While there has been some success in raising public awareness about anthropogenic impacts on climate change, public knowledge about the potential impacts remains low. One way of increasing public engagement with issues of mitigation and adaptation, especially among sceptics, is to focus on the health-related impacts, which people can readily imagine and personalise. Carefully designed information graphics have been shown to aid public understanding of complex health and environmental issues. Our study assesses whether public understanding of climate change health impacts, as presented textually in the IPCC 2007 report, can be enhanced using a graphical approach.
We performed a randomised controlled experimental study, comparing IPCC text to alternative graphical presentations. These graphical presentations took less time to read, but also allowed participants to gain a greater understanding of climate change health impacts. The graphical presentations also led to higher risk perception scores immediately following exposure and after a 2-week follow-up.
These results suggest that detailed textual information such as in the IPCC health impacts report, which may be appropriate for a scientific audience, may need to be presented in substantially different ways to be understood by the general public. We recommend that information graphics should be used more widely by trusted scientific bodies.