Tell Me

I have a question that only you, the readers, can answer.


What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?

Comments are open. Don’t be shy.


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133 responses to “Tell Me

  1. There are two (if I may alter the terms of the question a bit).

    The first is that climate change risks tend to be communicated in isolation from one another: we get descriptions of species at risk, OR sea level rise, OR drought, OR the ‘equally evil twin’ (per Elizabeth Kolbert) of ocean acidification, et cetera, et cetera. We don’t so often get the notion that it’s all of the above, mutually reinforcing each others’ impacts, and progressively worsening in proportion to how long as we allow something like BAU to continue. Synergy isn’t always our friend.

    The second is that, IMO, we now need more conversation about solutions. What are our least-cost and least-risk strategies? Are they adequate, or potentially so, or will we be forced into trying riskier gambits in order to achieve a sufficiently big climatic ‘payoff’? (Geo-engineering comes to mind here.) Can we identify ‘roadmaps’ that hold some hope of success in confronting the issue?

  2. The connections between AGW and the political-economy are not being made. Even something as basic as the connection between economic activity and energy flow (the “metabolism” of societies). The myth that we can continue to use energy and resources at current rates (or even at some modest reduction) is not being contradicted except in small circles of ecological-economists, some scientists in related fields, and doomers. The work of Georgescu-Roegen, Odum, CAS Hall, Daly, Smil, etc. should be incorporated into the climate dialogue. I’m not sure how or even if it’s possible

  3. We can talk issues and make some news, or we can seek to develope academic precision while the fuse burns. We should adopt the linguistics of emergencies — something not well defined on the level of a global civilization.

    Academic science seems too heavy on the optimism bias. Speak concise truth rather than irrationally pandering to youthful, hopeful enthusiasm. Hope fantasies without adhering to rules of physics is just an hallucination.

    Forgiving the ethically corrupt by excusing them as ignorant, wastes time, like talking to a stone and amounts to tolerating evil. Scientists are too polite, which is too close to an ethical compromise. Drop the polite speech.

    Young people are screwed and it’s not our job to keep them from learning that fact. Talk straight.

    No form of government seems designed or well-suited to protecting the future of humans on this planet. Criticize government idiocy directly. Time for a global constitutional convention.

    Kids are told to face danger by running, hiding or engaging — first run away from danger (too late for that with global warming), then hide from danger (the very definition of denialism), only finally, desperately, directly engage with the problem head on. We have jumped out of the airplane without a parachute, we must knit one on the way down. Just because we haven’t hit the ground, doesn’t mean we’ll get away with it. We have yet to decide to engage.

    Better to think of it as a slow crashing car or plane wrecking – one that has 7 billion passengers – the vehicle has now left the safety and calm of regular transit. It seems the warning signs were sabotaged, bad navigation, bad fuel advice, half the passengers are asleep, only about 1% have airbags. And a few with seat belts are trying to hit the brakes, steer and warn passengers and get as many to safety as possible. But we are in the middle of the beginning of the crash. Big messes to come, much worse, so everybody buckle in for a bumpy ride that will only get worse.

  4. For me it’s when researchers veer off into the thickets of focusing too much on technical details of little general interest while also producing a muddled, confusing, poorly written popular summary or news release that begs for misunderstanding, whether innocent by non-specialists or deliberately by deniers.

    Fuzziness, careless writing and lack of clarity in such communications might have been brushed off as unimportant in 1986. In 2016 there is no excuse for these avoidable flaws.

  5. >What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?

    1. That we still do i.e that small percentage of deniers have apparently bogged the entire debate down so we’re still discussing ‘if it’s happening’. The problem lies with the vast majority who think we need to do something and yet they don’t bother. As Professor Kevin Anderson often points out, the biggest emitters are people telling us we need to cut emisisons, from climate scientists to celebrities to politicians.

    2. That emisisons today don’t seem to matter. That what you emit today when you; drive to work, fly for holidays, buy your german shepherd large tins of dog food, or turn the AC on etc takes a little more off the emisisons budget we have left but that seems ok, as long as we mock a denier, we’re doing our bit somehow.

