Worry about science-based concerns over potential risks in a warmer climate is running into worry also about what it will take for scientists’ messages to get through to the public and policymakers … and the ‘climate fatigue’ concern.
The drumbeat of worrisome news on climate change has continued to emerge from respected national and international science organizations in recent months. And partly as a result, one must acknowledge the onset for many of what might be called “climate fatigue.”
So much so that risks of the American public’s having become immune to the news are substantial. And a matter of increasing concern to those already duly concerned about the actual risks themselves.
Whether from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, or from the United Nations/World Meteorological Organization’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Whether from the United Kingdom’s Royal Society or from the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Whether filtered through news organizations such as NBC’s “Nightly News with Brian Williams” or through a Showtime “Years of Living Dangerously” series …
… The beat goes on.
The question becomes whether anyone — and who, beyond those predisposed to the subject — is listening. And not only listening but actually hearing. Taking it in. Absorbing. Or, for that matter, even having the opportunity and availability to do so.
A newsmap.jp infographic posted by former New York Times science writer Andrew C. Revkin at the paper’s Dotearth site illustrated how little — tiny, teensy — real estate space the IPCC’s recent climate impacts report had compared to other news stories reported in popular media that day, April 13. You might think of it as a postage stamp on a 40X40 square-foot carpet … or perhaps as a black box, for instance, in the southern Indian Ocean.
At the same time, a reasonable case can be made that the moral duty and responsibility of those unearthing and discovering such information is to share it. And to do so far and wide. It’s an important reality that the responsible providing of important and authoritative information to others in no way diminishes the transmitter of that information but rather enriches him or her just as it has the potential to also enrich the recipient.
That said, climate fatigue is a legitimate concern, and one that messengers of climate data, information, and research must keep in mind and help guard against. It’s a question not of whether to share responsible data and information about our changing world but of how to share it.
Which, as it happens, does not necessarily make the challenges any easier. One hears a lot these days about the values of “story telling” in communicating the here and now of climate change impacts: Farmers X in State Y are experiencing various Z impacts on their crops or herds; and they’re responding to the new [drought, heat wave, flooding, Arctic Vortex, whatever] challenges by doing such-and-so. Or this school class in that city is showing teachers and classroom parents new ways of reducing their climate footprints by purchasing more of their in-season groceries from local growers, and by increasing their carpooling to soccer, softball, and T-ball practices and games.
A former New York Rangers hockey goalie, one impressively conversant with the ins and outs of climate science, recently remarked from a podium, “Why listen to a goalie?”
His dry response, and not one intended to offend the science academy, was: “Because you’re not listening to a scientist.”
The fact of the matter, of course, is that this goalie and many other key messengers about risks and opportunities resulting from a changing climate have done just that: They listened to, and heard, scientists.
In many ways, it’s the essential first step. But surely not the last step. Carrying forward the authoritative messages from the world’s most respected scientists and scientific organizations remains a worthy calling, and not one to be silenced by any so-called climate fatigue.
Finding the best ways to do it, and do it in audience-specific ways, remains a worthy mountain to climb.
Are you on board?
Bud Ward, Editor