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G&T Tariffs of Climate Science

07 December 2017

Rhonda McGovern discusses the recent masterclass “Confronting the Unmentionable – Overcoming the Climate Change Taboo” by Professor Chris Rapley.

(Blog post content and statements are proprietary to the authors. Each author represents only themself and their own opinion.)

On 26th October, Professor Chris Rapley gave a masterclass to 18 students and lecturers in the Royal Irish Academy. Professor Rapley was over from the UK to give a lecture organised by the EPA that evening so this masterclass was a bonus addition to his Irish visit. The title was “Confronting the Unmentionable – Overcoming the Climate Change Taboo” and was geared towards the need of climate scientists to adjust their role to address the urgency and scale of action necessary to meet agreed targets resultant from COP21. I had previously decided I wanted to focus my master’s thesis on communicating climate change, as I feel to date, it has been ineffective, as evident in our lack of mitigation and adaptation strategies. So, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to attend such a focussed event, and I was not disappointed.

It wasn’t that Professor Rapley was saying anything revolutionary. We are all fairly aware that communication needs to happen effectively to mitigate and adapt for our changing climate.  It was his ability to condense that was impressive, and the fact that these conversations are not held very often in the world of climate science. I am now aware, in a way that I don’t think I’ll forget, that the cost of the work that Professor Rapley conducts with tax payer’s money, is the equivalent of one and a half gin & tonics per person per year in the UK. Much easier to swallow than billions of pounds.

Story telling is the key.

To fulfil this, Professor Rapley worked with script writer Duncan Macmillan and director Katie Mitchell to produce a one man play exploring 2017 The World We’ll Leave Our Grandchildren.

I find the intersection of climate change and climate science with people a fascinating space. Where else could you find a climate scientist reading out sections of the IPCC report to non-scientists in a darkened theatre hall? Professor Rapley was animated speaking about the impact the play had on people, he firmly believes those working in the climate sector need to reach out and engage with others through the arts. He tells us there are five categories of climate scientists:

Pure Scientist

Works only on science, doesn’t engage with the public.

Science Arbiters

the people who use the tools of science to answer questions from policy makers, often sit on expert advisory boards or panels.

Science Communicator

Communicate specific scientific issues

Honest Broker

Engage co-productively in decision making to assist decision makers.

Informed Citizen

Those who create an engaging environment to begin dialogue with non-scientists

Professor Rapley was undertaking the role of ‘Informed Citizen’ when he took to the stage reaching 10,000 people in the process. He tells us that fewer than 30% in the UK have ever had a conversation about climate change, which begs the question, why? In my opinion, it lies with lack of knowledge through poor communication as it is such a complex or wicked problem, and people don’t know where to start. Professor Rapley feels that climate scientists don’t see combating sceptics as their role, so sceptics tend to win out in the media, leaving people baffled as to what is truth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their fifth assessment report in 2013, which stated a 95% confidence level that humans are the dominant cause of climate change, leaving less room for speculation.

The second weekend of the Citizens Assembly dealing with climate change was titled: How the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. The title alone is evidence that we have moved from the old rhetoric of questioning cause, and have moved towards acceptance that our climate is changing and we need to change our policies. So now it’s time for action, to get out there and begin dialogue with people. Scale, urgency & complexity need to be communicated effectively while also enthusing people with a positive empowerment, easy! Let’s get out there. Who’s with me?

Rhonda McGovern is a masters student in Maynooth University completing a MSc. in Climate Change. Further information about Royal Irish Academy Masterclassess can be viewed here.

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