  6. Asteroid Miner

    1. The lack of money for advertising. We need billions. Or political power in the hands of scientists.

    2. “Reticence” [speaking in probability that the average person has no hope of understanding] on the part of scientists. The average person needs something really concrete, including a date certain. We need to let our advertising agency do its job without interference.
    3. The stupidity and salesmanship of main stream media and journalists. They are out to sell advertising by doing entertainment, and they are censored by the fossil fuel industry.
    4. The innumeracy and scientific illiteracy of everybody except the scientists. There is one congressman who is a scientist. The rest of the politicians and everybody else have no clue as to what science is all about. There was an article recently about a high school where the teachers were in a panic because somebody wanted them to teach Algebra 2. The teachers couldn’t do Algebra 2. How did they graduate from Teachers’ College? Obama doesn’t get it.
    4 b. The average IQ is only 100, and that is way too stupid.
    5. Human, or hominid, nature.

    Doc Snow: See BraveNewClimate.com. If you really do have a degree in engineering or a hard science, it is obvious, after just a little calculation, that nuclear fission is the only possible solution available right now. But it requires thinking, meaning math, and a little true knowledge.

    louploup2: What about the connections to population crash from overpopulation and resource depletion? The finite size of the planet? The doomers are conservative.

    • If you really do have a degree in engineering or a hard science, it is obvious, after just a little calculation, that nuclear fission is the only possible solution available right now.

      Spoken like a real techno-Utopian.

      The trouble is the laws of thermodynamics, and one of their offshoots in Sprengel’s law of the minimum.

      There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…

  7. Generalities suck.
    I have no complaint about how scientists communicate AGW but politicians advocating for mitigation must employ some hard science in all their communications as a communications tactic.

    Politicians need to specify the deficits and if most of the science goes over the top of voter’s heads then that’s OK because they will appreciate the level of detail even if it’s obscure.

    If the politicians – particularly those who have carriage of legislation and regulation start specifying and employing scientific detail then that will force the political media to deal with specifics and science in their political coverage.
    Had Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard become interested and well briefed on the science of AGW before and after the introduction of the Carbon Tax and then become a loud advocate for the pricing of emissions world wide (and appeared knowledgeable whilst doing so) she would not have looked so awfully weak-kneed in the 12 months leading up her leadership loss and the subsequent election that was fought on the Carbon Tax.

  8. Harry Twinotter

    Frustrations? I do not have many, I feel the communication is excellent.

    It depends what you mean by “communicated” I think. For example I ignore biased communications because I understand when they are biased but most people will not put this much effort into educating themselves.

    If I am frustrated about something, it is the reporting on extreme events and the predictions of more extreme events. The media tends to present some as doomsday predictions which undermines the credibility of the predictions.

  9. I was going to stay away from the discussion so as not to interfere, but I’ve decided to answer my own question. Think of this comment as just another reader expressing his opinion.

    My frustration is how hard it is to get people to take it seriously. I don’t mean regular readers here (or at WUWT, for that matter), I mean the average American. For a couple of years now I’ve tried to get my sisters to become activist on the issue, but I’ve failed completely. They don’t disbelieve the science, they don’t deny the danger, but their response is the same as most Americans: total apathy with a rousing “What can I do?” thrown in, and not because they’re looking for something to do, it’s a way of saying “I can’t do anything about it.”

    I’m proud of how this blog has increased awareness, and especially become a resource for others; seeing links to a post here to make a point, makes me realize that yes I’m making a difference. I love my readership: you are passionate and many of you are extraordinarily knowledgeable. But I often feel discouraged that I’m not reaching the people I need to reach. I love the highly technical, highly mathematical posts, but I wonder whether it actually puts people off. That’s the reason I started the “Global Warming Basics” post series. I need to do more of those.

    I feel the urgency of the problem. But Anthony Watts gets far more readers with his brand of conspiracy theorizing and hoax accusations. How do I compete with that?

    I’ll also echo a previous comment, that I’m tired of scientists talking in precise clinical terms like “at least 90% confidence that more than half of the warming is due to anthropogenic causes.” 90% confidence my ass. Half, my ass. Thank God for James Hansen.

