Reporting during the final plenary session for the breakout group on climate change, Aaron Huertas, press secretary with the Union of Concerned Scientists, pointed to the challenge of communicating the relevance of climate change to members of the general public. But many communicators reach professionals whose jobs are affected by climate change. Among these professionals are the “first responders” to climate change, such as civic planners, water managers, coastal planners, military strategists, and meteorologists. Many of these professionals have to take climate change into account in their jobs, and they increasingly will have to do so in the future. They also tend to be nonpartisan, which means that they can largely avoid the political polarization that has characterized the issue. If more of these first responders were accurately reflecting messages derived from science, they could help break through the stalemate that currently surrounds discussions of climate change. In addition, research on how these professionals are integrating climate change science into their jobs and communicating the results to stakeholders could provide key insights into how to respond to climate change.
Many of the assessments done by national and international organizations are driven by stakeholders who need and ask for particular types of information. These requests for information and the data generated by these requests could be studied by social scientists to improve the effectiveness of public communications about climate change. For example, what explicit and implicit messages is the public receiving? Does the message that people are dealing with climate change today breed complacency or fear?
The breakout group developed several proposed actions. One is to have institutions use their convening power to bring scientists together with the people who make decisions based on climate science. These decision makers may have few opportunities at either the local or national levels to talk with each other or with scientists about climate change. The resulting networks of communication could involve scientists more closely in the decisions being made and in the dissemination of information about those decisions.
Climate scientists also would benefit by hearing from the people who use the information they generate. They would learn more about which stakeholders are using their research, thus enhancing their ability to point out how their research is affecting society. They also could improve their toolkits for effectively communicating about climate science to different