Communicating climate change has been part of the core mission of Yale Climate Connections since its inception nearly a decade ago. But in the years since then, the particulars of the problem, and even some of the underlying assumptions, have changed. Especially in a year already marked by jaw-dropping denials of reality (political and historical and also climatic) and numerous acts of protest, it’s worth reviewing how the thinking about the challenge of communicating climate change has evolved.
Hence this review of key books and reports on communicating climate change – in two parts. The first part, available below, covers the years 2006 to 2014. The second part will cover 2015 to present.
Books and reports published between 2006 and 2014
The 12 books and reports featured below* are listed in chronological order. Descriptions of these books and reports are drawn from copy provided by their publishers.
Communicating Nature: How We Create and Understand Environmental Messages, by Julia B. Corbett (Island Press 2006, 350 pages, $37.50 paperback)
How do individuals develop beliefs and ideologies about the environment? How do we express those beliefs through communication? How are we influenced by the messages of pop culture and social institutions? And how does all this communication become part of the larger social fabric we know as “the environment”? In Communicating Nature, Julia Corbett explores and explains the multiple levels of everyday communication that come together to form our perceptions of the natural world – from communication at the individual level, to environmental messages transmitted by popular culture, to communication generated by social institutions including political and regulatory agencies, business and corporations, media outlets, and educational organizations.
Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change, edited by Susanne C. Moser and Lisa Dilling (Cambridge University Press 2007, 549 pages, $89.99 paperback)
The need for effective communication, public outreach and education to increase support for policy, collective action and behavior change is perhaps most pressing in the context of anthropogenic climate change. This book is the first to take a comprehensive look at communication and social change specifically targeted to climate change. Its unique collection of articles examines the challenges associated with communicating climate change in order to facilitate societal response. The contributors come from diverse backgrounds, from government and academia to non-governmental and civic sectors of society. Accessibly written, with all specialized terminology carefully explained, this book will be of great interest to academic researchers and professionals in climate change, environmental policy, science communication, psychology, sociology and geography.
Debating Climate Change: Pathways Through Argument to Agreement, by Eliabeth L Malone (Routledge/Earthscan 2009, 143 pages $47.95 paperback)
How can people with widely varying viewpoints agree to address climate change? Each participant in the debate seems to have a different agenda, from protecting economic growth in developing countries to protecting the energy industry in industrialized countries, from those aghast at the damage done to the Earth to optimists who think we just need to adjust our technological approach. Debating Climate Change sorts through the tangle of arguments surrounding climate change to find paths to unexpected sites of agreement. Using an innovative sociological approach – combining discourse and social network analyses – Elizabeth L. Malone shows how even the most implacable adversaries can find common ground, and how this common ground can be used to build agreement.
Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction, and Opportunity, by Mike Hulme (Cambridge University Press 2009, 392 pages, $35.99 paperback)
Climate change is not “a problem” waiting for “a solution.” It is an environmental, cultural and political phenomenon that is re-shaping the way we think about ourselves, our societies and humanity’s place on Earth. Drawing upon twenty-five years of professional work as an international climate change scientist and public commentator, Mike Hulme draws on science, economics, faith, psychology, communication, sociology, politics and development to explain why we disagree about climate change. In this way he shows that climate change can prompt us to rethink our place in the world. Why We Disagree about Climate Change is an important contribution to the ongoing debate over climate change and its likely impact on our lives.
Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public, by Debika Shome and Sabine Marx (Center for Research on Environmental Decisions 2009, 48 pages, free download)
“Social psychologists are aware, through their painstaking scientific research, of the difficulties that individuals and groups have in processing and responding effectively to the information surrounding long-term and complex societal challenges like climate change. This guide powerfully details many of the biases and barriers to scientific communication and information processing. It offers a tool – in combination with rigorous science, innovative engineering, and effective policy design – to help our societies take the pivotal actions needed to respond with urgency and accuracy to one of the greatest challenges ever faced by humanity. – Jeffrey Sachs, Director, The Earth Institute, Columbia University.
Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga, by Joseph Romm (CreateSpace 2012, 213 pages, $14.97 paperback)
Joseph Romm, named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s top “100 Agents of Change” for the Climate Progress blog he founded at Center for American Progress, demonstrates that you don’t have to be an expert to vastly improve your ability to communicate. He has pulled together the secrets of the greatest communicators in history to show how you can apply these tools to your writing, speaking, blogging – even your Tweeting. Language Intelligence not only will prepare you to be a much more memorable and persuasive communicator, it will also help you to understand the tricks of the trade used – and misused – in politics and commerce. With a few easily digestible concepts, Language Intelligence also offers readers an indispensible roadmap for today’s political and pop culture landscape.
