Educating people

The scientists doing research on global warming aren't writing for a broad audience; they're writing for their peers, to further scientific knowledge. This communication is very important because it ensures that science is constantly moving forward, building on new discoveries. Unfortunately, lay-people — the public at large — don't always hear about important research. That's where NGOs come in.

NGOs take complicated technical scientific reports, which are available to the general public, and translate them into language that the average person can understand. These people working as "translators" between science and the public are very familiar with the science and also understand how to communicate it in non-science terms. Many NGOs, such as the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace, write climate change reports that take key pieces from scientific reports and make them digestible to the reader. NGOs communicate via fact sheets, brochures, and Web sites, as well as at conferences and workshops, and even in material prepared for school curricula. These organizations hope that they can present the information in a way that motivates people to act.

As a result, NGOs fret over even the most essential terms to ensure that the words have the biggest possible impact. For instance, NGOs around the world struggled over what to call this human-made climate crisis. Global warming? Climate change? Most groups opted to call the threat "climate change" because some places will actually get colder when the global average temperature increases. U.S. groups went with the more popularized "global warming," a term with more immediate impact.

When translating science to lay language, NGOs need to be careful not to distort the facts. That's why, quite often, NGOs ask scientists to review their work to make sure it remains accurate. (Similarly, some of the leading scientists in the world reviewed this book to make sure we properly presented the science!) Many of the larger international environmental groups even have scientists on staff. For example, an internationally respected scientist from the Potsdam Institute, Dr. Bill Hare, also works for Greenpeace.

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