    • Ralph Snyder

      Speaking for myself, I come to your blog because it is technical, but not so much that I cannot understand.

      I love the wonkiness of it, a world in which evidence, mathematics and statistics matter.

      WUWT appeals to a different audience. As Hume said, most of us make our decisions based on emotion. Reason is a slave to emotion, constrained to find excuses for for what we already believe.

      Is that really what you want to compete with?

    • Not only James Hansen. Think about the late Stephen Schneider’s musings on the same problem back in 1989, which you echo in part here. (1989… a generation ago, and even today deniers twist and misquote his thoughtful words.)

      “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”

      Five years ago, on the first anniversary of Schneider’s sudden death, our beloved Judith Curry referred to the above in the following terms: “Schneider’s views on this topic are infamously characterized by this [statement]”.

    • My frustration is how hard it is to get people to take it seriously.

      In these rapidly changing modern times most people don’t have the time or don’t want to think about problems that face the society. They are usually more focused on their own day to day problems and needs

      Another factor may be that climate change is a problem that will be faced more by future generations rather than our own. There are also a lot of problems that societies are facing now that need solutions. So I think addressing climate change can get lost among all of these competing interests.

    • Quote: I feel the urgency of the problem. But Anthony Watts gets far more readers with his brand of conspiracy theorizing and hoax accusations. How do I compete with that?

      I think you underestimate the influence that having very rich backers for a blog can have on the potential reach of your posts. Money literally buys you readership by pushing your content higher up the rankings. It’s how Google are able to exist.

      Wrt to your comments about the technical nature of your posts – it’s your USP. It what makes people come here and keep coming back. Leave the majority of the less technical descriptions to the likes of Skeptical Science, etc. They do a good job of it but, conversely, they’re less capable of doing what makes your blog unique.

      Fwiw, I frequently struggle with the maths you present but that doesn’t detract from the message you are communicating. It’s like reading a paper about an area that is not your field: read the abstract and introduction to get the gist of what you’re about to read, skip the bits in the methods and results you don’t really know enough about to fully understand, and read the conclusion to see what it was all trying to tell you.

      In response to you’re original question:

      (1) More should be made of the “but it happened in the past” statements. Yes, it did, but nowhere near exactly like this and even so, it was quite catastrophic when it did because x, y and z happened. And what’s happening now is potentially far, far worse. I think this tends to get skimmed over. Some in depth analysis of what happened in the past and how it was both similar to and different to what is happening now would be quite beneficial.

      (2) More needs to be made of the non-climate science in the area too. Biodiversity and zoological impacts are being seen globally yet they’re only being treated superficially by the press. It sets it up as a climate scientists versus the rest scenario whereas it’s really a scientists (climate, zoology, botany, physics, etc) versus the anti-scientists scenario.

    • What a terrific question/idea to ask of your readers, Tamino! Lots to think about among these many interesting responses.

      I’d like to respond to your own response and in particular to your frustration with getting your sisters to become more engaged with climate change. Although my bent is to matters quantitative, I too spend and have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the 70± % of Americans who while they don’t deny the science, are unwilling to personally take any significant steps in their own lives to mitigate their emissions. And I do so and have done so since their sheer numbers tell me that they’re a major, perhaps the main, problem here; not the only one, of course, but a major obstacle to getting our carbon emissions down hard and fast.

      In the psychoanalytic literature these people are said to be in a state of ‘disavowal’. [See Sally Weintrobe’s great book of essays on denial, “Engaging With Climate Change”.] I personally find this a useful label as its extended definition catches their behavior pretty neatly: “knowing but not knowing” or “seeing it, but with one eye only”. But for some time now I’ve felt that while it might be useful—especially to psychotherapists—I don’t think it gets us any closer to understanding what’s behind this behavior of climate change disavowal. Of course, causality is always and ever a bitch and probably nowhere more so than here. So you can only think long and hard about such things—and read very wildly— and see if you can come up with something that you think does get you closer to what’s behind this behavior. And, of course, if it does get you closer, maybe this fuller understanding will provide you with some useful insights on how to approach those exhibiting it. [Greater understanding leads to more successful interventions—isn’t this the way it’s supposed to work?]

