In its apocalyptic scale and emotionally charged urgency, climate change is like no other issue in science communication. Climate scientists hold knowledge about the fate of life on earth. And those who have studied the science in detail and written books must sometimes have been overwhelmed. For example, in writing ‘the future of biodiversity and civilisation hangs on our actions’ (Tim Flannery 2005), and ‘there is almost no time left to act’ (James Lovelock 2006), scientists are revealing the unbearable reality that lies in the unemotional graphs and statistics that are the tools of their trade.

Apart from the unacknowledged emotional burden the scientists bear for humanity, an honest emotional response to the significance of their assessments is rarely publicly discussed and hardly ever mentioned in communications from political and business circles. In relation to climate change, it is difficult to find examples of the axiom that communicators must ‘talk with’ rather than ‘talk to’ people about science, although this has been a well-accepted conclusion of the UK Government’s report on Science and Society, and the White Paper on science innovation policy for the 21st century, which stated:
‘... science is too important to be left only to scientists. … When science raises profound ethical and social issues, the whole of society needs to take part in the debate.’

The likelihood that artistic vehicles would help carry emotion and unblock the way towards emotionally mature, wise actions by policy makers has been explored in poetry, music and drama by the Canberra group A Chorus of Women in many presentations since 2007. These original presentations have drawn on the work of the Australian poet and environmentalist Judith Wright, Australian sculptor Tom Bass and the Greek playwright Aeschylus (480 BC).

This paper describes the philosophical, artistic and emotional underpinning of two of these presentations, and provides insights from the facilitated discussions between scientists and nonscientists that have followed the performances.

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PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Art and science
A powerful partnership for climate change communication

Janet Salisbury   Biotext, Science Information Consultants

Glenda Cloughley   The Change Agency

In its apocalyptic scale and emotionally charged urgency, climate change is like no other issue in science communication. Climate scientists hold knowledge about the fate of life on earth. And those who have studied the science in detail and written books must sometimes have been overwhelmed. For example, in writing ‘the future of biodiversity and civilisation hangs on our actions’ (Tim Flannery 2005), and ‘there is almost no time left to act’ (James Lovelock 2006), scientists are revealing the unbearable reality that lies in the unemotional graphs and statistics that are the tools of their trade.

Apart from the unacknowledged emotional burden the scientists bear for humanity, an honest emotional response to the significance of their assessments is rarely publicly discussed and hardly ever mentioned in communications from political and business circles. In relation to climate change, it is difficult to find examples of the axiom that communicators must ‘talk with’ rather than ‘talk to’ people about science, although this has been a well-accepted conclusion of the UK Government’s report on Science and Society, and the White Paper on science innovation policy for the 21st century, which stated:
‘... science is too important to be left only to scientists. … When science raises profound ethical and social issues, the whole of society needs to take part in the debate.’

The likelihood that artistic vehicles would help carry emotion and unblock the way towards emotionally mature, wise actions by policy makers has been explored in poetry, music and drama by the Canberra group A Chorus of Women in many presentations since 2007. These original presentations have drawn on the work of the Australian poet and environmentalist Judith Wright, Australian sculptor Tom Bass and the Greek playwright Aeschylus (480 BC).

This paper describes the philosophical, artistic and emotional underpinning of two of these presentations, and provides insights from the facilitated discussions between scientists and nonscientists that have followed the performances.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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