Communicating Optimism: April 13th week in review

This week we have been learning about communicating the science of climate change to the public in an effective manner. One important aspect of successful communication is balancing the urgency and intensity of climate change with an appropriate amount of optimism and hope as well. Media headlines on climate change are mostly doom and gloom and it takes a little bit of looking to find optimistic news. Over the past semester, we have reported on many exciting innovations, scientific breakthroughs, and political steps forward on the climate change front. It is inspiring even knowing what we know as scientists.

From local to global, things are moving. Harvard University students in Divest Harvard staged an action to prevent the president from entering her office. Having an ivy league with a $36 billion dollar endowment adds to the legitimacy of the grassroots movement. They have alumni support pushing for a political counterpoint against big oil; still, many say boycott, divestments, and sanctions have little positive world impact. (NPR, April 13, 2015)

Grassroots aside, China and Germany made headlines this week for their energy progressions. China’s move away from coal has been significant, with coal imports falling by nearly half. The Gaurdian stated, “Imports by the world’s biggest coal consumer reached 49.07 m tonnes in the first quarter, a fall of 42% on the same period a year ago according to data from the Chinese customs office.” With stricter air-pollution regulation and a slowing economy, China has cut back on coal faster than anyone imagined. This is huge for the global economy and global environment (plus the people must be happy for cleaner air and cleaner energy).

Meanwhile, Germany is doing fabulous, proving to the world that renewable energy is awesome. Many skeptics (cough*oil industry*cough) say renewables are bad because they are so intermittent and too unstable to support a large system (No sunshine? No wind?). Germany with all of its industry and high standards of living, now has a power grid with around 28% renewable energy, up to 40% in some areas. This system is proving to be more stable than most nuclear and coal-powered grids in France and Poland. Outages totaled 15 minutes in Germany, 68 minutes in France, and four hours in Poland.

On the global scale, new science has come out and the way it is communicated is essential. For the audience that knows the climate science, this could be a piece of optimism. In my opinion, it would be difficult to communicate to the public in a well-balanced manner. The news headline reads that ‘Permafrost may not be the ticking “carbon bomb” scientists thought’. As we know, permafrost thawing in organic Arctic soils accelerated by increased temperatures is a global-scale feedback on climate change. The paper explains that new evidence does not support the “eruption” of carbon from permafrost thaw, but instead may be more of a slow leak. This is especially optimistic because it means we have time to act; however, it could be interpreted, as “oh I don’t need to worry about this feedback at all then.” This is not the case, instead let’s take this kind of news as an opportunity to cease the science and act before the slow leak is heated to the point of an eruption. Overall – when we learn and read about what is happening in the climate change movement and science, it is critical we think about the stories we communicate with the people around us.



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