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Explaining climate science – in three pages…
19th July 2011
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I know that you can’t get people to take climate change seriously just by talking at them about science. Lots of excellent work (like Sizzle, Futerra’s guide to climate communications) says that you need messages that are  relevant, engaging, positive and inspiring, before people tune in.

But you can’t do it without the science. Over the past couple of years, with Green Alliance, I’ve worked with over fifty MPs, to help them understand the science, policy and politics of climate change. At each session, we spent quite a long time grilling the very patient and very eminent climate scientist Brian Hoskins.  We talked through the mechanics of how the climate system works; the effects of extra carbon dioxide on that system; and what we know and don’t know about cause and effect. We looked at the various controversies and media storms that have dogged the science, and tried to get to the bottom of what had happened. Each time, I learned more.

And the more I learned, the more I realised that it is actually really difficult to find short, succinct but properly referenced information on the science. Sure, there are the multi-volume IPCC reports, and literally thousands of scholarly articles. And at the other end of the scale, there are plenty of websites which explain the very basics of the greenhouse effect –but without references or nuances.

So in the end, I wrote it myself.  I limited myself to three pages – that was pretty tough – and based it mainly on work by the Royal Society and the Committee on Climate Change. I made sure every single piece of evidence was referenced. It was edited and checked by Brian Hoskins and his team at the Grantham Institute (that was scary, but I passed, more or less.) And now here it is – we’ve sent it to all the MPs we work with, and hope that it will be used more widely, too.

I’m still astounded that it didn’t exist already, and that I had to invent it. I wonder whether, in all the efforts to make climate change relevant and engaging, we’ve neglected the basics – of presenting the science in ways that people can digest and use. Science alone won’t get people on board – but it’s an essential ingredient.

About author

Rebecca Willis

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