Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Mikhaila Calice (MPA’19) Shares Climate Communication Expertise on UW Now

Mikhaila Calice (MPA’19) Shares Climate Communication Expertise on UW Now

La Follette School grad Mikhaila Calice (MPA’19) played a starring role in a UW Now livestream presentation on climate, energy, and geopolitics on November 9. Currently a doctoral student in the Department of Life Sciences Communication, she explores the public’s understanding of controversial science issues like climate change and energy policy. Calice was joined by La Follette School Professor Mark Copelovitch and Professor Paul Wilson, chair of the Department of Engineering Physics, along with host Mike Knetter of the University of Wisconsin Foundation.

Calice shared polling data that shows broad support in the United States for solutions to climate change, including tax credits and tougher fuel-efficiency standards. Most Americans, she explained, want major public investments in solutions such as renewable energy and smart grid technology. So how can policymakers capitalize on all this green good will to implement energy policies that actually make a difference?

According to Calice, it helps to understand how your audience processes information and perceives risk. And don’t make the mistake of assuming that simply explaining the scientific principles governing climate change will make people more willing to spend money on addressing it. Instead, you need to focus on the values, shared beliefs and motivations of those you are trying to convince, frame the message in a way that resonates with them and, above all else, show that you can be trusted.

Wilson described the balanced mix of alternative energy technologies necessary to generate the quantities of reliable, low-carbon power we’ll need in the future. Wind and solar will play a roll, and so will new nuclear technologies such as reactors small enough to power a single factory or community.

Can the United States afford all this new technology? According to Copelovitch, the country’s monetary and financial dominance in the world economy “gives us unparalleled resources to meet these challenges. We can pretty much afford to do whatever we need to do.” But first we need to overcome the domestic political constraints that prevent us from moving forward.

The discussion came full circle to the need for effective communication about scientific issues that can help the public and policymakers understand climate issues and make choices that will secure our energy future.

Calice credits her time at the La Follette School and her certificate in Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) with preparing her to serve as one of UW-Madison’s energy experts for UW Now, a show that typically reaches YouTube audiences of close to two thousand people worldwide. “My MPA gave me a unique, rich policy background that is always relevant. The EAP certificate is central to my love for energy policy and desire to do important work for the energy transition. And now my work at Life Sciences Communication has equipped me with the skills and expertise to actually conduct the research that brings it all together.”

You can watch the complete UW Now presentation here.