Taking Stock: U.S. Climate Engagement: A Discussion Piece, by Amy Luers (Skoll Global Threats Fund 2013, 33 pages, free download)
In Taking Stock, the Skoll Global Threats Fund reviews the approaches being used to engage people on climate change and explores how social science research and tools could strengthen these engagement efforts. Today, most Americans believe climate change is real and at least partly human-caused. Yet few Americans are engaged around climate change – cognitively, emotionally, or behaviorally, let alone politically. And so we investigated what social scientists and outreach specialists understand about how we can more effectively engage the public. This discussion piece is an attempt to capture the conversation underway and to facilitate further discussion about how social science can help build a stronger path forward.
Engaging with Climate Change: How We Think about Engagement, by Renee Lertzmann (Skoll Global Threats Fund 2013, 39 pages, free download)
In Engaging with Climate Change: How We Think About Engagement, psychologist Renee Lertzmann argues that climate advocates and researchers must integrate tools and resources from across the four different approaches: framing/messaging, behavioral change/social marketing, design and social impact, and emotional and conversation-based interventions. In addition to influencing Skoll Global Threats Fund’s strategic planning, this paper also informed the development of the Climate Advocacy Lab, an online resource developed for the advocacy community to bridge research and practice. With it, readers can walk through the social-science foundations of successful campaign strategy, testing assumptions and engaging in critical reflection on common conceptions about framing.
Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication, by Ezra Markowitz, Caroline Hodge, and Gabriel Harp (Center for Research on Environmental Decisions / Eco America 2014, 89 pages, free download)
Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication leads to a better understanding of American responses to climate change and explains how anyone, from religious leaders, to health care professionals, businesspeople, community leaders, journalists, scientists, educators, policymakers, and other interested parties, can better communicate with and engage the American public on the issue. The guide – which includes research from a range of social science fields including psychology, anthropology, communications, and behavioral economics – is designed to be useful for experienced and novice communicators alike. Included in the guide are strategies to boost engagement, common mistakes to avoid, and best practices that organizations have used to meaningfully engage individuals and groups on climate change.
Climate Conundrums: What the Climate Debate Reveals About Us, by William B. Gail (American Meteorological Society 2014, 235 pages, $30.00 paperback)
Climate Conundrums explores our ongoing attempts to reach a societal understanding about climate change and how we should respond to it. The essays are organized around our relationship with nature, the challenges facing human society, and the path ahead for civilization. Each begins with a question and then follows an introspective path through all sides of the debates. Some questions represent longstanding issues, such as whether humans are growing increasingly distant from nature. Others are brought on by recent developments, such as whether technology can eventually solve all of society’s needs. While no final answers are found, reflecting on these questions can help us better connect with each other across the climate divide.
What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action, by Per Espen Stoknes (Chelsea Green 2015, 290 pages, $24.95)
In What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming, Stoknes not only masterfully identifies the five main psychological barriers to climate action, but addresses them with five strategies for how to talk about global warming in a way that creates action and solutions, not further inaction and despair. These strategies work with, rather than against, human nature. They are social, positive, and simple; they are also story-based and include the use of signals, or indicators, to gauge responses. Whether you are working on the front lines of policy or just an average person trying to make sense of the issue, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming will open new doorways to social and personal transformation.
Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, by George Marshall (Bloomsbury Books 2014, 260 pages, $27 hardcover)
Most of us recognize that climate change is real, and yet we do little or nothing to stop it. What is this psychological mechanism that allows us to know something is true but act as if it is not? While our values, assumptions, and prejudices can take on lives of their own, dividing people in their wake, Marshall argues that the answer to this question lies not in the things that make us different and drive us apart, but rather in what we all share: our evolutionary origins, our perceptions of threats, our cognitive blindspots, our love of storytelling, our fear of death, and our deepest instincts to defend our family and tribe. Once we understand what excites, threatens, and motivates us, we can rethink and reimagine climate change, for it is not an impossible problem. We can halt if we can make it our common purpose and common ground.
*Editor’s note: Because Yale Climate Connections is a project of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, its publications are not included in these two bookshelves. But readers are encouraged to consult several of their regularly updated reports – including Climate Change in the American Mind, Global Warming’s Six Americas, How Americans Communicate about Global Warming, and Politics and Global Warming – widely considered to be essential reading for work on communicating climate change.