In spite of a scientific consensus that climate change exists, public perception of the problem is ambivalent; almost half of all Americans refute the idea of global warming completely, while many others disregard it as a pressing issue. Ilissa Ocko and Mason Fried’s article for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate 411 blog helps to alter this perception by communicating about the issue in a way that is accessible and relevant to the public.  

While scientists are generally prone to providing an abundance of background information, science communications relies on an inverted pyramid plan. Through this approach, a writer should immediately grab a reader’s attention and state a main point within the first few sentences; throughout the rest of the passage, he or she should focus on emphasizing this point through repetition and factual evidence. Right off the bat, the article states the central issue: “the fourth-largest ice shelf in Antarctica [has] rapidly broken apart.” 

Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol’s article for Physics Today suggests terms that scientists can use to more effectively communicate with the public in a way that is familiar to them.

It can also be difficult for many readers to believe in the science behind a concept when they cannot see any immediate, localized effects. The reality of of climate change is especially difficult to convey because climate, by its very definition, occurs over a long-term period, making it hard to notice any tangible effects. Many readers are not as fixated on scientific evidence as they are on the relevance of the issue to them as individuals. Ocko and Fried combat this by making climate change more relatable and personal to their audience. They make the issue tangible through comparisons to the effects of the 2002 Larsen B ice shelf collapse and describe the collapse as a “Delaware-size iceberg” for the public to visualize.

In addition, the blog’s authors make it simple for readers who have no background knowledge of climate change to grasp the evidence they present. Simple, declarative sentences are easy to understand, and the writers avoid technical jargon instead opting for commonplace language. They anticipate what the audience may need explained. In short, Ocko and Fried know who their audience is, and they successfully use this knowledge to their advantage through their linguistics.

Learn more about approaches we can use to communicate climate science to the public here, and watch one of my favorite Tedx Talks about science communications below. 


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