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Messaging On Slow Impacts: Applying Lessons Learned From Climate Change Communication To Catalyze And Improve Marine Nutrient Communication

Katherine Nicole Canfield, Kate Mulvaney, Nathaniel Merrill

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Building publics’ understanding about human-environmental causes and impacts of nutrient pollution is difficult due to the diverse sources and, at times, extended timescales of increasing inputs, consequences to ecosystems, and recovery after remediation. Communicating environmental problems with “slow impacts” has long been a challenge for scientists, public health officials, and science communicators, as the time delay for subsequent consequences to become evident dilutes the sense of urgency to act. Fortunately, scientific research and practice in the field of climate change communication has begun to identify best practices to address these challenges. Climate change demonstrates a delay between environmental stressor and impact, and recommended practices for climate change communication illustrate how to explain and motivate action around this complex environmental problem. Climate change communication research provides scientific understanding of how people evaluate risk and scientific information about climate change. We used a qualitative coding approach to review the science communication and climate change communication literature to identify approaches that could be used for nutrients and how they could be applied. Recognizing the differences between climate change and impacts of nutrient pollution, we also explore how environmental problems with delayed impacts demand nuanced strategies for effective communication and public engagement. Applying generalizable approaches to successfully communicate the slow impacts related to nutrient pollution across geographic contexts will help build publics’ understanding and urgency to act on comprehensive management of nutrient pollution, thereby increasing protection of coastal and marine environments.