November 13, 2016
By Pamela Berns
In October, The New York Times reported on a Pew Research Survey
which “showed that while more than 90 percent of climate scientists agree
that human activity causes climate change, the scientific consensus doesn’t appear to be swaying the public.
Which begs the question – what’s going on here? Linguists, psychologists, policy analysts, communication experts, and sociologists have all weighed in on this contradiction. Simply put, it appears that communicating something as big and complex as climate change to skeptics and so called “deniers” is just as complex as the message itself.
A Tower of Babel
In his introduction to a daylong Climate Week conference on the Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs) at the United Nations, Unicef Deputy Executive Director John Forsythe stressed the importance of “keeping public opinion with us.” But how to achieve that is a topic for debate, evidenced by the differing opinions of the panelists. Kate James, Chief Corporate Affairs and Marketing Officer at Pearson, believes we need to develop a shared vocabulary using the SDG’s as a launch point. Yet Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Center, wants to change the language of the SDG’s – which took a great deal of effort to forge in the first place – to something people can understand. And James Mwangi, Executive Director of the Dahlberg Group, thinks that a single shared language may not even be possible. He believes there’s a need to be able to speak three “languages” to communicate effectively with civil society, government, and business, and coined the term “tri-sectoral athlete” for people who can do that successfully.