associated with hurt and loss. Having a circle of friends and neighbors can make them more likely to return and mitigate some of the trauma they have experienced.
Apps prove their worth
Social media is a tremendous resource for harnessing social networks and putting them to work during and after disasters. Facebook and Nextdoor have both demonstrated their usefulness during recent catastrophes. A recent study found that following the 2014 Napa Valley earthquake, online engagement and utilization of social media platforms for good occurred in communities with higher levels of social cohesion. We believe that individuals who are socially active on the ground – volunteering, helping neighbors, giving blood – are similarly active through social media.
In Houston, members have used Nextdoor to share prayers and information on road closures, obtain medical care and protect homes from looting. Local agencies including the Harris and Houston County emergency management offices, Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department have used Nextdoor to post mandatory evacuation orders, links to flood maps, lists of open shelters, instructions on connecting with first responders for rescues if needed and calls for volunteers with boats to help individuals who are stranded.
Now Florida residents are using Nextdoor to encourage people to reach out to neighbors, especially the elderly and infirm, discuss evacuation plans and find stores that still have supplies. Nearly 50 agencies have used Nextdoor to share information on preparing for supply shortages, rain, storm surges and high winds.
On September 6, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for Hurricane Irma, allowing its members in her path to indicate if they need help and enabling users to check on friends’ and relatives’ status. To use Safety Check, start here.
If you’re in the path of a hurricane, of course you should move to high ground, bring batteries and hunker down in a safe location with food and water. But don’t forget your phone, and consider using Nextdoor and Facebook through the storm and recovery. Even if you can’t see them, you’re surrounded by a community that cares.
The Game of Thrones season finale is once again upon us. Now that the fight to protect Westeros is in full swing and the puzzle pieces are starting to fall into their places, Sansa Stark has returned to Winterfell. She and her people are facing the beginning of what they know will be one of the longest and harshest winters the North has ever experienced. Not much is left of the ‘sweet summer child’ in Sansa, she is ready to lead the North into this long winter and get them through it.
This video by Resilience Post breaks down Sansa Stark’s key skills as Chief Resilience Officer and we can all learn from her!
Humans are currently in a war against global warming. Or is it a race against global warming? Or maybe it’s just a problem we have to deal with?
If you already consider climate change a pressing issue, you might not think carefully about the way you talk about it – regardless of how you discuss it, you already think of global warming as a problem. But the way we talk about climate change affects the way people think about it.
For scientific evidence to shape people’s actions – both personal behaviors like recycling and choices on policies to vote for – it’s crucial that science be communicated to the public effectively. Social scientists have been increasingly studying the science of science communication, to better understand what does and does not work for discussing different scientific topics. It turns out the language you use and how you frame the discussion can make a big difference.
The paradox of science communication
“Never have human societies known so much about mitigating the dangers they faced but agreed so little about what they collectively know,” writes Yale law professor Dan Kahan, a leading researcher in the science of science communication.
Kahan’s work shows that just because someone has scientific knowledge, he or she won’t necessarily hold science-supported beliefs about controversial topics like global warming, private gun possession or fracking.
Instead, beliefs are shaped by the social groups people consider themselves to be a part of. We’re all simultaneously members of many social groups – based, for example, on political or religious affiliation, occupation or sexuality. If people are confronted with scientific evidence that seems to attack their group’s values, they’re likely to become defensive. They may consider the evidence they’ve encountered to be flawed, and strengthen their conviction in their prior beliefs.
Unfortunately, scientific evidence does sometimes contradict some groups’ values. For example, some religious people trust a strict reading of the Bible: God said there would be four seasons, and hot and cold, so they don’t worry about the patterns in climate that alarm scientists. In cases like this one, how can communicators get their message across?
A growing body of research suggests that instead of bombarding people with piles of evidence, science communicators can focus more on how they present it. The problem isn’t that people haven’t been given enough facts. It’s that they haven’t been given facts in the right ways. Researchers often refer to this packaging as framing. Just as picture frames enhance and draw attention to parts of an image inside, linguistic frames can do the same with ideas.
One framing technique Kahan encourages is disentangling facts from people’s identities. Biologist Andrew Thaler describes one way of doing so in a post called “When I talk about climate change, I don’t talk about science.” Instead, he talks about things that are important to his audiences, such as fishing, flooding, farming, faith and the future. These issues that matter to the people with whom he’s communicating become an entry into discussing global warming. Now they can see scientific evidence as important to their social group identity, not contradictory to it.
