“Climate Change Broke Out Today”

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Oceans rise gradually; the climate changes imperceptibly. News, on the other hand, is action—event, explosion, transformation. As New York Times science journalist Andrew Revkin put it: “You will never see a headline that says ‘Climate change broke out today.’”

So how do we make climate change—and science—headline-worthy without sensationalizing or simplifying nuanced issues? Dedicated science journalists, like Revkin, a pioneer in climate change communication, write well-researched and balanced stories, stories that focus on small narratives and human moments within the large, multi-faceted topic. But those stories often get buried by “news” and, increasingly, venues such as the New York Times and The Economist are not how young people—including myself—engage with new information. Indeed, in 2009, Andrew Revkin left the New York Times and now writes about climate change on his blog, Dot Earth, a platform that has allowed him to focus on innovative ways to tell the “news stories” of climate change that are enabled by the changing face of media.

So what are the appropriate new venues for telling stories? Via Tweet? On YouTube? I recently discovered this video, created by journalism students at NYU’s The Explainer, about fracking:

The song is catchy, the graphics are interesting—and it gives a basic overview of a timely and important issue for those who might skip over a New York Times story about this controversial issue. It engages—but is it accurate? The video certainly boils a very complex subject with still unresolved science into a series of sound bites, and offers more judgment than perhaps an unbiased assessment should—but, it engages. At the end of the day, which is more effective: A comprehensive, accurate, nuanced article in a newspaper or journal that reaches 30,000 readers, or a catchy YouTube clip—about science!—that goes viral and reaches 250,000 viewers?

I’m not sure I know. What I hope is that a video like this might pique interest—which would then be followed up by a more comprehensive study.

Do you think using YouTube and Twitter to communicate climate change trivializes the science, or does it make it more accessible? Is a reduction in complexity an acceptable tradeoff for engaging new participants in the conversation?

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