New Attempts in Climate Change Communication

November 20th, 2016 <-- by Paul Higgins -->

Scientists have failed to communicate with the public about climate change risks in a way that resonates with people and that enables informed decision-making.

We emphasize what we don’t know and the ways that what we do know might not be entirely correct. Scientists are better at describing the potential limits of individual studies than we are at synthesizing multiple independent lines of evidence into highly robust conclusions. Often, we overlook the potential for awful outcomes or incorrectly characterize outcomes with unknown likelihood as having a “low probability” of occurring.

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Salience: On the Eve of the 2016 Election

November 6th, 2016 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Salience: On the Eve of the 2016 Election

Salience is a word that in the social sciences has come to mean relevance, or perhaps, goodness of fit of knowledge to a particular problem. I use salience in class when I talk about making climate-change data and knowledge usable in planning and decision making. In conversational English, salience refers to something being important or most notable.

On my list of to-do blogs in the run up to the election was a reflection and analysis of climate-change policy during the Obama administration, and then a discussion of the climate-change positions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. However, the way the election has evolved, climate change and environmental policy do not appear to be very salient to voters. There is certainly no meaningful nuance of policy and positions from any analysis I might provide.

About a year ago, I was writing about some of our students at University of Michigan preparing to go to the climate negotiations at the Conference of the Parties in Paris. Even at that time, I commented about our behavior seeming to be a concerted effort to accelerate our decline into the Dark Age. That particular comment was motivated by the accumulated impacts of the anti-science movement. More broadly, however, there is a dangerous anti-knowledge movement in the U.S. Science-based knowledge has become conflated with political and cultural groups of people; it is tribal knowledge. Knowledge that is, therefore, untrusted outside of the tribe.

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Climate Change: A fundamental shift of our place in the world

May 14th, 2014 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Climate Change: A fundamental shift of our place in the world

Richard B. Rood, University of Michigan

This blog appeared originally in the Michigan Journal of Sustainability, The Conversation: Climate Change: A Fundamental Shift of Our Place in the World.

A scientist colleague told me, recently, he had realized that talking to the press about climate change was not about education and outreach, and he was no longer sure of his role. During the 1990s at the federal research labs, there were initiatives to communicate science to the public. A common vehicle was a one-page popular summary of technical journal articles. An underlying premise of this public outreach was that there was one conversation, that of informing the public of meaning, value and societal importance. This naive notion of outreach did not recognize other types of conversations. Already in the 1990s, there was an emerging political conversation about climate change. There were also philosophical conversations about humans, nature, conservation and sustainability – some anchored in religious convictions. A more psychological conversation evolved about being responsible for doing damage to the planet.

As these conversations have evolved, scientists have thought more formally about communication. In one meeting of scientists, I said that every time a climate scientist wrote or talked it was potentially political. When scientists participated in interviews, blogged or sat on panels at the local museum, then there was almost certainly a political element that might be extracted from their words. Some of my colleagues were offended at my statement, maintaining that that they never spoke politically, only from dispassionate knowledge. I also maintained that most scientists are ill-prepared to participate in the political arguments.

Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry framed climate change, the persistent warming of the Earth and its consequences, in terms of weapons of mass destruction. Secretary Kerry and President Obama reached for the seemingly easy comparison of climate change deniers to those who believed that the Earth was flat before the European sea exploration of the fifteenth century. This comparison motivated a predictable and easy response from those who consider climate change to be an exaggerated risk, with the public presence of that risk being maintained by a community of self-interested climate change believers – the warmists. So now we have the warmist versus the deniers. This is yet another type of conversation – tribal, you are wrong because of who you are.

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The whole silly warming pause, warming hiatus thing

March 1st, 2014 <-- by Richard Rood -->

This is a synthesis of the knowledge we have about the pause or hiatus in warming. In my little collection of blogs, I have written about this several times, and I link some of those entries below. Sometime in 2005, those in the lobby opposing climate-change science started to beat the drum that warming of the planet had stopped and that the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were in fundamental error. The drumbeat was amplified by a knowledge-twisting article in the Daily Mail, which I discussed in It’s Not Getting Warmer – Again, Really? Increased credibility to the pause in warming was added by an article in The Economist reporting on the story of the “pause” and that, indeed, if you looked at the temperature record it was not documenting an unrelenting increase in global-average surface temperature (from when the Economist article was published).

When I first wrote about the warming pause, I referred to my piece Form of Argument on how to analyze this news report. The article focused on a single piece of information, isolated, and posed as an unanswerable contradiction. The reporting and figures did not carry the full descriptions of the graphs that proved no warming. There were also implications of stealth. The list goes on. The warming hiatus as a challenge to the body of science-based knowledge on climate change was a manufactured problem.

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NRC Report: A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling

September 18th, 2012 <-- by Richard Rood -->

New Report: A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling

In late 2010 and 2011, I was writing about organizing U.S. climate modeling. I combined and posted some of the WU blogs on ClimatePolicy.org as Something New in the Past Decade? Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling. I want to revisit those issues in light of the release of a National Academy of Sciences Report, A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling (2012).

I am a co-author of this Academy report. In this blog, I am writing not in my role as a co-author, but from my personal perspective. This blog fits in with many of the themes I have written about in the last few years.

First, I want to explain the role of the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy is a private, not-for-profit organization created by President Abraham Lincoln at the height of the Civil War. Lincoln and others at the time realized the importance of science and technology to the United States and wanted a way to get independent advice on issues important to policy. Almost 150 years later, this importance is greater, but the role of science is an increasingly controversial political issue – especially when scientific investigation comes into conflict with how we might want to believe and to act. (see, here or edited here ) So one role of the National Academy is independent review – a role that is at the heart of the scientific method and the culture of scientific practice.

