Inconvenient timing: Selling the climate change story after climategate

May 19, 2010

While last autumn’s climategate scandal has not completely decimated the public’s belief in global warming, campaigners and scientists need to reach out to unconventional audiences and getter better at communicating the facts if they want to tell – and sell – the climate change story.

That was the consensus at last night’s Frontline Club discussion on climate change, featuring panelists Kelly Rigg, executive director of the Global Campaign for Climate Action; Richard Black, environment correspondent for the BBC News website and author of BBC Earth Watch and James Randerson, editor of environmentguardian.co.uk. The panel was moderated by Julian Rush, Channel 4 News’ science correspondent.

If you couldn’t be with us for this event, you can watch the whole thing here:

Randerson said that although people might be a little more sceptical about climate change, this is largely due to the recent bitter winter and not climategate.

He added that the scandal couldn’t have been less convenient for the Guardian’s environment desk and other journalsts:

All of our environmental resources were pointing at Copenhagen, so climategate was a distraction that was quite difficult to deal with. Further, the PR was dire from the University of East Anglia, so nobody was offering the scientists’ side of the story. On top of it, when the story broke on Friday, the lawyers wouldn’t allow journalists to quote from the emails due to libel laws.

Randerson claimed that climategate has made 16 percent of people believe even <i>more</i> in climate change.

Rigg cited an American study that found that 53 percent of people who heard about climategate did not alter their views. "In America, where only 40 percent of people believe in evolution, having 75 percent of people believing in global warming is actually a big deal," Rigg said.

Rigg added, though, that in order for the climate change lobby to be successful, it needs to reach out to the viewers of Fox News and readers of the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express.

Hear what Rigg said about climate campaigners’ need to understand a variety of readerships:

Listen!

To help tell the climate story more accurately, above all, scientists need to understand that they operate in a 21st century communications-heavy world, said Richard Black:

The research community was completely unprepared for all facets of climategate.  There was a culture of witholding information that showed that scientists haven’t reacted to the new world of freedom of information.

Here’s a selection of tweets from the night: