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Heated dialogue: The challenge of communicating about climate change NCAR ULW 16 June 2010. Bob Henson UCAR Communications Boulder CO USA [email protected] Hot and bothered. Perhaps no science topic (other than evolution) gets people quite as exercised as climate change does. Why?

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Heated dialogue:

The challenge of communicating

about climate change

NCAR ULW

16 June 2010

Bob Henson

UCAR Communications

Boulder CO [email protected]


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Hot and bothered

Perhaps no science topic (other than evolution) gets people quite as exercised as climate change does.

Why?

Let’s explore that question.


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Uphill sledding

Several events in the last 12 months have coincided with a rise in public skepticism about the risk of climate change.

• Climategate(hacked e-mails, a few IPCC errors, etc.)

• Big-time winter(bitter cold in Europe, heavy snow in U.S. South and mid-Atlantic)

“Northeast Stunned byFreak January Snowfall,”The Onion, January 24, 2007

• Polarization of US politics and media (Tea Party, Fox vs. MSNBC, etc.)


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What do surveys show?

Gallup Poll, March 2010


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What do surveys show?

“How sure are you that global warming is happening?”

Yale

11/08

Yale

1/10

Yale

6/10

71 57 61

10 20 18

19 23 21

yes

no

don’t know

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication


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What do surveys show?

“Which comes closer to your own view?”

Yale

11/08

Yale

1/10

Yale

6/10

Most scientists think global warming is happening

Most scientists think global warming is not happening

There is a lot of disagreementamong scientists about whether or not global warming is happening

Don’t know enough to say

47 34 34

3 5 4

33 40 45

18 22 17

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication


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What do surveys show?

Stanford University results:

“Our surveys did reveal a small recent decline in the proportion of people who believe global warming has been happening,from84 percent in 2007 to 80 percent in 2008 to 74 percent today.”

—Jon Krosnick, “The Climate Majority,”

NY Times, 8 June 2010


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What do surveys show?

Results from Britain:

“A survey in February by the BBC found that only 26 percent of Britons believed that ‘climate change is happening and is now established as largely manmade,’ down from 41 percent in November 2009.”

—Elisabeth Rosenthal, “Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons,”

NY Times, 24 May 2010


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“People are broadly concerned, but not entirely convinced.”

—Phil Downing, Ipsos MORI, 22 June 2008

In a nutshell . . .

  • A large majorityof Americans take the issue of global warming seriously

  • As many as 40-45% of Americans think there is major disagreement among scientists on whether “global warming is happening,” which implies . . .

  • A substantial fraction of the U.S. public takes the issue seriously but isn’t sure whether scientists agree on its existence and cause.


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TV weather: still a zone of uncertainty convinced.”

Many weathercasters say virtually nothing about climate change.Many others are vocal contrarians. Why?

• Limited time

• Perceived lack of authority

• Insufficient information

• Little support from station managers

• Focus on day-to-day weather

• For some, ingrained skepticism


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Is global warming a “scam”? convinced.”(the position of John Coleman, founder of The Wx. Channel)

[Do you agree with the IPCC that] “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal”?

Strongly agree: 10%

Somewhat agree: 26%

Neutral: 26%

Somewhat disagree: 22%

Strongly disagree: 22%

Strongly agree: 17%

Somewhat agree: 28%

Neutral: 21%

Somewhat disagree: 20%

Strongly disagree: 14%

TV weather: still a zone of uncertainty

From the 2008 AMS Conference on Broadcast Meteorology:

“Broadcast meteorologists’ attitudes about climate change,”Kris Wilson (Emory University)

Anonymous, Web-based survey;121 respondents, most of them AMS-certified


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Any global warming that may be happening is due to natural cycles, not human activity.

Humans are warming the planet and putting its future at risk by emitting fossil fuels.

Which of these go together?

Political position

  • Government should do as little as possible beyond defending the country. Private companies will take care of the environment, because it’s in their best interest to do so.

Scientific position

  • Government needs to step in to protect the environment. We can’t depend on individuals and corporations to keep the planet clean.


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Too often, cycles, not human activity.people arrive at their views on climate change science by way of their politics!

(which makes communication a challenge)

Two questions:

  • Can you be a libertarian and still believe that humans are changing the climate?

  • Can you be a socialist and dispute the science of climate change?


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What are your goals? cycles, not human activity.

Translating the science

Convincing the skeptically inclined

Instilling concern

Motivating people to act

Be clear about your goals—they may vary depending on where you’re working, teaching, speaking, etc.

“We should be giving people information, not leading them.”

—Peter Horrocks, head of BBC television news


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Translating the science: cycles, not human activity.the basics can still be tricky

• Our actions are a drop in the bucket(but a flood is made up of many droplets)

• Huge climate changes have occurred before(true, but that’s not exactly reassuring!)

• Isn’t global warming part of the ozone hole?

(they’re connected but fundamentally separate phenomena)

• They can’t predict weather a month out— why should we believe them about climate?

(physical laws tell us what to expect as the seasons pass;

the same holds true for climate change )


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There’s more to global warming than warming cycles, not human activity.

July 2009 was the coolest on record for much of Midwest!

But . . .

