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Being true to the science while true to one’s self: how by stepping away from scientific restraint, we can meet people—including ourselves–where they are
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  • Kristina Dahl,
  • Erika Spanger-Siegfried,
  • Astrid Caldas,
  • Rachel Licker
Kristina Dahl
Union of Concerned Scientists Berkeley

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Erika Spanger-Siegfried
Union of Concerned Scientists Washington DC
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Astrid Caldas
Union of Concerned Scientists Washington DC
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Rachel Licker
Union of Concerned Scientists
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For more than 20 years, the work of academic climate scientists and those at groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists has been to analyze, synthesize, and convey the projected and, in recent years, current impacts of climate change. In the earlier years, these impacts were still largely imperceptible and pathways for solving the problem seemed wide and flexible. A key objective of climate science communication during those years was to establish the legitimacy of our work, which faced tremendous public and policy maker scrutiny, as a simultaneous barrage of well-coordinated disinformation had led to unusual skepticism of the science. Now we are clearly seeing the impacts of one degree Celsius of warming, the current and projected climate impacts themselves have grown, and the solutions pathways have become narrow and steep. While the climate context has changed for the worse over those 20 years, scientists have largely soldiered on with the same reticent communication. Visible climate change impacts and alarming projections for future change have far outpaced the growth in experts’ ability to reach people and inspire them to act with urgency. At UCS, we have consciously and deliberately begun to change the tenor of our climate communications in response to the increasingly dire results our own analyses have generated and against a backdrop of accumulating and similarly dire science. In our most recent work on extreme heat, particularly in introducing and concluding our results, we have embraced starkly visceral and impassioned language because, as scientists, we see how dangerous the future looks, how serious this moment is in the arc of climate change, and our own moral obligation to communicate it. In this presentation, we will examine the communications space our climate scientists at UCS—as well as those at other institutions—have leaned into. As sentient humans who see an emergency measured not just by data points in charts and graphs but by the faces of those whose homes have flooded, whose loved ones have lost their lives during heat waves, or whose livelihoods are no longer viable, we can’t “tell it like it is” without letting go of reticence and objectivity. The words we choose may be perceived as dangerous, but they are not as dangerous as the world we are ushering in. The house is objectively on fire. It’s time to shout.