To get conservative climate contrarians to really listen, try speaking their language

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People will listen more when they like what they’re hearing.

Jamie Freestone, The University of Queensland

It’s a well-studied fact that facts don’t speak for themselves. This is especially apparent with climate change. Some brilliant studies in the past ten years have shown that people respond to narratives about climate change, not raw facts.

We also know that politics, not scientific knowledge, shapes people’s view of climate change. Hence deniers are generally politically conservative, regardless of scientific literacy. That means a climate change narrative that appeals to conservative values is a high priority.

The effects of climate change are potentially catastrophic. Currently, a minority of conservative contrarians, including politicians in several countries, have an outsized influence on our lack of action. It makes sense that a big chunk of our campaigning efforts should be targeted at them.

But how many climate change campaigns are specifically targeted at people with a conservative worldview? Given what we know from the research, the answer is roughly none. Environmentalists, policy wonks and Brian Cox continue to preach to the choir. Yet more facts, lucidly explained, will actually make people double down on their pre-existing positions.

Read more:
Facts won’t beat the climate deniers – using their tactics will

Climate change holdouts are not necessarily ill-informed. But they naturally – like everyone else – do not welcome information that conflicts with their worldview. Conservatives are likely to disregard or filter out information that threatens economic growth, standards of living, and business interests.

They’re also likely to be unmoved by messages that emphasise the impact of climate change on the world’s poor. Especially ineffective are morally tinged narratives about how climate change is humanity’s fault and that we’re getting our comeuppance.

It doesn’t matter how accurate any of these narratives are; they won’t work with someone who isn’t open to them. Instead, we need to tailor new climate change narratives that appeal specifically to people with a conservative worldview.

Importantly, although politically targeted, these narratives don’t compromise or warp the science of climate change in any way. They simply emphasise different effects.

What might these narratives look like?

The first suggestion is that carbon dioxide emissions could be explained as a disruption to the status quo (of the climate), and thus at odds with conservative values. Climate change is a radical, anarchic experiment with the world’s atmosphere and vital systems.

So, rather than going on with “business as usual”, the sensible thing to do is to stop conducting a foolhardy all-in bet with the world’s water and air. A risk-averse, sane, conservative person should want to adopt the precautionary principle and suspend further greenhouse emissions.

Conservatives are more likely to respond to positive messages that emphasise agency rather than doom and gloom. Promoting geoengineering or market-based solutions like a carbon tax is a good idea. Even if your own political identity is opposed to these specific solutions, it’s at least worth using them to win conservatives round to the idea that climate change is real.

Third, climate change can be framed as a matter of impurity rather than harm. Harm to marginalised people and the environment is how many liberal-minded people conceive of climate change. But conservatives think more in terms of purity or sanctity. No worries. The effects of climate change can be no less accurately framed as being a violation of the purity or sanctity of the planet. Instead of harm to ecosystems, it’s a contamination of God’s green Earth.

Finally, we come to a difficult but potentially powerful narrative. It involves turning big industries in general against parts of the energy industry in particular. The more severe effects of climate change threaten the interests of everyone, including those of most large corporations.

We need to compose a narrative about the biggest emitters among fossil fuel companies not pulling their weight, and spoiling things for other industries. It might mobilise traditionally conservative business interests to support action on climate change.

Read more:
A brief history of fossil-fuelled climate denial

Whatever narratives we use, we need to test them to make sure that they are effective.

Selling the truth

For some, even the word “narrative” carries connotations of marketing spin, PR, propaganda, or lies. The bitter joke is that as science communicators, armed with mountains of facts, real stakes and endorsements from the best-looking celebrities, we have nonetheless failed to sell the truth.

But it’s not spin if it’s true. All I’m advocating is that we package the facts in a way that will appeal to an audience that has so far remained unmoved. It’s a matter of strategy.

Fossil fuel companies have savvy communications strategies and obvious material incentives to lie. They have donated millions of dollars to climate denial.

We don’t have to lie about climate change. It’s sadly all too real.

