Climate change & local TV: Meteorologist Amber Sullins shares her tips
By Flannery Winchester
Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an online meeting featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change and our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. Check out recaps of past speakers here.
Amber Sullins, the guest speaker for CCL’s April 2018 call, opened her presentation the way any meteorologist worth her salt would do—with a quick check-in about the weather. “I’m coming to you today from sunny Phoenix. It’s gorgeous here, and it’s 85 for our high today.” That’s normal for Phoenix, she said, but a few days before, it had been much hotter. “We just came off a week where we hit our first triple digit day.”
Reporting the weather since 2005, Amber has seen her share of climate change. “I am familiar with desert climatology and how much it has changed in my lifetime. It is concerning for me.” She explained, “We are seeing longer stretches of very dry weather. When the rain does come, we are getting more of it, faster. It leads to runoff rather than having it soak into our soil like we need it to.”
In response, over the last five years, Amber has been bring up climate change on television and social media. She joined our call to share what she’s learned about how to address these topics effectively.
Keep it simple
When talking about climate change, especially in situations like a quick TV segment, Amber said it’s important to keep it simple. “We are talking as simple as you can possibly make it without losing the key information,” she said. “Most people will naturally try to simplify information. Our job as communicators is to simplify it appropriately for them.”
Keep it relevant
“I have found that the big three in Arizona that my viewers and the people living here care about are drought, wildfires, and heat,” Amber says, so she tries to stick to those subjects, rather than more distant impacts like melting glaciers or rising sea levels.
In addition to sharing close-to-home impacts, Amber also avoids getting too wrapped up in the numbers. “With climate change, non-scientists generally don’t care much about the data,” she said in her presentation. “They don’t want scientific answers.” Instead, she said, people want human answers to questions like:
- What does climate change mean?
- What are the options for dealing with it?
- What changes are happening already? (Particularly where I live?)
- How will it affect my day to day life?
- How will it affect the lives of my children and family?
- How will it affect my finances?
- How will it affect the things I enjoy?
To show how she answers those questions, Amber shared two videos of segments she’s done in the past. One focused on how climate change is affecting champagne and chocolate production, and another explained how it’s affecting the taste of beer.
Keep it engaging
To make sure these messages get across in an engaging way, Amber meets people where they are: on social media. “Social media has completely changed the way society gets its news and information,” she said in her presentation. “Nearly all millennials turn to it first, as opposed to traditional news sources like TV, radio and newspapers.”
Amber’s recommendations? Think creatively with how you present your messages. A catchy headline and an interesting topic are crucial—without them, Facebook’s algorithm will limit the reach of your posts. She’s also active on Twitter, making sure to call out hallmarks of climate change as they happen:
— Amber Sullins (@AmberSullins) April 11, 2018
Communication is key
When information about climate change is attacked, Amber says, communication is key. When viewers challenge climate change based on political arguments or in response to certain figureheads, like Al Gore, she gently turns them back to the science itself. She tells people, “Don’t base your climate change knowledge on what politicians say. Ask a scientist, or take a look at the science yourself!” Amber points people to sites like Skeptical Science, Climate Central, and NASA.
“I don’t want to make it a slug fest of my argument versus their argument,” she said. So no matter how the conversation is going, Amber always comes back to these six points: Be kind. Love others. Be grateful. Speak truth. Show grace. Work hard. “These are the things I think about and try to incorporate into all the conversations I am having about this,” she said.