WVU Conference Shines Light on Barriers to Climate Change Communication

Dec 3, 2018

Teachers, scientists, longtime climate change communicators and others gathered Saturday at West Virginia University’s College of Law to talk about one of the greatest threats facing the world: climate change.

The theme of the 7th National Energy Conference centered on climate change communication. Speakers and attendees acknowledged that invoking the topic can be especially challenging in West Virginia because of the state’s history with coal.

 

Tom Rodd, board member of the nonprofit conservation group Friends of Blackwater and one the organizers of the WVU conference, said it's important to recogize that West Virginia’s coal helped power the country for decades, but it has also played a large role in producing carbon pollution.

He said that’s why climate change dialogue is even more essential here.

“Our future is not going to be with those kind of energy solutions," Rodd said. "We need technological fixes so we can create energy without greenhouse gas emissions, and so it’s very important for West Virginia to be a leader.”

The conference's keynote speaker was Emily Calandrelli, producer and host of FOX’s Xploration Outer Space. The Morgantown native said she relies on empathy when talking about climate change and tries to meet people where they are.

 

“Understanding the problems and the struggles of people of West Virginia have helped me frame the concept of climate change and how we fight we fight climate change in a different way," she said.

Dylan Selterman, a lecturer with the University of Maryland's psychology department, shared some insights from his field that may move the needle on communicating climate change, especially to those who may express doubts.

 

He said framing the conversation to tap into someone's value system can close the gap. So, while presenting facts and graphs may not change minds, framing the impacts of climate change to line up with values held by conservatives such as "loyalty, purity or patriotism" could help.

 

"There are different pathways that can be used to get to the same conclusions," Selterman said.

 

Speakers also talked about barriers that exist to boosting solar power across the state and the role the natural gas industry plays in producing methane, the potent greenhouse gas.