Phoenix, Arizona, in the U.S. desert southwest, faces potentially life-or-death challenges from rising heat and deepening drought as the climate changes. But getting her audience to hear that message was a persistent challenge for Amber Sullins, chief meteorologist at the city’s ABC News outlet. So she changed her language.
“When I first started doing this,” Sullins told Bloomberg in a five-minute video, “I said the words ‘climate change’ a lot.” In response, she got angry viewer emails telling her to cut out her “political BS” and “opinion on climate change.”
“When I would say the words, ‘climate change’, ‘global warming’, it would be a trigger for at least half my audience to just tune out and not listen to the science any more.”
At the same time, as the scientifically-trained meteorologist watched temperature records fall in the Arizona city, she concluded that “it’s just too hot to ignore. We can’t ignore these trends and pretend like they’re not happening.”
So Sullins did something counterintuitive: she stopped talking about climate change and global warming. Instead, she focused on what’s in front of her audience or already here, stories like how “spring is Arizona’s fastest-warming season,” up 4ºF from 1970, or how changing rainfall patterns could mess up the world’s supplies of chocolate and champagne.
“We don’t have to say ‘climate change’, ‘global warming’, any of those things,” Sullins concluded. “You remove those words, and you just talk about how [people] are going to be affected as things change. That’s the secret weapon. That’s how you get people to care.”