J13.6 Uncertain futures, anxious futures: psychological dimensions of how we talk about the weather

Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 4:30 PM
618-620 (Washington State Convention Center)
Renee Lertzman, Portland State University, Portland, OR

The ability to communicate effectively about weather and climate presents formidable challenges in terms of reaching disparate public audiences and finding platforms to educate, inform, and potentially influence behavior and actions. This paper focuses on the psychodynamic dimensions of meteorological communication. Such dimensions include anxiety, fear, hope, fear, desires and anticipation – affect-laden processes that influence on how people perceive and respond to such topics. While communication studies and specifically environmental communications have been relatively quiet on the topic of psychology, there has been a growing acknowledgement of the role of emotions in climate change communication (eg. Moser, 2007; Leiserowitz, 2007). Building on my doctoral research project, “The Myth of Apathy” (Lertzman, 2010), and drawing on theoretical work in psychoanalysis and psychology (Randall, 2009; Segal, 2003; Lertzman, 2008) this paper argues that insights generated in clinical psychology and qualitative psychosocial research have direct application for those working in environmental communication, and particularly in meteorology where issues of uncertainty and public understandings of science are paramount. Specifically, the management of anxiety is a central focus in psychotherapeutic work; understanding how defensive mechanisms such as denial, apathy or projection may operate in relation to distressing, confusing or overwhelming data has been a missing piece in the discourse surrounding environmental communication and public perceptions of science. The paper will explicate how anxiety is conceptualized in psychotherapeutic contexts and what this means for communication regarding climate change.

Discourses concerning weather, forecasting and climate not only construct and mediate our day-to-day experience of weather and climate change-related issues, but inform how these issues are experienced and processed emotionally and affectively. This paper addresses the central problem of how we can become more effective and sensitized communicators, and provide the necessary contexts for weathering uncertain futures with resilience and foresight. Attention will be given to how specific psychological concepts are relevant for weather and climate-related professionals – particularly how these topics can evoke complicated, often contradictory emotional and cognitive responses that may hinder or support efforts for effective communications.

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