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Getting to net-zero: the power of storytelling

We’ve been doing it wrong for years

COP 26 had just started as I wrote this article through the night. I feel hopeful because there is a greater awareness and commitment than ever before, yet I can’t help thinking about all the years we have wasted.

All the years scientists warned us that actions had to be taken.

All the years we looked away.

Yet climate scientists were already clear back then.

How much time have we wasted?

What if there had been better communication between scientists and society back then? Where would we be now if the energy transition and circular economy had been considered decades ago?

It is not too late to take action, but now more than ever, it’s urgent we act.

The science is clear. And if you are reading this article, it’s likely that you are well-aware of climate change is real and how much work we have to do. What you may not have realized, is how much work we have to do to communicate about it. Especially, to communicate about it efficiently.

One of the main issues scientists ran into when trying to convince someone is giving them more information as scientists are convinced the public will finally understand if they are given more data and facts. Within scientists, providing more data and more evidence is usually how they convince each other of their theories. Thus, it makes sense for scientists to supply more and more information, hoping that their point will come across in the end.

But that’s not how humans work! We like stories, we enjoy relationships, and we want to be understood.

Youth workshop at the Redpath Museum in 2019 where we used an analogy with photosynthesis to explain how solar panels work. Participants made their own solar cell using berries as a photoactive material. Credit: Rosemary Warner

Having scientists throwing big numbers, long scientific names and never-ending references — just to see them bounce back rather than stick with people — creates a vicious circle. Scientists and the public are likely to drift apart feeling misunderstood, upset and frustrated when in a position of such one-way discussion.

How many years have been spent listening to scientists but never really understood what they meant?

How many years scientists have spent yelling into the void because their communication techniques were inefficient?

Moving forward toward 2050 with science as an ally

To reach net-zero by 2050, we need to ensure that scientists and the public entertain better relationships, so we can tackle society’s main challenges together. Trust and dialogue between scientists and the public have fallen short over the last years, but there are growing efforts from scientists and citizens to better communicate about the climate emergency. Hopefully the golden ticket out of the pandemic brought by vaccines, hence science and scientists, will brush up the public perception of science!

Next time you feel frustrated that people don’t act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — even though scientists have been warning us for years that climate change is real and human-caused — remind yourself that people don’t lack knowledge, they lack a relationship with science.

March for Science 2018 in Montréal. Credit and details by Evidence for Democracy. I had the chance to give the opening remarks and be interview by CBC back then.

Just by being human and talking about why it matters so much to you personally and why you are worried about the planet’s future, you may open up a fruitful and rewarding dialogue about one of the grand challenges we face.

What if you were the person who could convince someone to take part in protecting the environment simply by sharing your worries? What if you would save us from years of inaction by raising awareness through storytelling?


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