Applying the Science of Science Communication to Climate Change and Clean Energy: Lessons Learned from the NSF- and PBS-supported “Earth: The Operators’ Manual"

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 3:10 PM
Geoffrey Haines-Stiles1, Erna Akuginow1 and Camellia Sanford2, (1)GHSPi/Passport to Knowledge, Jersey City, NJ, United States, (2)Rockman etal, San Francisco, CA, United States
Yale legal scholar and professor of psychology Dan Kahan has criticized the climate change science community for not applying what’s known about effective communications strategies to topics with potentially controversial content. “Earth: The Operators’ Manual,” funded by NSF’s Informal Science Education program and appearing on PBS was hosted by Penn State geoscientist Richard Alley. From the initial proposal forward into airing on public television in 2011 and 2012, ETOM aimed to be authoritative and apolitical while still being engaging to general audiences. Based on social scientific insights from project Advisor, Suzanne Moser, and others, ETOM aimed to avoid “climate porn” scare tactics and over-used footage, and to enlist a diverse group of “messengers” in addition to Alley. An important design criterion was to give equal time to clean energy solutions while pulling no punches as to the consensus findings of leading climate scientists. With the ETOM project now completed and final reports submitted to NSF, what results can be shared to inform future efforts? And how did ETOM compare in audience impact with other major media efforts such as Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” or Showtime’s more recent “Years of Living Dangerously”? Results reported draw on the external evaluation by Rockman Et Al, and include both quantitative and qualitative data. Key findings are the importance of including Texan ranchers enthusiastic about wind power alongside Navy Admirals adamant that climate change is human-caused and Marines implementing solar energy to reduce casualties incurred while transporting fossil fuels. In-person presentations by Alley and others at science centers served as de facto focus groups for scripting the TV programs, along with actual focus groups convened by Rockman. The 3rd program, ENERGY QUEST USA, documented 5 quite different communities, from Alaska to Forth Worth, Baltimore, Portland and Kansas, all using competition, local values, and economic incentives to move ahead. Might a more political approach have generated larger audiences? Perhaps, but at the cost of generating materials that have proven potential for long-lived use in both secondary and tertiary education.