The ConversationIt’s time to play smart and win by engaging conservatives. Climate change shouldn’t be a political issue. But combating it has to take people’s political identities into account. Ignoring this fact is almost as naïve as believing that humans are not changing the climate.

Jamie Freestone, PhD student in literature, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

World-first continental acoustic observatory will listen to the sounds of Australia

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Solar-powered arrays can be left in remote locations, recording high-quality audio for years.

David M Watson, Charles Sturt University

To me, the sound of a healthy wetland is like a symphony: crickets, frogs and splashing waterbirds; the dawn chorus with occasional jets flying overhead; even the odd donkey.

But add cane toads to the mix and it becomes a monotone dirge – the trilling, birdlike call of the toads and nothing else.

Healthy wetlands are a symphony of animals and sounds.
Australian Acoustic Observatory/David Watson, Author provided799 KB (download)

Once cane toads colonise an area, their cries drown out everything else.
Acoustic Observatory/David Watson, Author provided2.99 MB (download)

The significance of sound in ecosystems is what prompted my colleagues and me to develop a world-first acoustic observatory, made up of 400 permanent sensors embedded across the entire continent.

Three test sites, in inland woodlands, wetlands in Northern Australia, and subtropical forest remnants, have illustrated how we can use sound to track the movement of invasive species, the impact of climate change, and the health of remote ecosytems.

Now, with the support of five universities and a grant from the Australian Research Council, we are working to install acoustic sensors in ecosystems across Australia. By mid-2018 the full array will be in place. And once we begin recording, every minute will be made available to everybody online.

How it works

While audio has been used around the world in ecological research, Australia is the perfect candidate for a continent-wide recording array. We have many excellent ecologists and computer scientists concentrated in a small number of places, within a vast and sparsely populated country.

The difficulty of regularly visiting many parts of the nation, combined with the growth in digital technology and storage, means it is now feasible to leave recording devices in place for weeks – or in our case, years.

By the middle of 2018, 400 sensors will be installed across Australia.
David Watson, Author provided

Each array is built around a steel pole concreted into the ground. At the top is a solar panel, about the size of an A2 sheet of paper, which is connected to a battery to keep the digital recorder powered through overcast days.

We don’t yet have the ability to upload the data remotely (largely because of Australia’s lack of internet bandwidth), so for now we need to visit each array every six months or so to swap out the SD cards.

Once the data are collected, it will all be uploaded to the internet and made available for free. One of our hopes is that anyone with an interest in nature, from school teachers to artists and more people besides, will engage with this project.

Visualising time

One of the strengths of this project is our ability to use sound to picture time. We can prepare fascinating visualisations that contain months’ worth of data in a single image.

Some of the effects we’re measuring, such as the impact of cane toads and other invasive species, have very obvious acoustic signatures. They are dramatic to hear, but even more striking to see in a sonograph (essentially a graph of sound).

A 24 hour recording rendered as a false-colour spectrogram. Different sound signatures are assigned colours, making patterns over time visible.
Michael Towsey, Anthony Truskinger, and Paul Roe

We’ve pioneered the use of false-colour spectrograms to visualise long duration recordings. These make clear the flattening effect of invasive species, or the long-term subtle shifts caused by climate change.

The other major advantage of our remote arrays is that animals aren’t disturbed by humans frequently coming and going, which allows us to collect interesting and sometimes surprising data.

Read more: We made an app to identify bird sounds – and learned something surprising about people

Emus, for example, are attracted to shiny things – so a big shiny thing in the desert will catch their attention. And if you’ve heard them, you know they also have a pretty strange call, like a deep rolling boom.

When a big mob of 30 or so birds come across an array you can definitely hear it. From a nice quiet desert dune, with gusts of wind and small birds chirping, you’ll hear a little “oo-oo-oo”. And then there’s another, and another – and then it’s like a football crowd, with all of them investigating the array, pushing it around and mucking about with each other.

The ConversationThese continuous recordings of distinctly Australian soundscapes are surprisingly evocative. Ultimately, this acoustic observatory will not just allow environmental scientists to take the pulse of Australia’s ecosystem – it will also represent the most avant-garde radio imaginable, with 400 stations playing their own unique mix.

David M Watson, Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.