For many years the scientific community has wrestled with the problem of how to engage the public with complex issues surrounding climate change. From accusations of ‘doom-mongering’ to the risk of bombarding people with stats and facts, the difficulty has remained how to gain the attention of the public without frightening or frustrating them away from making and advocating positive change.
Now a new comment piece published in Nature Astronomy has concluded that astronomers could play a key role in future communication, using their platforms and profiles to reach out to the media and the public alike.
Alison Anderson, Professor of Sociology at the University of Plymouth, and science communicator and previous British Science Association Media Fellow Dr Gina Maffey, say that astronomy “offers many entry points to talking about climate change”, from the climate history of the terrestrial planets to the notion that there is no alternative planet for humans to live on – “no Planet B”.
They also believe that astronomers are more likely to command public respect, as their appeal crosses international and cultural boundaries – as evidenced by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton.
Their article comes at a time of growing calls from the astronomy community to act, with bodies such as Astronomers for Planet Earth coming to the fore, and a recent open letter signed by more than 2,750 astronomers
“Climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing our planet and we are increasingly experiencing its dire effects with soaring temperatures, wildfires, floods and droughts,”
“Within astronomy there is growing recognition of the urgency of the situation, the profession’s impact on it and the need to communicate outside the academy.”
In their article, Professor Anderson and Dr Maffey map out five steps for astronomers to communicate climate change effectively.
Tell a story
Whether it is using relevant metaphors or strong visual analogies, or relying upon actual imagery, such as the satellite pictures charting the dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide concentrations as COVID-19 restrictions were applied, telling stories enables audiences to better understand complex issues.