On climate change communications, the science really isn’t settled.

Back in July, journalist David Wallace-Wells published a piece in New York magazine called “The Uninhabitable Earth,” a nightmarish guided tour of the worst-case scenarios for global warming. The piece proved incredibly popular — it is the most-read story in the magazine’s history — but it also ignited heated debate among those who think, talk, and write about climate change for a living.

The debate revolved around two distinct issues, though they were often conflated or confused.

The first has to do with the role of emotion in climate change communication — specifically, whether Wallace-Wells’s story was too scary, or too pessimistic, in a way that would only serve to demotivate or paralyze readers. The second has to do with the role of climate scientists in refereeing public climate debates — specifically, whether their authority extends to matters of tone, emphasis, and intent.

I wrote a piece on all this in July, and though the debate left me distinctly unsatisfied, I planned to drop it there. However, there’s a new commentary in Nature Climate Change that addresses the first issue (and can thereby help illuminate the second), so I’m going to try one last time for some clarity on this.

To make a long story short: We don’t know much of anything about how messages affect people, so everybody’s better off just doing the best they can.

The paper is pretty short; let’s take a quick look.

135 years of climate changeNCAR

Emotions in climate communications: it’s complicated

The Nature Climate Change article is called “Reassessing emotion in climate change communication,” and it’s by Daniel Chapman, Brian Lickel, and Ezra Markowitz, psychological and environmental researchers at University of Michigan Amherst. Their basic Read More Here