Everyone likes a story. Stories have a uniquely captivating effect on the mind that transcends the boundaries of language and culture; if two people from opposite sides of the world read the same story translated into completely different languages, their brains undergo the same patterns of activity as they visualise the story and are carried through its emotional ups and downs. Research, on the other hand, operates in a language that is far from universal. It’s a major barrier to communication between researchers and the public, making people feel shut out from vital discussions. If we are to tackle global issues like climate change, we need ways to break down these barriers and engage people in a language they understand.
Over the last decade, the level of interest in climate change communication has grown rapidly – there’s now a huge number of people, organisations and institutions involved in the theory and practice of public engagement.
In part, the enthusiasm for public engagement has come from the realisation that without significant and sustained public support, technological and political progress on decarbonisation and wider sustainability goals is fragile. The reversal of domestic progress in the US following the election of Donald Trump (not to mention the withdrawal from the UN Paris accord) shows what can happen if there is not a robust, and bi-partisan platform of public support behind climate and energy policies.