Let me rephrase that
Metaphors also provide frames for talking about climate change. Recent work by psychologists Stephen Flusberg, Paul Thibodeau and Teenie Matlock suggests that the metaphors we use to describe global warming can influence people’s beliefs and actions.
The researchers asked 3,000 Americans on an online platform to read a short fictional news article about climate change. The articles were exactly the same, but they used different metaphors: One referred to the “war against” and another to the “race against” climate change. For example, each article included phrases about the U.S. seeking to either “combat” (war) or “go after” (race) excessive energy use.
After reading just one of these passages, participants answered questions about their global warming beliefs, like how serious global warming is and whether they would be willing to engage in more pro-environmental behaviors.
Metaphors mattered. Reading about the “war” against global warming led to greater agreement with scientific evidence showing it is real and human-caused. This group of participants indicated more urgency for reducing emissions, believed global warming poses a greater risk and responded that they were more willing to change their behaviors to reduce their carbon footprint than people who read about the “race” against global warming.
The only difference between the articles that participants read was the metaphors they included. Why would reading about a war rather than a race affect people’s beliefs about climate change in such important ways?
The researchers suggest that when we encounter war metaphors, we are reminded (though not always consciously) of other war-related concepts like death, destruction, opposition and struggle. These concepts affect our emotions and remind us of the negative feelings and consequences of defeat. With those war-related thoughts in mind, we may be motivated to avoid losing. If we have these war thoughts swimming around in our minds when we think about global warming, we’re more likely to believe it’s important to defeat the opponent, which, in this case, is global warming.
There are other analogies that are good at conveying the causes and consequences for global warming. Work by psychologists Kaitlin Raimi, Paul Stern and Alexander Maki suggests it helps to point out how global warming is similar to many medical diseases. For both, risks are often caused or aggravated by human behaviors, the processes are often progressive, they produce symptoms outside the normal range of past experiences, there are uncertainties in the prognosis of future events, treatment often involves trade-offs or side effects, it’s usually most effective to treat the underlying problem instead of just alleviating symptoms and they’re hard to reverse.
People who read the medical disease analogy for climate change were more likely to agree with the science-backed explanations for global warming causes and consequences than those who read a different analogy or no analogy at all.
Golden past or rosy future?
Climate change messages can also be framed by focusing on different time periods. Social psychologists Matthew Baldwin and Joris Lammers asked people to read either a past-focused climate change message (like “Looking back to our nation’s past… there was less traffic on the road”) or a similar future-focused message (“Looking forward to our nation’s future… there is increasing traffic on the road”).
The researchers found that self-identified conservatives, who tend to resist climate change messages more than liberals, agreed that we should change how we interact with the planet more after reading the past-focused passage. Liberals, on the other hand, reported liking the future-focused frame better, but the frames had no influence on their environmental attitudes.
And the frames didn’t have to be words. Conservatives also shifted their beliefs to be more pro-environmental after seeing past-focused images (satellite images that progressed from the past to today) more than after seeing future-focused ones (satellite images that progressed from today into the future). Liberals showed no differences in their attitudes after seeing the two frames.
Many climate change messages focus on the potential future consequences of not addressing climate change now. This research on time-framing suggests that such a forward-looking message may in fact be unproductive for those who already tend to resist the idea.
There’s no one-size-fits-all frame for motivating people to care about climate change. Communicators need to know their audience and anticipate their reactions to different messages. When in doubt, though, these studies suggest science communicators might want to bring out the big guns and encourage people to fire away in this war on climate change, while reminding them how wonderful the Earth used to be before our universal opponent began attacking full force.
Communications play a big role to make a change, including in raising awareness towards urban climate change and resilience. However, this topic is not as popular or interesting as other development issues such as economics, poverty, or President Trump.
The question is, “How do we engage people to pay attention to information and discussion related to Urban Climate Change Resilience?” and also, “who are these people we want to engage?”
On Wednesday, 19 July 2017, ACCCRN hosted a webinar where we could learn about communications strategy implemented in Urban Climate Change Resilience field and on how to engage people to participate in the discussion. Will Bugler, Senior Communications Consultant and Communications Lead at Acclimatise, shared his experience on this topic followed by discussion facilitated by Nyoman Prayoga, Member Relations Manager of ACCCRN Network.