Bookshelf graphic

Communicating climate change has been part of the core mission of Yale Climate Connections since its inception, in 2007, as The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. But in the ten years that have passed, 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 as well as climatic) and record-breaking acts of protest, it seemed worthwhile to review how the thinking about the challenge of communicating climate change has evolved. Toward that end, Yale Climate Connections offers this historical review of the key books and reports on communicating climate change – in two parts. The first part, available here, covered the years 2006 to 2014. This second part covers the years from 2015 to the present.

Books and reports published between 2015 and 2017

The twelve books and reports featured below have been listed in chronological order. The descriptions have been drawn from copy provided by their publishers.

Book collage A

The Seven Dimensions of Climate Change: Introducing a New Way to Think, Talk, and Act, by Jonathan Rowson and Adam Corner (Royal Society of Arts/Climate Outreach 2015, 30 pages, free download)

Why is it we find climate change such a difficult idea to get our heads around? Is it simply too big and too complex? Or could the opposite be true – perhaps we simplify it too much by placing it in a box labelled “the environment” or treating it as something for “middle-class lefties” to worry about? Working with the Royal Society of Arts, we try to shift climate change from a “scientific fact” to a “social fact” and then we examine its many different faces: technological, legal, behavioural, cultural, political, and economic. In The Seven Dimensions of Climate Change we try to cut through the climate silence and provide new ways to think and talk about climate change.

The Uncertainty Handbook: A Practical Guide for Climate Change Communicators, by Adam Corner, Stephan Lewandowsky, Mary Phillip, and Olga Roberts (Climate Outreach 2015, 20 pages, free download)

If you have ever struggled with the communication of uncertainty, then this handbook is for you. It distils the most important research findings and expert advice into a few pages of practical, easy-to-apply techniques providing scientists, policy-makers and campaigners with the tools they need to communicate more effectively around climate change.

Communicating Effectively with the Centre-Right about Household Energy-Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, by (Climate Outreach 2015, 30 pages, free download)

There has long been a vacuum where a coherent and compelling conservative narrative on climate change should be. This report presents the findings of the first rigorous social research in Britain to explore how centre-right citizens engage with different language and framing on energy and climate change, building on previous reports in Climate Outreach’s centre-right programme. It is based on narrative workshops with communities in both urban and rural locations, interviews with key stakeholders, and a literature review. The report concludes with “communications dos and don’ts” as well as an analysis of 4 key narratives: Avoiding Waste, Quality of Life, British Energy, and Smart Money.

Editor’s note: A complete list of Climate Outreach’s guides and reports can be found here.

Book collage B

Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate Americans, by Lake Research Partners, and K. Krygsman, M. Speiser, and R. Perkowitz (EcoAmerica 2015, 39 pages, free download)

Climate is no longer a special interest of just environmental groups, it’s becoming a personally relevant public interest for all of us. EcoAmerica’s climate messaging project develops and disseminates market-tested messages on climate solutions designed to engage Americans across political and demographic groups. Let’s Talk Climate employs qualitative and quantitative research methods to test special words, phrases, and narratives that link climate change to mainstream American values and concerns. This project also looks at narratives about climate tailored to people’s personal interests and affiliations: business, community, faith, health, and higher education.

Editor’s note: A complete list of EcoAmerica’s guides and research reports can be found here.

Communication, Environment and Behaviour, by European Environment Agency (European Environment Agency 2016, 41 pages, free download)

Communication, Environment and Behavior is a scoping study on the links between public communication, environment policy implementation and behavioural science. In its Multiannual Work Programme 2014-2018, the EEA highlighted the need for a transition towards a more sustainable society, fully aligned with the European Union’s 7th Environment Action Programme. This study explores – and aims to develop – the role of public communication to improve the implementation of environmental legislation and to contribute to this debate by bringing communications, environment and behaviour closer.

Communicating Climate Change: The Path Forward, by Susanna Priest (Palgrave Macmillan 2016, 177pages, $99.00 cloth)

While scientists often expect that teaching people the scientific facts will change their minds about climate change, closer analysis suggests this is not always the case. Communication scholars propose other strategies based on what we know about influence and persuasion, but this approach does not provide complete answers either. The advent of the Internet also makes vast stores of information readily available. But audiences still process this information through different filters, based on their own values and beliefs – including their (mis)understandings of how science works. In between momentous events, media coverage of climate tends to recede and individuals turn their attention back to their daily lives. Yet there is a path forward. Climate change is a social justice issue that neither individuals, nor nations, can solve on their own. A different sort of communication effort can help – by facilitating collective action.

