Part of: Communicating climate change
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It's time to talk about climate change differently

by Sally Stevens | Institute for Environmental Analytics
Thursday, 2 February 2017 16:50 GMT

Files are seen stacked up in the record section of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai July 10, 2013. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We need to speak the right language to persuade people that acting on climate change is in their own best interest

What if instead of asking, "Why aren’t people listening to us on climate change?" we asked, "Why aren’t we speaking a language people hear, in places where they are already listening?"

If the influencers, policy creators, decision-makers and public are not hearing the urgency of our message, then the fault lies not with them, but with us, the communicators.

Imagine if, instead of science communicators, we were a slick advertising agency pitching a campaign. We would start by asking our client "Where is the core audience you want to reach? What language will motivate them to respond to our call to action? How do we make them aspire to our product?"

I am not a typical science communicator, I have no education or background in science. I am a journalist by trade, now working for the Institute for Environmental Analytics (IEA), a cutting edge research and development organisation applying big data analytics in the environmental sector.

Our expertise includes data visualization – and it’s not that different to journalism. It's still all about delivering important news in an accessible way to people who are not necessarily looking for it.

My role is telling the story of how everything we at the IEA do, every day, relates to everything we all do, every day.


A priority has to be how we communicate and who we communicate to. What a difference it would make if we were as effective talking to other organisations and people as we are talking to each other.

I have been impressed by the amount of time and energy climate change scientists and academics invest in talking to each other, travelling to conferences all around the world, ironically. If only we could turn them around 180 degrees to talk as enthusiastically and effectively directly to the business sector.

We need to adapt our language to different audiences while keeping our message consistent and fluent, and to find an accessible terminology that will not turn off audiences in the way that the phrase "climate change" seems to.

Let’s speak business, rather than science, to the business community.

People who think climate change is not important to them, their business, town, family and lifestyle are not stupid. They are just waiting for us to explain it properly.

If we can ensure businesses, organisations, communities and individuals recognise all the ways climate science already feeds into their everyday lives, they will be more open to hearing about climate change, mitigation, adaptation and the difference they can make.

Our environment and climate science are part of everyone’s everyday lives and future. Therefore they need to be part of everyone’s everyday news. We can make that news and enable people to hear and believe it.

Sally Stevens is marketing and communications manager for the UK-based Institute for Environmental Analytics.

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