AGU Chapman Conference on Communicating Climate Change

6. juli 2013

I dagene 8.-13. juni blev konferencen Chapman Conference on Communicating Climate Science: A Historic Look to the Future afholdt i Granby, Colorado, USA. Programmet var ganske omfattende – med temaet bredt defineret omkring kommunikationen af klimavidenskaben og klimaudfordringen.

I alt omkring 50 af konferencens bidrag er tilgængelige via YouTube, og jeg har her blot herunder indlejret et lille udvalg sammen med deres abstracts.

En liste over konferencens indlæg kan ses her, og en søgning over tilgængelige YouTube-videoer fra konferencen kan ses her.


Peter Gleick: Grand Challenges at the Interface of Climate, Hydrology and Water Systems, 09.06.2013.


Lori Bruhwiler: Artic Permafrost and Carbon Climate Feedbacks , 09.06.2013.


Richard Alley: State of the Climate System 09.06.2013.

Abstract: Warming has been reducing the Earth’s ice in many ways, primarily affecting the more temperature-sensitive types and seasons including Arctic sea ice and coastal parts of Greenland and West Antarctica, but with less-consistent changes or even increases in especially cold places and times including Antarctic sea ice and interior ice-sheet regions.   “Global warming” models have shown skill in projecting these that may not be understood by many members of the public.  Projections of cryospheric response to additional warming generally show more and faster shrinkage.

Of particular interest in this respect are changes in ice sheets, which are expected to contribute to sea-level rise, and which have at least a slight chance of contributing greatly and rapidly.  The distribution of possible outcomes, a most-likely estimate that is at least somewhat costly to society, with the chance of costs being slightly less, slightly more, or much more, but without a corresponding chance of much less, is common to many issues of climate change, but also rather difficult to communicate and often not well-recognized in public.


Michael Mann: The Battle to Communicate Climate Change: Lessons from The Front Lines 09.06.2013.

Abstract: I will discuss the continuing challenges and potential pitfalls climate scientists confront in efforts to communicate the science of climate change, its likely impacts, and solutions. Scientists, first of all, must contend with a well-funded and organized disinformation effort that aims to confuse the public about the nature of our scientific understanding and attack the science and the scientists themselves.  In the face of these attacks, we must strive to communicate the science and its implications in plainspoken language that neither (a) insults the intelligence of our audience, (b) loses them in jargon and science-speak, nor (c) misrepresents the current state of our scientific understanding, including the uncertainties that remain.  I will share insights that I have accumulated in my own communications and outreach efforts.


Stephan Lewandowsky: Scientific Uncertainty in Public Discourse: The Case for Leakage Into the Scientific Community 09.06.2013.

Abstract: Uncertainty is an unavoidable part of science. In the case of climate science, any uncertainty should give particular cause for concern because greater uncertainty usually implies greater risk. However, appeals to uncertainty have been used in public debate to forestall mitigative action. Uncertainty has been highlighted in many situations during the last 50 years in which vested interests and political groups sought to forestall action on problems long after the scientific case had become robust. We suggest that the prolonged appeal to uncertainty in the public arena has “leaked” into the scientific community and has distorted scientists’ characterization and self-perception of their own work. Although scientists are well trained in dealing with uncertainty and in understanding it, we argue that the scientific community has become unduly focused on uncertainty, at the expense of downplaying solid knowledge about the climate system. We review some of the historical and empirical evidence for the notion of “leakage”, and we identify the psychological and cognitive factors that could support this intrusion of ill-informed public discourse into the scientific community. To illustrate with an example, the well-known “third-person effect” refers to the fact that people generally think that others (i.e., third persons) are affected more by a persuasive message than they are themselves, even though this is not necessarily the case. Scientists may therefore think that they are impervious to “skeptic” messages in the media, but in fact they are likely to be affected by the constant drumbeat of propaganda. We review possible solutions to the undue leakage of biased public discourse into the scientific arena.


Geoffrey Haines-Stiles: Preaching to the Choir And Empowering The Congregation: Using Facebook And Face Time To Counter Denial, 10.06.2013.

Abstract: ‘Earth: The Operators’ Manual’ (ETOM), supported by NSF, is an education and outreach initiative which uses stories, metaphors and innovative communications strategies to cut through misinformation about climate change and promote positive action on clean energy solutions. ETOM includes three PBS specials, a series of on-site presentations by scientists and military officers, a website functioning as portal to its video components, and a lively and growing Facebook community. External evaluation provides both quantitative and qualitative data on the success of this approach. This presentation will include short videos illustrating the strategy, and images from live nationwide events and Facebook posts.  At outreach events at science centers such as the Science Museum of Minnesota, geoscientist Richard Alley, host of the TV programs, presented to large audiences with ample opportunities for follow-up Q&A. Audience surveys reported that Alley offered “the most clear explanation of linking carbon dioxide to climate change” and noted that his physical performance (such as nodding his head to show his “North Pole” bald spot to illustrate precession) was memorable. “I’ll have that vision in my mind forever.” 91% said the information was new to them, and 96% said the performance encouraged them to discuss the issues with friends: “He gave us language that we can use to communicate to other people, and I think that’s what we need more than more data.”