Book collage C

Environmental Communication Pedagogy and Practice, edited by Tema Milstein, Mairi Pileggi, and Eric Morgan (Routledge 2017, 278 pages, $155.00 cloth, $54.95 ebook)

Given the urgency of environmental problems, how we communicate about our ecological relations is crucial. Environmental Communication Pedagogy and Practice brings together international educators working from a variety of perspectives to engage both theory and application. Contributors address how pedagogy can stimulate ecological wakefulness, support diverse and praxis-based ways of learning, and nurture environmental change agents. Additionally, the volume responds to a practical need to increase teaching effectiveness of environmental communication across disciplines by offering a repertoire of useful learning activities and assignments. Altogether, it provides an impetus for reflection upon and enhancement of our own practice as environmental educators, practitioners, and students.

Fear Doesn’t Work and Other Lessons on Climate Change Communication, by Climate Tracker (Climate Tracker 2017, 22 pages, free download)

Last year, Climate Tracker produced toolkits to help journalists, writers, and other communicators write about climate change and publish it in media. But, we couldn’t help asking ourselves: what makes climate change communication effective? How do we deal with climate skeptics? And how can we communicate climate science clearly? In this new toolkit, we summarize some of the best tips experts have come up with in communicating climate science. We also discuss how psychology and emotions play a role in how people process information and, consequently, compel them to act on climate change – or continue to deny it. We also look at case studies on the successes and failures of climate communication, how it can mean life and death in some countries and how it can promote international policy.

Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement, by Adam Corner and Jamie Clarke (Palgrave Macmillan 2017, 146 pages, $54.99)

This book describes five core principles for public engagement that can propel climate change discourse out of the margins and into the mainstream. The question of how to communicate about climate change and build public engagement in high-consuming, carbon-intensive Western nations has occupied researchers, practitioners, and campaigners for more than two decades. During this time, limited progress has been made. Socially and culturally, climate change remains the preserve of a committed but narrow band of activists. Public engagement is stuck in second gear. By bridging the gap between primary academic research and campaign strategies, Talking Climate will be relevant for academics, educators, campaigners, communicators and practitioners.

Bonus: Three Recent Books on Communicating Science

Book collage D

Houston: We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story, by Randy Olson (University of Chicago Press 2015, 260 pages, $20.00 paperback)

Drawing on his unique background, which saw him leave his job as a working scientist to launch a career as a filmmaker, Olson first diagnoses the problem with most attempts to communicate science: When they tell us about their work, scientists pile moments and details atop one another – a stultifying procession of “and, and, and.” What we need is an understanding of the basic narrative structures that our brains are all but hardwired to look for – which Olson boils down to “And, But, Therefore,” or ABT. At a stroke, the ABT approach introduces momentum (“And”), conflict (“But”), and resolution (“Therefore”) – the fundamental building blocks of story. Written with an uncommon verve and enthusiasm, Houston, We Have a Narrative has the power to transform the way science is understood and appreciated, and ultimately how it’s done.

I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up, by James Hogan with Grania Litwin (New Society Publishers 2016, 248 pages, $19.95 paperback)

The most pressing environmental problem we face today is not climate change. It is pollution in the public square, where a smog of adversarial rhetoric, propaganda and polarization stifles discussion and debate, creating resistance to change and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems. In I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, David Suzuki Foundation chair James Hoggan grapples with this critical issue, conducting interviews with outstanding thinkers from the Himalaya to the House of Lords. He shows how trust is undermined and why facts alone fail, and he explains the importance of framing arguments with empathy and then creating compelling narratives that can spur action. Focusing on proven techniques to foster more powerful and effective communication, this book will appeal to readers looking for both deep insights and practical advice.

Communicating Science Effectively, by the Committee on the Science of Science Communication (The National Academies Press 2017, 152 pages, free download)

Communicating science effectively is a complex task and an acquired skill. Moreover, the approaches to communicating science that will be most effective for specific audiences and circumstances are not obvious. Fortunately, there is an expanding science base from diverse disciplines that can support science communicators in making these determinations. Communicating Science Effectively offers a research agenda for science communicators and researchers seeking to apply this research and to fill gaps in knowledge about how to communicate effectively about science, focusing in particular on politically contentious issues. This report also identifies influences – psychological, economic, political, social, cultural, and media-related – on how the science related to such issues is understood, perceived, and used.

*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.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is the Yale Climate Connections books editor. He is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since...