TIWIDM: I Make Climate Change Research More Accessible to the Public

My mum and dad live in a small town largely centred around a strong farming community. They keep cattle, goats, and the occasional chicken that’s too swift for the blade. There is a river that runs through the byre and, for as long as I can remember, it’s been a waterhole for all the livestock in the community. In the past few years, however, the river has been as dry as a bad joke in the summer. Our home province has been experiencing droughts, gathering below-average rainfall since 2012. The last time I was home, I observed to my mum the dry river, and without skipping a beat, she said “that coal mine across town is polluting the air and contributing to global warming. Look, now everything is dying”.

My mum is not a science researcher, but she is a woman of nature and she keeps herself abreast of things affecting her environment. However, her awareness and interest in environmental matters is not shared by all worldover. Instead, science journals are replete with articles highlighting how people, particularly in the United States, distrust information highlighting the actuality of climate change.  A study completed by researchers from Yale and George Mason indicated that in 2011, only 64% of the US population believed that the warming of the earth was occuring, a decrease from the 71% who reported they believe in global warming in 2008. Of all the people surveyed, in 2011, less than half believed that the warming of the planet was induced by human actions.

These kinds of statistics leave one confused about why there is so much disbelief around climate change, when scientists are unequivocal about its existence. Researchers Sommerville and Hasol wrote a paper in 2011 that lists potential reasons for this mistrust and misunderstanding of scientific data. For one, in the United States, belief in climate change is associated with the strength of the economy. Under economic strain people are less likely to accept climate change information as being true, this likely due to the fact that climate change policies restrict how the environment can be exploited for monetary gain. Furthermore, companies with boards that stand to profit from the exploitation of the environment often highly fund politicians and public relations campaigns aimed at sewing doubt in the reliability of climate change information and it communicators. It most certainly does not help that scientists often struggle when trying to make their research more relatable to the public, adding to the misinformation and misunderstanding.

Episode 1 of TIWIDM, aims to speak back to this miscommunication of climate-related research. It features Lehigh University graduate student Chung-Yi Lin, whose research involves finding strategies to bridge the communication of climate change data from scientists to the government and the public. You can hear all about his past and present research in Episode 1, where he is explaining his work as if he were telling it to his mum.