      Again, I have training in neither psychology nor psychoanalysis—although I read with much benefit and insight the fine collection of essays in Sally’s book and Kari Norgaard’s book, “Living in Denial”. And while the full version of my hypothesis is kind of long, I’ll do my best to fit a trimmed version into one paragraph.

      If you go back enough generations, two things kind of stand out for me: (i) individuals came to a sense of who they were—their self-identity—to a significant extent through and from such things their church/religion, their family who lived close by, and by some sense of belonging to their local community; and (ii) of course the state of technology even just 85 years ago greatly constrained how large a carbon footprint you could have. Changing/developing more or less simultaneously, technological advances greatly increased the ways we could cause more carbon emissions—and the benefits those emissions provided us—at the same time that the influence of church/religion, family ties, and local community all waned significantly as shapers of individuals’ sense of who they were—their self-identity. And given that I think this concept of self-identity is pretty bedrock stuff for our sense of personal well-being—“Our identities are how we make sense of information” David Roberts once wrote—something else had to—and did—fill these self-identity shaping deficits. Evolving over time, in their stead—and along with all the technological advancements—have come more personally individualistic ways of coming to a sense of who we are. And when I look around at my friends my age I see people who derive huge chunks of their sense of identity from, say, being the best cross-country skier in his age class, and that entails training year around and driving long distances each week in the winter to compete in x-c races, or driving multiple times each week in the non-winter months to train in special locales; or being the best, most attentive grandparent, although their grandchildren are scattered over the whole continent if not globe and so they’re driving or flying long distances many times a year; or being an incessant traveler to far-flung destinations because when people ask who you are and what you do with your retired time, you really enjoy telling them that you’re a World Traveler.

      All of which is to say that vast numbers of people now define who they are in ways that necessarily entail huge carbon footprints. And that’s why they’re in disavowal: because for them to think about climate change in a personal way and one in which they took some responsibility for their own contribution for it would be to ask them to change how they’ve come to deeply see who they are as individuals. And that’s why it’s so damn hard for them to change their behaviors to reduce their carbon footprints.

      I’ll end this long comment with two additional points. You often hear, especially journalists, say that people are reluctant to begin to reduce their carbon footprints because they can’t commit to changing everything. With this and other similar arguments made by those who don’t engage in climate change, I think of them simply as ways of expressing their disavowal—or rationales that work for them but aren’t really the reason behind their disengagement. And finally, the psychotherapist and writer on the psychology of climate change, Rosemary Randall, has given a similar though broader idea in her excellent essay “The id and the eco”.

      Quantitative comment: I ain’t heard nobody say nuthin’ about that paper by T. Storelvmo and P. C. B. Phillips in Nature Geoscience. Formidable, formidable econometrics. I really liked it.

  10. It bothers me to hear deniers called “climate change” deniers. They are in fact climate science deniers, and failing to make this distinction gives them the opening they need to declare smugly, “Of course I don’t deny climate change. Climate has always changed!”

    • True, but don’t forget, that they also have their OWN ‘science’ with which they agree. They just think of us as dupes, while they on the other hand are properly ‘skeptical’.

  11. Scientists typically say the evidence “suggests” something “may” or “could” happen. They might as well start with “Hey, this is nothing to worry about, and it will probably amount to nothing, actually I’m sorry to waste you’re time, I’m really just guessing, I’ve totally got no idea, your guess is as good as mine, hey, how about them 49ers?”

  12. I think that the hardest thing to communicate is the scale and magnitude of the problem, relative to what people experience and relate to everyday: for example, explain why 2°C of warming is a big deal, when we commonly experience 10 times as much in a day, or that yes, the climate is always changing, but now it is so much faster, even if the differences year-to-year are often hard to detect, etc. To most people, even sympathetic ones, it seems that tomorrow is just as good as today to start tackling the issue, because things won’t be much worse anyway. And technically, I suppose that is correct, but another thing that people don’t get is the notion of inertia in a system as huge as the earth, and that once things are set in motion, the momentum can become unstoppable. In communicating the issue, I think that trying to instill that sense of perspective could be helpful. Also reminding people of the incredible beauty and fragility of life on earth, and our awesome responsibility in the process of evolution.

