PL1.1 Transforming Communication in the Environmental Sciences: Some Thoughts from a Reluctant Participant (Invited Presentation)

Sunday, 7 January 2018: 4:00 PM
Ballroom D (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Richard B. Alley, Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, PA

Our funding increasingly requires that we learn and then make that learning useful to the public. Successful communication thus is no longer optional but an imperative. Despite encouraging signs that we are getting better at communicating our science to the public, major challenges remain.

These challenges can seem large. Some people simply don’t want to hear about our results. I work on sea-level change, for example, and knowing what is coming could save immense sums of money. But, the best news we could give people on this topic is that change will be small and slow. Worse news may not be welcoming. Making scientific knowledge of this type actionable for policymakers and the general public requires building broad understanding of the science. Informed responses by policymakers can be blocked if the public is confused, and those who seek to generate confusion have a much easier task than those of us fostering broad understanding.

In order to get the communication right, we must first get the science right – everything else rests on this bedrock of knowledge. Beyond that, the scholarship is clear that scientists’ voices are essential but insufficient. We need help from a broad range of people and disciplines. Wise use of weather, water, and climate knowledge helps businesses, industry, agriculture, and the military save lives, save dollars, and save the environment. Enlisting the full breadth of those who benefit from our science can be highly successful. We need to include the voices of military leaders, farmers, and businesspeople as well as artists, teachers, medical experts, and more. Scholars in social science and communications are increasingly examining our challenges, successes, and shortcomings, and we have much to learn from these efforts. In recent years, AMS, its members, and the weather, water, and climate community have been leaders in improving communications. These successes create an urgency for us to continue, because we now have the attention of so many.

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