How to communicate: A roadmap for environmental scientists

By Mackenzie Nelson

Draw a mental image of a map of the United States. Make it as detailed as possible.

Now consider your map. What does it look like? What are your landmarks? Notice the areas that are more complete—probably places you have lived or spent a lot of time in—and other areas that are less detailed—cities and states you have never been to before or seen pictures of.

On my map, California is very-well filled in. I included the Hollywood sign, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Disneyland. Most people across the United States might include these well-known landmarks as well. Did you include the University of California, Davis? What about Cannery Row in Monterey? I did. I am also willing to bet that much of what you included on your map is not on mine, and vice-versa.

This is a demonstration of our own lived experiences and how we view the world differently. The flaw of the environmental scientist is that we assume everyone sees the world the same way we do—through the lenses of our environmentally responsible eyewear. This is the problem that I would like for us to explore today: how can we be better science communicators? To help us along this journey, I have put together a road map for how to help environmental scientists better communicate…well…environmental science.


*See the Meghan McCarthy video


























For our work to survive, it is up to us to promote environmental science issues. Ideas like climate change, conservation, and sustainability can be challenging for non-environmentalists to grasp, but what we are failing to do as scientists is demonstrate why understanding and supporting these issues are important.

Furthermore, this is not a one hundred percent full-proof plan—there are countless resources to check out for more information. If you would like to read more, here is a less-than-exhaustive list that might be worth your time to check out:

The Rambunctious Garden, by Emma Marris

Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama, by Sam Leith

Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter, by Nancy Baron

The Science Writers’ Essay Handbook, by Michelle Nijhuis

The Fact Checker’s Bible: A Guide to Getting it Right, Sarah Harrison Smith


Cox, R. Pezzullo, C. (2012). Environmental communication and the public sphere. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hillier, A., Kelly, R.P., & Klinger, T. (2016). Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science. PLOS One. 11(12): e0167983. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0167983