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Met Éireann staff advised not to talk 'despair' over climate change and to use positive language

An internal communique says using words like “inevitable” could create a feeling that nothing can be done.

Crowds of people enjoying the sunny weather on the beach in Sandycove, Dublin in July 2018
Crowds of people enjoying the sunny weather on the beach in Sandycove, Dublin in July 2018
Image: RollingNews.ie

STAFF FROM MET Éireann have been advised not to talk “despair” over climate change and use positive language to show people they can make a difference.

An internal communique says using words like “inevitable” could create a feeling that nothing can be done and lead to “inaction” from the public.

The advice is contained in a brand new set of guidelines for Met Éireann staff that issued in January and which was released under FOI.

It suggests: “We can discuss the choice we face between a future with more climate change and larger increases in extreme weather, and one with less. The future is in our hands.”

Met Éireann said the new advice came in response to increased queries about weather and the human influence in climate change.

It suggested using metaphors like “the weather on steroids” or how global warming was “stacking the deck” towards more and more extreme weather events.

The advisory said a member of staff could say something like: “Heat-trapping gases act like steroids in the climate system, increasing the odds of extreme heat, heavy downpours, and some other types of extreme events.”

They said this would communicate that while extreme events do occur naturally, they were now happening more frequently and more intensely.

It explained how staff could also say that global warming was “loading the dice towards more rolls of extreme events”.

The document explained how a large number of studies showed that “human induced global warming” had increased the likelihood of extreme weather events across the planet.

They said that if Ireland experiences a drought or heatwave, as happened last summer, it was correct to point to the increase of such events due to human activities.

It said: “The answer to the question ‘Is this event due to climate change?’ can be framed as ‘events of this type have been made more likely by climate change’.”

Severe weather events

They also said it was no longer appropriate to say that a severe weather event was categorically not linked to climate change.

Instead, staff were advised to say these things were “more than likely part of the trend of increasing extreme events”.

The guidance also said to talk about what was known and be careful of talking about “uncertainties” and “caveats”.

One suggestion was to say something like: “Global warming made this heat wave at least four times more likely to occur, or increased the odds of this event by 400%.”

It said it was important to be clear that climate change was “happening now, and is human-caused” even if there was no certainty over blaming it for a particular event.

The guidance also suggested they “reframe poorly posed questions”.

It explained: “Scientists being interviewed are often asked, ‘Did climate change cause this event?’ Reasons for asking such a question can relate to liability, context, planning and more.

“However, it remains a poorly posed question, with no simple yes or no answer, due to the multiple factors involved in all events.”

Staff were advised to turn these questions on their head and identify particular events that were very unlikely to have happened in the absence of human-caused climate change.

Met Éireann workers were also cautioned about using certain scientific terminology that might mean one thing professionally and another to the general public.

It said the word “uncertainty” had a particular meaning for scientists to discuss a range of scenarios or model results.

However, for the public, “’uncertainty’ means we just don’t know” and it would be better to talk about ranges of outcomes instead.

Scientists also sometimes use the phrase “low confidence” for data or modelling but that it didn’t mean there was no trend or projected change as the public might assume.

A statement from Met Éireann said: ‘Staff [here] receive a lot of queries from the media in relation to the weather and climate change.

“This communication was issued to help them effectively communicate the role of climate change in influencing a weather event.”

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About the author:

Ken Foxe  / Journalist lecturer and freelance reporter

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