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The Word “Must”
Our last post — A Mixed Message — was to do with the paper entitled Countries Must Phase Out Oil and Gas Production — and Quickly. (A summary of the paper is provided by the Guardian newspaper.) The paper was written by scientists (Professor Anderson and his colleagues).
The paper and its associated publicity highlight some of the communication challenges that we face. A Mixed Message suggested that the paper lacked the necessary focus. In addition to talking about reducing oil and gas consumption, the paper emphasized a need for social justice. Specifically, it suggested that richer nations should reduce their fossil fuel production more quickly than lower income countries. If the paper had focused just on reducing oil and gas production — an action that would benefit us all, rich and poor alike — its impact would have been greater.
The same paper brings up a second communications difficulty. Its title contains the word “must”. Words such as “must” instinctively create resistance. It is much better persuade people to cut back on their fossil fuel use.
Scientists have authority through the quality of their message, but they generally have little direct power. Therefore, they are not in a position to tell the public and political leaders what they must do. Instead, they need to persuade and sell their ideas and concerns. An example as to how this can be done is provided in the post Selling Net Zero.