Navigating climate change communication between advocacy and denialism

By Jieling Liu

When I came back from Asia after a 4-month trip to Lisbon at the beginning of March this year, a friend came to pick me up. Driving into the city, I noticed how green every corner had turned and the sun was gently shining golden light into the car – “How nice! I came back to the peaceful, green and sunny Lisbon!” As I spoke out loud my happiness, my friend kindly informed me that it had been raining for three weeks in a row, and that the sun “only came out to greet my return”. I was surprised, as much of my memories of Lisbon have been associated with sunny summer on the beach. “Yes, my mother said it was not at all common fifty years ago to have so much rain at this time of the year,” with a look in my eyes, my friend added: “it’s climate change, yeah?”

If I was to respond instinctively based on my scientific knowledge of climate change, I would say: “it probably is a result of climate change”, which was what I responded. We know that climate change is not merely about the excessive amount of CO2 in the atmosphere resulting in warmer temperature and “the warmest year on record…in a row”, nor just about penguins and polar bears, it is also about warmer oceans, more vibrant storms and more destructive wind speed – Harvey, Irma, Patricia… record damaging storms and superstorms on earth, sea level rise, increasing heatwave mortality, and a range of uncertainty related to extreme events, causing great costs of life and the economy. But it was obvious that the word “probably” did the opposite of facilitating the communication and clarifying the issue of climate change, on the contrary, it turned off the conversation which had an excellent context “three weeks of unusual rain”, in delicate awkwardness. The next thing we knew was that the rainy season continued for another few weeks.

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