Regional Climate Adaptation to Sea Level Rise: An Opportunity for the Rhetoric of Science Policy

Earlier this week, Emergency Management published an article on Connecticut’s newly developed Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation, a joint project between UConn, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and NOAA. The goals of the Institute follow a bottom-up approach, which as Miranda Schreurs explains in “From the Bottom Up: Local and Subnational Climate Change Politics,” is where implementation of national climate change policies and programs must occur (also cited: Bianci, Cruz & Nakamara, 2005). Additionally, she writes:

There is growing recognition of the need to focus both more practical and scholarly attention on the climate policies and programs of state (prefectural, provincial), regional, metropolitan, and local levels of government (Linstroth & Bell, 2007; Lundqvist & Biel, 2007; Ruth, 2006). Such research is also critical for improving our understanding of the obstacles preventing yet greater activity and effectiveness in local and state climate programs and measures.

In the Connecticut project, UConn, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and NOAA are collaborating to work directly with property owners and community leaders to secure the tools, knowledge, and financing that is necessary to respond to SLR, storm surge, urban flooding, etc.

What’s most interesting to me, from a rhetorical perspective, is one of the Institute’s goals, to:

“create a climate-literate public that understands its vulnerabilities to a changing climate and uses that knowledge to make scientifically informed, environmentally sound decisions”.

One of the purposes of the (still-developing) sub-discipline of the rhetoric of science policy is to focus on problems inherent in the science-policy interface: namely, how scientific data ought to be communicated in ways that are customized to a particular public/community’s perspectives and experiences*. Essentially, the purpose of a researcher in the discipline of rhetoric of science policy is to analyze and construct scientific communication so that it is relevant and palatable to a particular public’s values, beliefs, and interests. Therefore, I see the Connecticut Institute’s goal – to create a climate-literate public … and to get this public/community to make informed decisions – as an example of the types of problems that the rhetoric of science policy seeks to provide solutions to. By identifying the specific perspectives, experiences and interests of a particular community (through the rhetorical method of audience analysis) messages about climate change can be carefully crafted – and customized (via rhetorical framing) – to match those perspectives and interests, so that ultimately they have more traction than less focused messages (because of ethical persuasion and use of powerful terms that resonate with a community’s values, beliefs, and experiences).


It’s often very difficult to explain exactly what a rhetorician of science policy does … and this goal provides an opportunity to clarify how to use a seemingly theoretical discipline pragmatically …


*Rhetorical theory follows that citizens tend to judge better when they consider matters related to their own ends – matters that are personally significant – than when they strive to take on a perspective detached from those concerns (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1094b29, 1140b11)


About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550 View all posts by klangbehn

One response to “Regional Climate Adaptation to Sea Level Rise: An Opportunity for the Rhetoric of Science Policy

  • Dan Richards

    Thoughtful post, as usual. Is there anyone specifically you have read that has argued for a more tailored, localized messaging of risk? How localized do they get–just to municipal or even further to sections within a given city?

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