Explaining the Science



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This chart from the UN Environment Programme, while thorough, gets bogged down in technical details.

This chart from NASA is much easier to understand.


 

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These NASA scientists go on at length about heat capacity while avoiding the question of why climate change is important to humans.

Bill Nye makes climate science simple and explains what it means for us. Unfortunately, he also plays a few clips of Republican politicians decrying climate change, a surefire way to alienate conservatives. (See this video from PBS for another great example of how to do it well.)


 

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It’s something that we understand with absolute assurance of the veracity of that science... When 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, we need to listen, and we need to respond. Well, 97 percent of climate scientists have confirmed that climate change is happening and that human activity is responsible.
— John Kerry


This excerpt is from a much longer speech by John Kerry. By and large, Kerry delivers excellent remarks, but he makes a couple of missteps in this section. Avoid sentences like this: "It's something that we understand with absolute assurance of the veracity of that science." Talk like a human. It's good to show that scientists agree about climate change, but it's better to explain the science in a way that feels like common sense. 

The atmosphere is about five percent warmer than it was 40 years ago, a staggering shift that more than anything else signals that we’ve left behind the Holocene, the 10,000-year period of benign climate that underwrote the rise of human civilization. That increase in atmospheric moisture also loads the dice for both drought and flood.
— Bill McKibben, Author


Bill McKibben knows how to explain the science of climate change in terms that will resonate with anyone. He connects the dots between warming and its effects. And, he uses metaphors to explain the risks ahead ("That increase in atmospheric moisture loads the dice for both drought and flood..."). The rest of his speech, available here, is worth the read.

 

 

Advocating for Change


 

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This ad from the Nicolas Hulot Foundation is tasteless to the point of being offensive. Aside from that, it treats humans and nature as two separate entities when in fact we are completely intertwined. Humans depend on clean air, fresh water and a mild climate to survive and thrive.

 

 


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Climate change does not pit man against nature. It pits man against himself. This ad from Pro Wildlife understandably focuses on threats to biodiversity, but it would be more effective to show what climate change means for humans. (To be fair, the image of armed penguins is as adorable as it is alarming.)



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Half-man, half-fish, he demands a second glance. But what is this ad trying to say? That climate change will turn us into rainbow trout? It definitely grabs your attention, but this effort from the World Wildlife Fund is probably too abstract to be effective, particularly among people who know very little about climate change.

This ad from the World Wildlife Fund conveys a sense of urgency while making clear that environmental problems hurt humans and require a human solution. Depicting climate change to a burning house is both affecting and effective. Unfortunately, this ad also undermines feelings of empowerment.




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This ad from Green Korea makes clear the threat to humans ("We are drowning.") It also alludes to the fact the humans are a part of and depend on nature. This ad succeeds on all counts. 

    




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This ad offers a similar perversion of the human form, but it also makes clear what's at stake for humanity: "the ultimate impact of climate change represents a toll on our most precious resource - human lives and health."



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This ad, while beautiful and affecting, fails to show that climate change is a human problem, and it fails to connect climate change to the degradation of the arctic. 

As a rule, avoid polar bears. Polar bears have come to symbolize climate change. This is only makes climate change feel more distant.

This ad gets a lot right. It tells a story about the causes and impacts of climate change, and it shows that climate change is a human problem. Most importantly, it shows the viewer that he has a role to play in slowing climate change. The sudden change in tone is a little unsettling, but that's one its few mistakes.



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Sarcasm rarely succeeds in communication. At best, this ad comes across as snarky, pretentious and condescending. At worst, it's received unironically, as a glowing endorsement for burning coal.

This video is short and sweet, a superb example of climate change communication. It outlines the costs of coal and the alternatives available using plain words and clear images. And, it empowers the viewer, pointing the way forward.