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Belief and Knowledge and Humans and Nature:

July 18th, 2012 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Belief and Knowledge and Humans and Nature:

I am starting this entry from a previous blog, Rhetoric Again – Cycles. I got some interesting comments as well as a couple of letters for that entry. To set the tone, here is a thought from the end of that blog.

There is little doubt that humans are the dominant life form on the planet today. We shape every ecosystem. We consume all forms of energy. Throughout time, plants and animals have determined and altered the environment. Today we humans change our environment, the atmosphere and ocean. Not only are we a dominant life form, we have this amazing ability to extract rocks and liquids and gases from the Earth and to burn them. We have the ability to push land around, to remove mountains, to build islands, and to manufacture concrete. We are, therefore, not only biological, we are geological.

We humans are a force of nature – while yet a part of nature. Because we have the ability to remember, to reason, to develop and to accumulate knowledge, unlike other parts of the natural world, we have the ability to make decisions that influence the future of our environment. Therefore, our role in nature, in the natural world, is unique. To be clear, that uniqueness is not in our ability to change the environment, but in our ability to understand the consequences of those changes and the ability to anticipate and influence the future.

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We are what we repeatedly do

April 11th, 2012 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Form of Argument: Adventures in Rhetoric

In 2009 I received some questions from Westview High School in San Diego, California (see here). A few weeks ago I heard from the same teacher, Bob Whitney, and he was curious about how I would respond to the issues raised in this posting on Rogues and Scholars. This is a long exchange of postings between two engineers, Burt Rutan and Brian Angliss.

In my blog, for better or worse, I have tended away from engaging in the type of discussions that are represented by this exchange. A couple of reasons: One, this line of argument that works to discredit climate change is at this point political, and as I argued here, engagement in this argument is not productive. Two, while it is necessary to address the factual inaccuracies that are stated in this type of discussion, it has been done repeatedly and well by many others (look around, for instance, at Real Climate). That said – what do you say to students who have the discussion between Rutan and Angliss at hand and want to make sense of it all?

When I look at the words used by Rutan, I see words anchored around fraud, dishonesty, alarmist – this is an argument that relies on discredit and personal attacks. Such an attack quickly raises the emotion and takes the discussion away from a knowledge base. It is the sort of attack that has become pervasive in our political conversation in general, and it is an excellent diversionary tactic. It raises the specter of distrust.

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The Scientific Organization: Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling

September 30th, 2011 <-- by Richard Rood -->

The Scientific Organization: Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling

Summary: In order to address the need to provide climate-model products, a new type of organization is needed. This organization needs to focus on and to be organized to support the unifying branch of the scientific method. This requires application-driven model development. This will require the organization as a whole to develop hypotheses, design experiments, and document methods of evaluation and validation. In such an organization the development of standards and infrastructure support controlled experimentation, the scientific method, in contrast to the arguments that have been used in the past to resist the development of standards and infrastructure. This organization where a collection of scientists behaves as a “scientist” requires governance structures to support decision making and management structures to support the generation of products. Such an organization must be envisioned as a whole and developed as a whole.

Introduction

Over the past 25 years there have been many reports written about climate and weather modeling (example), climate and weather observing systems (example), high performance computing (example), and how to improve the transition from research to operations (example). A number of common themes emerge from these reports. First, the reports consistently conclude with commendation of the creativity and quality of U.S. scientific research. Second, the reports call for more integration across the federal agencies to address documented “needs” for climate-science products. De facto, the large number of these reports suggests that there is a long-held perception that U.S. activities in climate science are not as effective as they need to be or could be. The fact that there are reports with consistent messages for more than two decades suggests that our efforts at integration are not as effective as required.

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Something New in the Past Decade? Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling

February 6th, 2011 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Something New in the Past Decade? Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling

Update: The report referred to in the original blog was released on September 7, 2012: National Academy of Sciences Report, A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling (2012).

In 1999 I was part of a small group of people that was asked to write a report on climate modeling and supercomputing, and in particular, what needed to be done to make U.S. Federal efforts more effective. The report was published in 2000, and it is still available on line at the USGCRP website. (U.S. Global Change Research Program) Now in 2011 a panel is being convened to write about “A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling.” (link) In this entry I want to return to the older report and think about what is different from 10 years ago.

When my co-authors and I wrote this report, we presented the results to several panels of distinguished people. Over the years, people have continued to send comments to me about the report. I contend that this report was different from a lot of other reports. I think it is safe to say that the authors of the report were chosen because of a willingness to look beyond their home agencies. Also we included as an author a sociologist who is expert in organizations and how to make organizations function.

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What to do? What to do?

October 31st, 2010 <-- by Richard Rood -->

What to Do ? (1) Politics and Knowledge:

A few months ago a Republican candidate for State Office came to my office to talk about climate change. At the end of the hour he asked me how I thought we could advance beyond the current political state which is publicly characterized by, my word, tribalism – do you or do you not believe in climate change? Since I had recently posted an article on the subject (here), I had some semblance of an answer queued up. At one level the answer is time, but I will get back to that.

At the top of the strategy was the realization by scientists that climate change was, now, a political issue, and that within the realm of the political culture, knowledge-based education was not, first and foremost, the way forward. In fact, in many cases, the exposure of more knowledge, more science, was likely to have a negative effect, fueling the political turmoil, and damaging, more, the body of scientific knowledge. Nuance of the scientific literature adds to uncertainty, and all uncertainty can be used to build doubt, which is the goal of the political argument.

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