Hottest month ever:

Austin, TX

San Antonio, TX

Phoenix, AZ

Yuma, AZ

Hottest day in history of Seattle (103°F!)

NOAA/NCDC


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Last February was cycles, not human activity.the sixth warmest on record globally—

There’s more to global warming than warming

NOAA/NCDC


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Last February was cycles, not human activity.the sixth warmest on record globally—

yet many mid-Atlantic cities saw their snowiest February on record

There’s more to global warming than warming

Will Ingersoll/Capital Weather Gang


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Last February was cycles, not human activity.the sixth warmest on record globally—

yet many mid-Atlantic cities saw their snowiest February on record

There’s more to global warming than warming

and parts of Britain saw their heaviest snow in 18 years.

NASA/ESA


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There’s more to global warming than warming cycles, not human activity.

This past May:

Warmest on record globally—

but 50th coldest out of last 116 years in U.S. record!

NOAA/NCDC


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If a warming planet meant that U.S. winters trended consistently cold and snowy, what would be the implications for climate change communication and policy?

"The exceptional cold and snowy winter of 2009-2010 in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America is connected to unique physical processes in the Arctic.”

—James Overland, NOAA/PMEL, at International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference, 11 June 2010

There’s more to global warming than warming


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Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get. consistently cold and snowy,

—Robert Heinlein,Time Enough for Love

www.extremeinstability.com


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Weather vs. climate consistently cold and snowy,

Weather varies in the short term and over local areas. Climate change becomes more obvious when you look at longer periods and bigger areas.

One day (July 19, 2009)

NOAA/ESRL/PSD


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Weather vs. climate consistently cold and snowy,

Weather varies in the short term and over local areas. Climate change becomes more obvious when you look at longer periods and bigger areas.

One week (July 19–26, 2009)

NOAA/ESRL/PSD


Weather vs climate25 l.jpg
Weather vs. climate consistently cold and snowy,

Weather varies in the short term and over local areas. Climate change becomes more obvious when you look at longer periods and bigger areas.

One month (July 2009)

NOAA/ESRL/PSD


Weather vs climate26 l.jpg
Weather vs. climate consistently cold and snowy,

Weather varies in the short term and over local areas. Climate change becomes more obvious when you look at longer periods and bigger areas.

Three months (June–August 2009)

NOAA/ESRL/PSD


Weather vs climate27 l.jpg
Weather vs. climate consistently cold and snowy,

Weather varies in the short term and over local areas. Climate change becomes more obvious when you look at longer periods and bigger areas.

One year (Aug. 2008–July 2009)

NOAA/ESRL/PSD


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From www.ucar.edu: consistently cold and snowy,

Convincing the skeptically inclined:feel their pain

It can be useful to engage/validate audience viewpoints & feelings before presenting alternate ideas.

NOAA/ESRL/PSD


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Could it all be just a cycle? consistently cold and snowy,

•Diurnal—warm days, cool nights

• Multiday—cold fronts, warm fronts, blizzards, heat waves

• Annual—the seasons

• Interannual—El Niño, La Niña

• Multidecadal—oceanic oscillations

• Multicentury—Medieval Warm Period, Little Ice Age

• Multimillennial—major ice age every 100,000 years

Bob Henson


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The great global cooling scare consistently cold and snowy,

Land temps dropped slightly from 1940s to 1970s.

NOAA/NESDIS/NCDC


The great global cooling scare31 l.jpg

“Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.”

TIME magazine

June 24, 1974

The great global cooling scare


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“. . . a strong case can be made that the present cooling trend will, within a decade or so, give way to a pronounced warming induced by carbon dioxide.”

“Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” W.S. Broecker, Science189, 460 (1975)

But there was more to the story

More scientists were actually concerned about warming than cooling.


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Instilling concern: CO trend will, within a decade or so, give way to 2 is heavy stuff

It can’t be seen, tasted, or smelled, but each year people add close to30 billion metric tonsof CO2to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. How much is that per person?

  • About 10,000 pounds per year

  • About 30 poundsper day on a globalaverage

  • For each American: about 180 pounds per day

Bob Henson


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Motivating action: accentuate the positive trend will, within a decade or so, give way to

The “empty vessel” approach:

Deluging the audience with tons of information may not stimulate action.

The “scary movie” approach:

Fear and guilt can turn off audiences, leaving them feeling helpless or apathetic.

“It will be critical to engage people in envisioning a future worth fighting for.”

—Susi Moser, “The risk of neglecting emotional responses,” Creating a Climatefor Change (Cambridge, 2007)


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The big picture trend will, within a decade or so, give way to


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The big picture trend will, within a decade or so, give way to

Robert Rhode, Global Warming Art


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The big picture trend will, within a decade or so, give way to

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


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There’s still much to learn about some key aspects of climate change (clouds, aerosols, etc.), but the foundation is extremely unlikely to change.

The big picture

  • Right now, Earth is warming.

  • We’re adding vast amounts of greenhouse gas to the air.

  • We’ve known for more than a century what greenhouse gas does.

  • If we add more greenhouse gas, Earth should continue to warm.

  • This is all happening very quickly in geologic terms.


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Your climate change (clouds, aerosols, etc.), thoughts?


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