GeoNet, the fusion-funded interdisciplinary seminar project, held our first lunchtime session ‘A conversation about climate change’ recently. We were really pleased to see the Coyne so packed out (come early next time to be sure of getting a cookie!) with a wide range of students, PGRs and staff from across the university. Short talks to introduce the panel members (covering both the impacts of climate change and how these are communicated) were followed by a very interesting discussion. We considered how terms are often used out of context or incorrectly (for example the ‘Anthropocene’ in the geological sense of the word would be classified after the fact). It was also interesting for me personally to discover why there is often false balance in the media when climate change is discussed – the reporters have to use a political template (because climate change is a politicised subject) and this template calls for equal representation of the views of all sides. Of course this results in a poor representation of the state of scientific knowledge.
We also discussed the right of non-scientists to enter the debate – this is based on a democratic right to have an opinion but not necessarily on knowledge. The cult of celebrity was an interesting topic, not something that I expected to be discussing in the context of climate change, but perhaps we need more celebrities to support David Attenborough in representing environmental change. Leading on from this, we discussed whether scientists should have more media coverage. Whilst this might seem an obvious way of increasing public knowledge, it could backfire because scientists have a general lack of media training, lack of experience in delivering ‘soundbites’ and have to acknowledge uncertainty, which can negatively affect the public perception of them as experts. We decided that social media might be the answer, as it is not bound by the politicised template and can provide a platform for scientists to talk about their findings, as well as allowing discussions to enable understanding of what uncertainty actually means.