Science and communication: two essential parts of the puzzle

What went down in this year´s Summer School and how will it change our work?

Last August I had the pleasure of attending a Summer School on Climate and Communication, organized by the IASS (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Sciences). It gave me the opportunity to meet a diverse group of scientists, researchers and students who shared their work, incentives and hurdles in researching and communicating climate change in times of overabundant information. I take away three major lessons from this Summer School, three lessons which will shape the work we do at right. based on science and influence the way we encourage economic actors to incorporate scientific findings into their climate management strategies.

“When communicating climate change, you must choose your frames wisely in order

to increase the likelihood of your message being assimilated”

Sarah Messina, Public Relations, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Cartoon sourced from: http://www.pmslweb.com

Uncertainty is a key aspect of scientific enquiry and we must learn to work with it.

Lectures on a range of climate related dynamics were held by researchers from Germany´s most prestigious research institutions such as the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the University of Potsdam, the City of Potsdam and many others. The uncertainty of scientific findings was a subject touched upon by some of these lectures and discussing how to communicate this uncertainty in a clever way was reported as a fundamental challenge which touched upon many scientists´ work. Considering scientists can´t give guarantees about every finding behaving in a linear indefinitely but are nonetheless expected to communicate the current status of findings as a pre-requisite for generating appropriate responses, makes reporting on climate science a constant exercise of checks and balances.

 

What I take away from this is the saying that the perfect is the enemy of the good. This argument is often put forth in order to justify the reasoning that until we don´t have perfect guidance for action, we rather not change anything- this is a clear recipe for disaster. Learning to incorporate uncertainty into our work and life is pivotal for adapting to a world progressively influenced by shifting climate and social dynamics. The way we at right. deal with this, is by progressively incorporating scientific facts into our models, those facts which count with the largest amount of scientific consensus whiles always being aware that these might change , trying our best to keep up with the latest science. When communicating with our customers, we are always honest about the role that uncertainties and likelihoods play in the work we offer and try to pass on the notion that resilience and felxibility will need to be incorporated into their climate management strategies.

There is no one perfect recipe for effective communication, but trust is an essential ingredient.

The summer school format was put together by an intelligent team with Angela, Tom and Meike, masterfully combining academic lectures with more outside-the-box formats. This way of working allowed us to reasses the manner in which we communicate, leading us to question our styles and assumptions regarding communication. We discussed the role of positive communication on climate change towards exerting action and contrary opinions, believes and facts were confronted with each other, showing the complexity behind communicating even when all parties have the same intention. The main take away of this question is that there is not a single perfect formula for talking about climate change and that we must be open, flexible and honest when talking about how to deal with it. But if exciting action and gaining traction is something we might want to do as companies and individuals, gaining peoples´ trust is pivotal. Usually that trust is born when others see that they are been talked to honestly and respectfully. So positively framing climate change is mainly useful when framed as an opportunity to redesign the dynamics that shape our actions, but in doing so, acknowledging the things that are not working for us is necessary for deep and meaningful change.


This poster reflects the challenge I set myself to work with at the beginning of the Summer School. The challenge is to finding solid incentives to encourage financial and corporate actors to consider long-term time spans when        designing their corporate and financial climate strategies. With our X-Degree Compatibility (XDC) Model, we show companies how much the world would warm up to by 2050 if all companies operated under the same premises as the company in question,  this results in a °C number, known as the Baseline XDC. This number spurs companie´s interest once they can more tangibly grasp their contribution to global warming.


Climate change is an opportunity to re-design societies, it is up to all of us to decide its new shape.

Many species, resources and landscapes will be lost because of expected temperature increases, many scientists have agreed on this. Even if tragic, this loss can be regarded as an opportunity of reshaping our societies by incorporating these losses and reducing the extent of catastrophic changes is our collective task. A task in which we all have a role to play.

 

One of the Summer School´s main takeaways was the reminder that we are all in this together, yes, we might be all standing at very different places along the spectrum, but that just determines the role we play, but does not preclude the need for collective action.

 

While some focus on molecules and gas particles, others focus on storytelling, developing new technologies or connecting to the emotional implications of the climate crisis, most of our roles are necessary for re-shaping an economic and social structure which desperately demands change. None of these tasks take precedence; they are all necessary at some point, but they must be articulated and all stem from the best available science if we aspire for them to effective.  What became evident is that climate change brings with it a great opportunity for changing the way we life and design our lives and that communicating deeply with each other and understanding our real scope of influence, is pivotal for taking this great opportunity into actionable outcomes.


“As project-coordinator who had the pleasure of organising so many programmes I am always amazed how the participants engage in such meaningful conversations with each other after just a short time.  It was  a group of 42 smart young professionals with such diverse backgrounds and coming from all different cultures.  And I had the honour to make the time here in Potsdam hopefully worthwhile for them. And after they all have returned back into their “real lives” I hope they will share some of the spirit and gained knowledge with other people to grow the international community of people who care about this planet and each other.”

 

Angela Borowski, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies e.V.


Marcela Scarpellini studied law at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas (Venezuela) and studied with an LL.M. at the University of Stockholm (Sweden) in the field of environmental law. Marcela is in charge of the legal aspects regarding 2°C-compatibility within right.