What is your main discipline or field and what unique perspective does it bring to the issue of climate change and health?
I started out in the field of social sciences, trying to understand how words reflect social contexts, and eventually found myself in the area of global health communications. Though scientists have been warning us about anthropogenic climate change for several decades now, we continue to struggle to get the message across: the climate crisis is here, we do not have Planet B, and we are already starting to experience the health impacts of this threat. This is where storytellers can come in.
Whether we are speaking to policymakers, students, or climate deniers, we need to adapt our stories to resonate with the audience and nudge them toward action. To meet this goal, I have helped develop CATALYSE’s communication strategy and am currently hoping to help the researchers embrace social media as a legitimate platform to share their work and reach wider audiences.
What motivates you to communicate about climate change?
First, I am from Assam in northeast India, a region particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The Brahmaputra, one of the largest rivers in the region washes away lives, homes, and agricultural land every year during the rainy season. So, I have always been sensitive about the impact of the climate crisis on people’s lives.
Second, there is an element of responsibility and what each one of us can do to contribute to climate action, considering the urgency. Be it voting for politicians that pledge more ambitious climate action in their campaigns, or helping scientists communicate their climate change and health findings, we all need to find ways to get involved.
Third, I have extensive experience with science communication in the area of vector-borne diseases like malaria. Climate change induced temperature increases and changing rainfall patterns will lead to large health costs related to increases in several vector-borne diseases.
In your opinion, what is the key to successful communication around climate change? What are common mistakes?
Successful communication around climate change would mean that the world finally wakes up, takes account of the climate crisis, and disrupts business as usual. Until we get there, communicators around the world are experimenting with a cocktail of approaches and it is quite a balancing act. We have tried scare tactics, but those have proven to be quite unsuccessful. We have also put on our optimistic glasses and told stories of hope and resilience.
Facts and numbers are extremely important but they do not always resonate with people. We need to appeal to people’s emotions, imaginations, and agency. This includes showing the world of possibilities to get involved in the movement: case studies of climate-positive policies, examples of all the diseases we can prevent by prioritizing climate action, and illustrations of the kind of cities we could have. In short, we need to offer solutions.
What is one piece of advice you would give to climate change researchers regarding effective communication/translation of climate change information?
I would encourage climate change researchers to embrace storytelling. There is still a huge percentage of the world who do not have access to journal articles and scientific reports. It is our shared responsibility to break access barriers to scientific knowledge and I am not talking about open-access journals. Blog posts, art installations, and films are impactful media that can aid the process of bringing your science closer to decision-makers and the general public.
The findings from CATALYSE’s Work Package 4 on ‘knowledge translation to catalyse transformative change’ will hopefully also bring forward some insightful discussions on this topic.