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The Zombified State of Climate Communication

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJuly 21, 2011 2:44 AM


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Some of you may recall a recent public awareness campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that began this way:

There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That's right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you'll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you'll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.

The message went viral and the CDC goal of raising awareness of disaster preparedness was accomplished. True, they goosed it with social media, but the whole thing was an exceedingly clever campaign, leading scientist-turned filmmaker Randy Olson to say:

This is a mass communication success story if EVER there was one.

Olson also believes that the CDC success holds lessons for climate communicators who are willing to take chances in their outreach campaigns. Maybe. Maybe not. Educating people on how to prepare for hurricanes and other disasters is one thing. Who can argue with that idea? Climate change, on the other hand, is viewed through a heavily politicized lens. For example, look at what happened to the last creative effort that strived to get beyond the standard climate change boilerplate. That said, if you are someone who wants the public to take global warming seriously, Olson is surely correct when he looks out on the dreary landscape of climate change communication and concludes:

What are the other options? That you somehow "stay the course," remain an academic purist, and just keep spouting out the same literal-minded message year after year even though your numbers show that hardly anyone is listening? No, this is indeed the problem. And it's a very serious problem. I keep citing Matt Nisbet's report earlier this year showing that the climate community over the past decade has spent somewhere between a third of a BILLION dollars and a billion dollars on essentially attempting to communicate their message in an effort to get Congress to pass climate legislation. The entire effort has been a complete failure. No one is interested in what's happening with the climate. The public is as bored with preparedness for climate change as they previously were bored with preparedness for hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.

The only problem with this observation is that theblowback on Nisbet's report from well known quarters of the climate concerned community suggests that there is little appetite for changing course from what is currently failing them.

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