Local climate scientists try to jumpstart communication

Yale University PCC survey data showing American’s general alignment with each of the “Six Americas”, with categories ranging from most to least concerned about climate change and global warming. (Joe Rull, News Port)

By Sevía Gonzales and Joe Rull 


Scientists have begun new efforts to foster an open, bipartisan discussion on climate change. Their goal is to get those outside the science fields involved in climate action.

“I think scientists should have a role in helping nonscientists become scientifically literate so that they can then start doing this communication,” University of New Mexico adjunct professor Mark Boslough said. “There’s a lot more nonscientists than there are scientists.”  

Current social scientific work suggests that overcoming the resistance to talk about climate change by connecting on common personal values can play a pivotal role in promoting scientific literacy, which bolsters public awareness and effective responses to climate change. 

A panel of UNM scientists discussed this movement at a public panel discussion hosted at the Free Range Events Center in Albuquerque last weekend. 

Free and open to the public, the forum gave locals a chance to discuss ways of more effectively communicating the science of climate change in order to spread climate awareness in a nonpolitical manner.

Boslough was joined by UNM Earth and Planetary Science Ph.D. students Jordan Wostbrock and Spencer Staley to put on the forum, which used Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communications as a framework.  

Founded in 2005, Yale’s ongoing program uses nationwide surveys to gather data regarding  the attitudes and belief systems affecting climate change science acceptance in the United States. The program identifies six categories ranging from “dismissive” to “alarmed” referred to as the “Six Americas” which serve to illustrate the public’s primary responses to the climate crisis. 

Yale University PCC survey data showing American’s general alignment with each of the “Six Americas”, with categories ranging from most to least concerned about climate change and global warming. (Joe Rull, News Port)

The “Six Americas” approach uses social scientific research to codify the tactics most effective in communicating climate change science to individuals in each of the six categories. According to the program’s website, this recognizes that “people are different and have different psychological, cultural, and political reasons for acting – or not acting– to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

At the forum, Boslough explained how he uses the “Six Americas” approach as a tool for creating a discourse between people with varying climate opinions. Rather than relying on scientific data as proof, he suggested that the “Six Americas” should be used to cater discussions to specific segments of the spectrum by appealing to common values and empathy. 

Boslough’s approach to climate discussion is apolitical and attempts to level with people based on what they care about most. 

“Hunters who tend to be more politically conservative than non-hunters, for example, we need to talk about habitat loss — if they want to continue doing what they like to do they should be concerned about climate change,” Boslough said. 

After earning his bachelor’s degree in physics at Colorado State University, which he followed by a masters and Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology, Boslough spent over three decades as a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories. Though he specializes in planetary impacts and global catastrophes, he says he is very interested in climate change and scientific literacy education. 

“That’s more my goal than anything else — to get people to talk about [climate change] in a very open-minded way without getting mad at eachother,” Boslough said.

Boslough is currently leading UNM’s “Climate Literacy Toolkit” course, which he says teaches students various approaches for communicating climate science in ways that foster meaningful conversation, education and action, something he believes traditional education frameworks largely neglect. 

Only about one in four adults in the United States, claim that they hear people they know personally talk about climate change one or more times per month, according to a Yale University study released in December 2018. On top of this, about one in five American adults say they never hear people they know talk about global warming.

Scientists at the forum emphasized the importance of informing the American public about climate change communication in order to start a necessary discourse. 

“We are small, but we have a very large global presence,” Ph.D. student Jordan Wostbrock said. “The world is waiting for America to catch up with it… I think in some regard, focusing on America is very important to bring it up to have us be on the global stage to drive [climate activism] forward.” 

Boslough noted that finding common ground with climate change doubters is crucial for building trust and scientific literacy. 

“We need to find people that have a lot in common with us and then they’re going to trust us to give them correct information—more than they would someone who has little or nothing in common with them,” Boslough said.


Joe Rull is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter at @rulljoe or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.

Sevía Gonzales is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Twitter @GonzalesSevia or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.