Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Wouldn’t it be great if there were a simple recipe on how to persuade people? Well, actually, there is. It was formulated already by Aristotle in the 4th century before the common era. I’m going to give you the main content of it now. But keep in mind that this recipe is fairly abstract, so the implementation is up to you. In all communication, Aristotle writes, three types of rhetorical proofs, as he calls them, always operate– ethos, logos, and pathos. Now, logos is what we today would equate with the actual message, the factual arguments. But Aristotle’s point, though, is that arguments of fact are not received if we do not trust the source.
Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds The ethos of the speaker is actually foundational for the actual message. Who are you, and why are you telling us this? Thirdly, emotions, pathos, are always present on some level, and certainly in the debates on climate change. These should be taken into account– people’s fears, people’s hopes can either block out the message or open up for it, depending on how we present things. I think that the suggestion of Professor Moksnes that we should focus on positive narratives is important. How can we promote well-being, as he asks? Because it seems that even though we now have much more alarming information than before, logos arguments, the public is now less concerned about climate change.
Skip to 1 minute and 53 seconds And this is what Professor Moksnes calls the psychological climate paradox. Now, looking at the larger picture, the climate change narrative is competing with a multitude of other narratives, many of which all claim to be important. So this raises a question of priority. Which message should I, as a citizen or as a consumer, prioritise? It’s really difficult to know. And when it comes to demanding messages– which certain ones about climate change and sustainability are– quite a lot is needed for me to make changes in my life– in my habits, in my way of thinking, spending, and so on. And also, in the back of my head loom the fake or unimportant messages, which also claim to be important.
Skip to 2 minutes and 45 seconds How do I know that this one is the true one, the one I should really listen to? One historical major example of a failed message would be the Club of Rome, which consists of current and former heads of state, high-level politicians, and so on, who in 1972 published a report– “The Limits of Growth–” where they predicted that oil would run out in 1992. Well, now a quarter of a century later, it hasn’t run out. And I think that reports and predictions of this type are really disastrous on how the public feels that they can trust alarming predictions about the future regarding environment and so on.
Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds Many place them, actually, I think, in the same category as the end of the world predictions, like the 2012 Mayan calender fuss, where some thought the end of the world– the end of the calendar in the Mayan religion would also mean the end of the world. It didn’t, much like many other religious end of the world predictions. And then we have the Bjorn Lomborgs, the sceptical environmentalists, who with seemingly academic rigour and thoroughness tell us to cool it, that things aren’t really as bad as the scientists tell us. And for the general reader or listener, it’s really difficult to know who is right and who’s wrong.
Skip to 4 minutes and 19 seconds So the important thing here is that we prioritise messages that we trust– ethos, credibility. Now, what messages do we trust? First of all, those coming from our own surroundings, from people close to us. We’ve all become very suspicious and careful, maybe, about narratives of mass media and even social media. It’s difficult to discern what is what. But what of the data? Yes, there are a lot of climate change indicators. But as Professor Moksnes notes, these are not easy to understand, and at least not for the general public. They have to be translated into tangible and understandable examples.
Skip to 5 minutes and 11 seconds The video which some of you may have seen, or would want to see now, with James Hansen highlights some of the doomsday narratives that also Professor Moksnes notes that they simply do not work. They do not engage people. Things like Arctic ice melts, sea level rise, and super storms appear either a science fiction to the normal reader or listener, or as scare tactics, or just something that’s impossible to understand, because they are so far away of the experience that we have of what happens in the world. There is some research regarding climate change communication.
Skip to 5 minutes and 54 seconds Moser and Dilling in an article in 2011 published in the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, demonstrated that the following make little further difference when it comes to communicating climate change to the public. First, providing more and better information does not have an effect. Second, inculcating fear of the effects of climate change does not lead people to support stronger mitigation and adaptation policies. And third, asserting the authority of science and scientists does not lead to public acceptance of the scientific consensus on the severity of climate change.
Skip to 6 minutes and 35 seconds There are many parallels here to the notions of Professor Moksnes. And if you haven’t watched that video yet, please do. In an article called “Reason and Rhetoric in Climate Communication,” published in Environmental Politics in 2015, Dryzek and Lo carry on the findings of Moser and Dilling Basically, they suggest that rhetoric can move people when logic does not. They use a deliberative citizen forum situation for their demonstration– that is small groups that include participants with different attitudes toward climate change. And then they are allowed to interact in various ways. In some experiments like this– like for instance, Hobson and Niemeyer in 2012– many do not change their previously-held opinions.
Skip to 7 minutes and 31 seconds And often, the discussion ends quite badly, with people walking out in anger. Now, Dyyzek sick and Lo were a bit more successful in their experiments. And they attribute this success to the use of rhetoric, especially efficient where analogies– where climate change phenomena compared to other processes that the participants were familiar with and could relate to and could understand more easily. Now, this is just one example, and clearly more research is needed of this type before we really can understand how people are influenced about these issues. So finally, I’d like to underline the importance of audience adaptation. You’ve probably seen the video with Professor James Hansen. If you haven’t, he really presents the basics of climate change information.
Skip to 8 minutes and 28 seconds Now, his presentation is great for a student of climate change, I would say. But I also suggest that it wouldn’t work with the greater public. The content is partly too technical. Lots of information, lots of technical words that would have to be explained. And maybe even more important, the presentation is too static– academic, as it were. That doesn’t really work very well with the general public. And to illustrate what I’m getting at here, I’d like you to think of An Inconvenient Truth from a decade ago with Al Gore. In a highly successful manner, he explained to the general public what climate change is all about. His presentation is extremely clear. It’s easy to follow, and it’s also very nice.
Skip to 9 minutes and 18 seconds It’s truly taking the audience into account. And I would say that his performance is the one to emulate for climate change communicators.
Skip to 9 minutes and 30 seconds Talking about how to influence the larger public, I’d say that however great keynote lectures may be, the biggest effect is achieved in small group deliberations. Here lies the big challenge for politics in general– how to engage citizens on the grassroot levels in their own neighbourhoods, in their daily lives. Where this is achieved, change happens.
Climate change rhetoric
In what ways can a theoretical understanding of rhetorics be of use for a climate change leader? Well, maybe rhetorics can help change peoples behaviours where logic have failed. This is suggested by Mika Hietanen, associate professor in rherotics at Uppsala University. In his video, Hietanen gives an analysis of Per Espen Stoknes suggestions and connects it to what is known about other ways to communicate that usually succeed in creating change.
In his video, Hietanen concurs with Per Espen Stoknes’ message and summarises three things we have noted about climate change communication
First, providing more and better information does not have an effect. Second, inculcating fear of the effects of climate change does not lead people to support stronger mitigation and adaptation policies. And third, asserting the authority of science and scientists does not lead to public acceptance of the scientific consensus on the severity of climate change.
But Mika Hietanen also notes that a new narrative might not be enough.
Now, looking at the larger picture, the climate change narrative is competing with a multitude of other narratives, many of which all claim to be important. So this raises a question of priority. Which message should I, as a citizen or as a consumer, prioritise?
Hietanen concludes by noting that however great a speaker or a message is, real change is created in the deliberation of small groups
Here lies the big challenge for politics in general - how to engage citizens on the grassroots levels in their own neighbourhoods, in their daily lives. Where this is achieved, change happens.
Watch the video with James Hansen that Mika Hietanen is referring to here.
© Mika Hietanen, CEMUS and Uppsala University