Surveys showed audiences wanting specific arguments to counter frequent denier comments. The producers added a set of rebuttals (“But My Brother-in-law Said…”) to the next live performance, at OMSI’s Science Pub in Portland OR, with positive responses. The live events relied on stories and metaphors that audiences found new and memorable. Emitting CO2 is analogous to how we used to dump filthy human waste out our windows, before the sanitation revolution. “You could have a good cocktail conversation with this information because he’s giving you metaphors for it.”  While the ETOM website offers key background information, such as annotated scripts of all three programs with references for all facts and assertions, the project’s Facebook page has evolved into a lively venue, publishing key climate and clean energy facts, illustrated by impactful images. “Great graphics, great videos, original stories that haven’t been overexposed online already.” “ETOM has stayed above the dirty by citing DATA.” As expected, several deniers lurk on the page, repeating assertions such as “Climate is always changing”, “It’s the Sun”, and maligning Al Gore. What ETOM had not anticipated, but certainly welcomes, is how often 3rd party posts (i.e. from other than ETOM staff) rebut that misinformation with solid science, often with web links to additional material, and sometimes with appealing wit and engaging bluntness.

At AGU’s 2013 Chapman Conference on Climate Change Communications we will present data showing that empowering those who may already think humans are changing Earth’s climate with new arguments and approaches is a promising and productive way to counter denial. If the ETOM programs broadcast on PBS were a classic outreach strategy, ETOM’s social media approach looks to the future of climate change communications.


Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach: Communicating Collapse, Climate, and Complex Society: the Case of the Ancient Maya, 12.06.2013.

Abstract: Since Classical times, scholars have studied and written about the relationship between humans and the environment, for much of the time getting it wrong by oversimplifying complicated lines of evidence. We focus on efforts to understand the florescence and decline of the ancient Maya Civilization of Mesoamerica, and the complicated relationship the Maya had with not only climate and the environment, but with one another.  Since Ellsworth Huntington and others laid a miasma of determinism over the study of human, climate, and environmental relationships, scholars have had to dig long and hard to rise above the dangerously misguided and simple causal relationships alluded to in early twentieth century science, in favor of more complex, multi-variable and multi-directional relationships uncovered by interdisciplinary teamwork. A further task was to dispel old notions of linear cause-and-effect relationships and successfully communicate convincing alternative hypotheses which frame issues in a complex systems perspective. This sea change in thinking and communicating has depended upon the use of multiple working hypotheses and new techniques both in the field and the lab, to understand and reconstruct climate from difficult-to-obtain proxies of the past.

This communication revolution  is supported by visualization, particularly spatial visualization and complex systems computer modeling. This paper synthesizes the history of understanding and communication about the ancient Maya and climate, collapse, and complex human-environment systems, bringing us to present day spatial modeling efforts. The ultimate goal of our historical, geographical, and archaeological efforts, beyond understanding and modeling the fascinating interactive histories of the Ancient Maya and the environment, is to use these lessons and models to understand our modern society from a complex systems perspective and understand our own vulnerabilities in light of future environmental trajectories.


Joe Witte: Science Visualization For System One Communication of Climate Science: Utilizing the Right Brain, 12.06.2013.

Abstract: “I often say climate is like a die.” Stephen Schneider’s visual metaphor leverages the familiar mental schema of rolling dice into an experiential meaning of climate change.  Daniel Kahneman, 2012 winner of the National Academies’ Communication Award for his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, posits that this type of “associative memory” helps people construct meaning of the world around them in a manner that is often automatic. This ease of retrieval from memory is what Kahneman calls “System I’ thinking and is responsible for much of a person’s thoughts and actions.

Scientific visualizations can help create useful Kahneman-System I mental models, or schema. While there has been a great deal attention given to the verbal language used in climate change communication the power of visual has been largely neglected. Numerous theories of learning (dual-coding, cognitive, etc.) and neuroscience theories have validated the power of the visual in learning and memory. R. Mayer’s cognitive multimedia learning theory provides some useful guidelines for designing visuals. Visuals are becoming mandatory tools to reach the younger generations, who are reading less and spending more time on their iPads, iPhones, and laptops. Theirs is a visual world. Pew finds 95% of teens use the Internet and 77% use social media that often include video. Even textbook publishers are acting on this important media shift. Wiley now publishes a dozen different college freshman titles, such as Visualizing Weather, Visualizing Geography, Visualizing Environmental Science, each with over 1,000 images as well as online animations.  Just as words can make a difference in science communication so can visualizations. Examples of effective and non-effective visualizations will be shown.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”


Simon Donner: Why the Climate Makes Climate Change Communication So Difficult, 12.06.2013.

Abstract: Public opinion in North America about human-caused climate change has varied over the past 20 years, despite an increasing consensus about the scientific community.  Deep skepticism about the basic evidence for a human role in climate change persists among roughly one-fifth of the North American public. Furthermore, the fluctuation in opinion polls suggests that a significant fraction of the remaining public lacks conviction in their attitude about climate change. The persistent gap between expert and public thinking about climate change has been attributed to a number of factors including personal values, political ideology, the media environment and personal experience. In this presentation, I will describe recent evidence for relationships between climate variability and public opinion about climate change, review the possible mechanisms behind these relationship, and suggest communication strategies that can address the lack of conviction among many of the public about climate change.

Our recent work found that the fraction of respondents to national polls who express “belief in” or “worry about” climate change was significantly correlated to U.S. mean temperature anomalies over the previous 3–12 months. In addition, the fraction of editorial and opinion articles which “agree” with the expert consensus on climate change was also significantly correlated to U.S. mean temperature anomalies at seasonal and annual scales.  This variability in public opinion with climate may be driven by migration of climate “swing voters” — people with less defined attitudes about climate change — towards the extremes and back. The influence of climate variability on public opinion itself may be largely indirect, mediated by the effect that climate variability has on the media, as reflected in opinion article analysis. As a consequence, the dynamics of not just the media, but scientists’ interaction with the media, could be inadvertently exacerbating the variability in the nature of news coverage and public attitudes about climate change. Instilling a deep appreciation for the causes and effects of climate change that will persist through the next anomaly, whether in the climate or the economy, requires adopting a broader perspective on the causes of skepticism and rethinking how scientists interact with the media.