written by Michael Gold

Even as action to combat climate change accelerates in homes, farms, and factories, another important movement is playing out digitally. The stories we consume and exchange each day contain the seeds of action. This is why communication is an essential part of climate work—and one that can’t be overlooked.

Consider the thousands of international delegates who gather at annual COP meetings. The product of their long, grueling negotiations is a statement—one in which every term is agonized over and scrutinzed. Their power rests in their proverbial pen. A liveable future depends in no small part on the meaning and nuance of this type of work.

Before engaging in any type of climate messaging, ask a few key questions:

  • Who am I trying to reach?
  • What am I trying to get this audience to feel? To do?
  • Why do I want them to do this?

Under the first point, perhaps add a corollary: Am I the right messenger for this audience? Consider the advice from climate communications luminary Katharine Hayhoe when she spoke with an atheist scientist who’d been attempting (and failing) to persuade churchgoers to take action on climate. “You are not the right person to have that conversation,” she said. “Instead, connect with people whose values you genuinely share.”

This is a fundamental principle of good climate communications. Another is to flip the roles—to listen to your audience and consider their concerns. This applies to every audience; after all, scientists, politicians, activists, financiers, and corporate executives are people too. The easiest way to lose attention is to lecture indiscriminately, especially in a way that feels dismissive, condescending, or combative. Finding common ground is step one in effective communication.

This means understanding how to make complex scientific concepts not only intelligible but meaningful to the audience. This can be a tall order, but it is hardly impossible. 

Ultimately, there’s no one right way to communicate about climate science—or climate change in general.  It’s situational. Stumbling and pivoting to a new tactic is better than never taking a chance in the first place. After all, the more people who write, talk, and commiserate about climate change, the more action we’ll catalyze.

Learn more about climate communications in Terra.do’s flagship online fellowship, Learning for Action.