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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Making Climate Change Understandable

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Roger Lohr

How does a writer convey the seriousness of climate change without gloom and doom? A presentation regarding communicating changing climate by New York Times climate writer, Kendra Pierre-Louis, was conducted at Dartmouth College to discuss how she tries to resonate with readers about climate change without bumming them out.

The challenge is to encourage the readership to be concerned and to act. According to information cited by Pierre-Louis, there is a spectrum of perspectives on climate change readers: 21% are alarmed; 30% are concerned; 21% are cautious; 12% are doubtful; 9% are dismissive and 7% are disengaged on the subject. She stated that more than 50% of the population in every state in the U.S. believes that climate change is a problem.

Pierre-Louis stated that her goal is to spur accurate understanding and correct the misperceptions about climate change. She does this by correlating information to daily life and interrogating policies.

She has produced stories about thinner sea ice, rising sea levels, disappearing ice in the Arctic, and that Antarctic is melting three times faster than a decade ago. Pierre-Louis felt that scientific data is often presented in a misleading way. Take cold temperatures during the winter amidst the trend of global warming for instance. People who were born after 1976 have never had a year that the average temperatures have been below the average annual temperatures. There may be a very cold day, week, or month, but the longer-term trend is warmer temperatures based on actual facts of temperatures over time.

Another misperception is that climate change causes wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc. In reality, climate change creates conditions that make these things more likely, and this is very different from causing wildfires and so on.

Pierre-Louis, who has been at the Climate Desk at the Times since 2017 and previously wrote environmental science stories for Popular Science, suggests that writers find a hook to exemplify the science and try to connect with people. For example, she’s written about the impact of warming seen by Winter Olympic athletes like gold medal cross country skier Jessie Diggins. Kendra incorporates humor into her science information when possible, and she is honest when she is uncertain about the story facts.

Belief in Climate Change

A study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, that drew on information from surveys taken across the political spectrum between November 2013 and December 2018, showed:

  • 73% think climate change is happening – up 11% since 2013.

  • 62% think it is human caused – up 15%.

  • 57% think most scientists agree it is happening – up 15%.

  • 72% think climate change is important to them personally – up 17%.

  • 69% are worried about climate change – up 16%.

  • 65% think it will harm Americans – up 12%.

  • 49% think it will harm them personally – up 11%.

  • 46% think we have already experience climate change effects – up 11%.

A Stanford University study found that Republicans underestimate the actual number of other Republicans that believe in climate change (57% of Republicans believe it). Majorities in both parties agree that the world is experiencing global warming and call on government action to address it, but they may disagree on the cause. There is some evidence that due to climate change messaging which appeals to values or religious authorities, there may be increased belief in climate change by more conservatives.

Perhaps there is hope that there will be bipartisan support to address climate change in the near future.

Roger Lohr of Lebanon, NH, who owns and edits XCSkiResorts.com, has published articles and promotional topics on snow sports, sustainability, and trails in regional and national media. He is also the Recreational Editor for Green Energy Times.

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