Boring Averages and Climate Brightsiding – big mistakes in climate comms during #ClimateWeek

Do you know what the world’s average temperature was in preindustrial times? In absolute terms? If not, how does hearing of the subsequent 1.3C degrees of global warming make you feel? You have nothing to compare it with. We experience and talk about daily and seasonal highs and lows. Yet with climate we are asked to talk about incomparable averages of 1.5C or 2C degrees. People relate that to an existing cognitive frame of “warmth” which has dominated understandings of climate chaos. That is why people can say things like “I don’t believe in destroying the economy to stop just 1.5C of warming” and it make intuitive sense to others, despite being empirical nonsense. Even the people who work on these subjects can get completely confused and end up publishing extreme silliness such as a “best guess” that crops grown in Europe might cope with 15C of average global warming (making the average like the current Western Sahara – not known for its agriculture).

I write about this ‘average stupidity’ in a two-part essay on the biggest mistakes in climate communications. It is also where I provide the basic information on pre-industrial temperatures and suggest different ways to communicate about it.

The second part is out today and looks at the growing phenomenon of ‘climate brightsiding.’ That is the term I offer for describing how some science communicators misrepresent the current science, the emissions trends and the limitations of technology, to make more of us doubt our assessments of just how bad the predicament now is. Or, sometimes, to marginalise those of us who seek to work with others on the basis of a more realistic assessment of the situation. Climate Brightsiding is a typical approach from people working on environmental issues to serve corporate interests – people beginning to be described as ‘climate users’, as they seem addicted to their old stories of corporate sustainability no matter if a changing reality demonstrates otherwise.

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My understanding is that most of the us who anticipate societal breakdowns do not make a priority of critiquing the analysis of people who do not anticipate such. For years I also chose to avoid outright critique of some of the mainstream climate communication, despite significant misrepresentations of my own work (some of which are now being retracted). However, I notice an ongoing attempt at limiting the space for deliberation, that correlates with institutional and commercial interests. Therefore, I concluded that some more comprehensive critique could be useful so that we can help more people move on to discuss the implications of anticipating greater loss and damage.

If you work on environmental issues in some way, please read the essays, as I believe they will feed into your ideas on how to communicate about climate change in future. Then, as Climate Week kicks off in New York, please take a moment to share your thoughts on these essays, or this blog, on social media with the hashtag #ClimateWeek.

The biggest mistakes in climate communications, Part 1: looking back at the ‘Incomparably Average’

The biggest mistakes in climate communications, part 2 – Climate Brightsiding

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