Climate Disaster Reports We Can't Understand
What's the purpose in releasing a major report about impending planetary doom if the public can't grasp what it's saying or what it all means?
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (otherwise known as the “IPCC”) released what is being characterized as its “last chance” report on just how bad the climate crisis is and what to do to stop it. From The Guardian …
The world can still hope to stave off the worst ravages of climate breakdown but only through a “now or never” dash to a low-carbon economy and society, scientists have said in what is in effect a final warning for governments on the climate. Greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025, and can be nearly halved this decade, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to give the world a chance of limiting future heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The final cost of doing so will be minimal, amounting to just a few percent of global GDP by mid-century, though it will require a massive effort by governments, businesses and individuals.
As big as the conversation on the “IPCC Report” is the reaction from many climate advocates and public influencers. They are incensed that the overall public reaction to it is, well, “meh.” The takes on media and larger public apathy are, of course, plenty …
There are more and they make points - as there is, understandably, raw discontent in the climate action community that the public is not riled up enough over this and policymakers remain unmoved as a result. Some thoughts from that ….
We know what that means: humanity is just, simply, waiting for the most dramatic disaster at the worst time that takes an unimaginable amount of human life in one big, eventful moment. This will happen, of course, before it’s moved to do anything else to avert climate disaster. This will be an 11th hour response.
In that 11th hour response, many of the policymakers and, sadly, the direct victims themselves will act like 1) they didn’t know this was coming or 2) they knew it was coming, but they were not warned about how bad it could get.
In the meantime, we’ll move incrementally on the response and rely, largely, on market forces and market products and think that all we need to do is buy more electric cars (which relay on extractive power sources) and install more solar panels on single family homes and push for more bike lanes to get us closer to saving the planet. But, that’s not going to do it.
The other problem, however, is the IPCC Report itself. It’s a continued communications catastrophe in which the authors perpetually fail at capturing public imagination, opinion and movement.
Many longtime climate observers are, rightfully so, pointing out how we're talking about everything else but, the alarm bells in the recent IPCC Report. But, real talk: Here's the front page of the IPCC Report. And, so, does that look urgent to you?
Here's an outline of the chapters in the #IPCCreport. Do these images telegraph a planet in trouble? Nor are there any images of the low-wealth Black, Brown & Indigenous populations that are the most disproportionately impacted by #climatecrisis & pollution
Climate observers, environmentalists & scientists are irked that the public isn't paying attn to the #IPCCreport findings - but, they need to ask themselves: Can the average person understand this graph? Can, even, the average journalist you rely on to translate it understand it?
Not saying that deeply scientific and empirical reports w/footnotes like the #IPCCReport aren't necessary. They absolutely are. But, how do you expect, for example, an American population where more than half the adults can't read beyond a 6th grade level to readily get this? Plus: you need that population to understand it so they can handily force policymakers to take a stand and do something about it versus kicking the can down the road.
Scientists & climate observers, along w/mostly White middle-class environmentalists, really need to step out of their bubbles and make the effort to craft messaging, stories and narratives that the broader public, especially highly-impacted populations can grasp. The #IPCCreport is not it. There should be two tracks of #IPCCreport content: one that's sophisticated and technical for decision-makers and other scientists & the other that's designed for lay audiences - because, real talk, not even the policymakers understand this or are taking the time to understand it, despite the fact a summary section was created exclusively for them.
Climate scientists and observers are largely arrogant. They make little to no effort to explain or synthesize something as technical as the #IPCCreport for public consumption. But, they are quick to get mad when the public doesn't get it. Well then tell a story that they can get. The authors of and advocates for the #IPCCreport can't even decide what to call it. And, like, WTF even is an "IPCC Report"? Why not just call it "The Planetary Danger Report" or "The Planet is Getting F***ed: Let's Stop It Report" or something other than what it's called now.
Scientists, especially climate scientists who are doing necessary work, really need to learn how to talk - at level - to the larger public. They and the climate and environmental activism community, also need to practice cultural inclusion in the leadership, outreach and language. If folks "back on the block" or in a low-resourced community can't readily grab at or comprehend #IPCCreport language and data, or if there's zero effort to include their perspective & voice in the assessment, how do you expect broader public awareness?
Climate scientists and environmentalists need to ask themselves in this critical moment: Do we really want to save this planet ... or do we want to just be the smartest people in the room? It’s an important question since our planet and lives depend on the answer. Still, if it's the latter, you're no better than climate denialists.