Is This The New Way Of Communicating Climate Change?

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Germany needs to get climate neutral in just 15 years to help keep the global average temperature under the 1.5°C mark. Sounds impossible, right? 

The country has currently set for itself the goal of cutting down its greenhouse gas emissions to nearly zero by 2050, which is a difficult task in itself. So, how should a transition towards an even more challenging goal be done in an even shorter time span? 

A new feasibility study shows that Germany could really do it. On Tuesday 13th October, the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy released a study called “CO2-neutral until 2035: Cornerstones of a German contribution towards the compliance of the 1,5°C-limit” (translated). But, while the content itself allows for detailed insights into the complex matter of structural change in nearly every corner of society, this is not what makes the study stand out. 

What makes it special is that it was commissioned by Fridays For Future (FFF) Germany. Not a governmental or well-known scientific institution, but a social movement, acting with the financial help from a small, ecologically friendly cooperative bank, known as the GLS Bank. The social movement did not stop at the commission. Among other things, they released a video on YouTube explaining the key findings of the study and featured it prominently and with open access on their website. The FFF Germany Twitter profile (@FridayForFuture) as well as leading figures of the movement, like Luisa Neubauer (@Luisamneubauer), tweeted about it under the hashtag #SoGeht1Komma5 (“that’s how 1.5 is done”). 

In short, they used every information channel at their disposal to share the results of the study and presented digestible information from one of the countries’ leading think-tanks on climate change along the way. 

But, this visibility as well as the accessibility that the media channels of FFF Germany offers the Wuppertal Institute is only one half of what makes this association special. The other half could be the effectiveness in communication that it presents. 

In a world where science is constantly questioned, a one-way distribution of information is not going to do the trick for effective communication between the scientific community and the public. It should, rather, focus on the production of a dialogue between the different social groups and the participation that comes with it, as well as the consideration of the circumstances of the individual recipient

What I mean by this, is that through the association between the Wuppertal Institute and FFF, the research results reach a specific group of people. The followers of FFF are predominantly young people that are interested in politics and science and display the willingness to act. They can build upon the information provided by the study and engage in politics in a meaningful way due to prior knowledge and interest on the topic.  

The way the 1.5°C-study was presented and advertised democratized the scientific information, and made it possible for young, interested people that are willing to act, to understand new information on climate change. Science communication should provide just that. It is successful when the recipients of scientific information alter their decisions along with a more informed perspective. In other words, if you change your behavior for the better because you obtained knowledge, science communication has done its duty. 

The public discourse and the role the scientific community plays have changed drastically. Scientists have to increasingly consider what the impact of their information is and how it could alter the discussion. Additionally, the media is being overloaded with information more and more every day, so the fight for the public’s attention is getting fiercer as well. 

If scientists want to be heard, they should connect to the public in innovative, effective ways off the beaten track. And the 1.5°C-study could take a leading role in this for a new way of communicating climate change.

Words by Torben Osswald

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