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Academics are Speaking Up: How to Make Climate Change Accessible for Everyone

By Sharon Chen
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When it comes to an issue as complex as climate change, academics, researchers, and scientists have been careful to avoid the "alarmist" label. There exists the belief that speaking more urgently about the severity of the issue won't increase public interest. As Northeastern professor Matthew Nisbet puts it, "In some ways, if sci­en­tists do choose to be more urgent, more vocal, and poten­tially more polit­ical, there is a pos­si­bility of the mes­sage back­firing and under­cut­ting public faith in the actual sci­ence." 

Instead, scientists and academics are offering refreshing, practical ways to communicate and raise awareness about climate change. In order to get the general public more interested in climate change, it is better to focus on a broad array of solutions that cannot be pigeonholed into a political agenda, such as clean energy innovations; more equitable, sustainable economies; and high tech farming practices. 

Additionally, Northeastern professor Brian Helmuth urges a local approach to making climate change progress. Helmuth and Nisbet both agree that the local level is where real change needs to start: "instead of one-​​way com­mu­ni­ca­tion by engaging the public through the press, sci­en­tists [need to] invest in local forums and ini­tia­tives where rel­e­vant groups come together to dis­cuss a problem and con­sider solutions,”said Nisbet. “The public needs to have an active role in the decision-​​making and solu­tion process.”

These observations and suggestions are important to keep in mind as universities and colleges work to build awareness of climate change. With their extensive contacts, scientific and sociological resources, and student bodies that are increasingly dedicated to the climate change cause, college campuses are uniquely poised to build coalitions, form local partnerships, and drive solutions. 

Climate Change Forces Scientists to Speak Up

Joe O'Connell | | August 13, 2015

A decade ago, when­ever the topic of cli­mate change would come up, Northeastern’s Brian Hel­muth would focus solely on the sci­en­tific facts while delib­er­ately ignoring the poten­tial long-​​term soci­etal implications.

It’s the way that Hel­muth, whose research cen­ters on cli­mate change’s impact on coastal ecosys­tems, was trained. But, he recalled, “It was so dry. No one would ever listen and it didn’t enact any change.”

Now—as those pre­vi­ously hush-​​hush impacts of cli­mate change become more and more obvious—Helmuth has adopted a dif­ferent tone.

“Since my kids are going to inherit this planet, I decided that I have to talk about the impli­ca­tions and not just the sci­en­tific facts,” said Hel­muth, a pro­fessor of envi­ron­mental sci­ence and public policy with joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Sci­ence and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. “I am careful that if I say some­thing is true, I make sure it can be backed up by sci­ence. But I’m not afraid now to also say ‘Here is what is going to happen if we don’t act on that information.’”

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