GENEVIEVE PFISTER, Staff Writer—On March 8, Denison students and faculty gathered on Zoom to hear Dr. Benjamin Strauss, President and CEO of Climate Central, speak on the topic of “Climate Science and the Public” at the Lisska Center’s latest Monday Musings event. Climate Central is a nonprofit, research-based news organization founded in 2008 in response to a call from scientists, journalists and societal leaders for a central, trustworthy authority to communicate climate science to the American public.
Dr. Strauss discussed in detail several strategies Climate Central recommends and employs. These included approaches to making climate science local, visual and timely, as well as delivering information through what he refers to as “a trusted messenger.”
To make climate science local, Dr. Strauss suggested translating statistics into a story, particularly the story of someone who has been personally affected by climate change. These stories, in his view, demonstrate the tangible, close-to-home impacts climate change can have on individuals. This encourages framing climate change as a much more personal and less abstract issue.
Second, to make climate change visually understandable, Dr. Strauss and his colleagues
used 20 different images to display climate effects after two degrees Celsius and four degrees Celsius of warming. According to their research, these images garnered 100 times as much traffic as mapped data, showing that imagery can be an effective and appealing method to explain the topic to the public.
Next, he illustrated how Climate Central raises awareness on the time-pressure involved in climate science. Dr. Strauss cited, as an example, the organization’s 2015 publication of research on rising sea levels and the likely consequences of the rise in the next few decades, rather than in the next hundred or a thousand years.
Finally, the importance of delivering information through a “trusted messenger,” Dr. Strauss gave the example of having TV meteorologists, who he says are often viewed as trustworthy “extended family members,” provide informal education on climate change to effectively reach audiences.
When asked about the challenges of discussing climate change in a society where it is often politicized, Dr. Strauss answered, “Scientific consensus on climate change is not political,” asserting that Climate Central strives to present the best scientific evidence they have, what that evidence appears to point to in order to produce a “best shot” approach in preparing for change.
Dr. Strauss also addressed the hopelessness sometimes associated with climate change, saying, “There is human agency here, and we can make a difference.” If humans are able to develop and act on climate foresight, he argues, it would be the “greatest achievement of civilization.”