  13. Ralph Snyder

    The consequences of climate change are not being brought down to things that people understand, to things that will affect them personally.

    Those of us that inhabit these blogs have the kind of mind that understands the direness of 5C warming in the Arctic, or the accelerating melting of the Jacobshaven ice sheet, or the comparison of the rate of GHG emissions to PETM.

    But these things are meaningless to most people.

    I’d like to see more about how sea level rise affects fishing, estuaries, the health of marsh lands (and why that matters), availability of fresh water, nuisance flooding and its costs, and real estate values.

    I’d like to see more about how increasing temperatures affect tourism (ski resorts, e.g.), food prices and availability, health costs to people who work outdoors (like farm workers and construction workers),

    I’d like to see more effort at tying current events to climate change, such as the disaster that is Syria, or changing food prices, or extreme weather.

    I’d also like to see more about how solutions will make life better. A focus on the negative is demoralizing. People need something positive to work for not merely a negative to avoid.

  14. Communications occurs between two parties.

    The initial part of the conversation is between the scientist and the media. The scientists do a passable job of this with the people who are interpreting this into stories about the science. The risks to our civilization however are normally either glossed over, exaggerated or utterly missed. As is any discussion of management of that risk. (Greg Craven does a nice job of presenting It).

    The risk and risk management are not generally explained at all well to the media people who have to turn it into a story though, As someone up thread put it, it is not just one risk at a time… not just the sea level rise… excessively heavy downpours, prolonged droughts, ocean acidification… it is all of them together and it is not just the physical impact of that happening locally but the cumulative impact of it happening everywhere, on populations that are already stressed enough to drown trying to get somewhere, anywhere, else.

    That first pairing is at best “OK” because the people turning out the stories are moderately bright folks and they do (mostly) want to get the stories right. It is in the second pairing when they communicate with the public that the situation goes completely to hell. Their story has to compete with the Kardashians, Monday Night Football and Unreality TV of all descriptions and the stories are long if they are told properly and there is no money in it at all, and it is rather too much like Chinese whispers/Telephone being played with lives as the prize.

    Market driven news in a Democracy? …a disaster,

    What has to happen is that the information has to be presented in longer chunks with primers and prefaces to keep the scientifically naïve from being completely buried and it has to pre-empt (randomly would be good) prime-time programming and Front Page column inches, so that everyone gets the message that this is actually more important than American Gladiators or Game of Drones.. I don’t know of any way to do that short of a declaration of war or something similar, and with our corrupted congress it is even harder to imagine it happening before Mother Nature brings her own declaration of war to the front pages and front lawns of the USA.

    My perception of the resulting risk has myself and my family nicely settled in New Zealand… which isn’t nearly far enough away.

    Not quite hopeless. There are two shocks and a request that we (activists and scientists) can deliver to the system.

    Shock number one, possibly organized through the Pope but we can do it ourselves, is a petition that is signed, not by a few of us but by all of us, many thousands of signatures, demanding action and describing the risk to civilization, not just the risk of an extra meter of sea level rise. It has to be as simply stated as possible, so that even a 12 year old could understand. That won’t mean the Congress will, but it’ll make it accessible to the rest of the population.

    Shock number two would be for all the environmental groups to simultaneously drop their objections to the use of nuclear energy citing the risk to human civilization and accepting its use for the duration of the emergency. They can hedge this as they wish in terms of requiring more advanced and safer plants be researched and used. but the acceptance has to be there, even of current best practice.

    The request goes with the petition. It is not just presented to the UN or to world leaders. It gets presented to the media organizations, and asks THEM to organize among themselves, the interruption of shows and the donation of space in their presentations, and assistance making the presentations watchable and informative. We aren’t going to get the US Congress to accept the need… but we may well get a more useful reception to a proposal for collective action by the media to inform the world, delivered by the Pope.

    That’s the best I got at the moment. Whatever is done has to be big enough to be a story…. and it has to be continued long enough and insistently enough that it can’t be wholly ignored by the public.

    Murphy is my God though, and he doesn’t forgive anything at all.

  15. 1. This is probably a very personal complaint, but there are basic things about probability, risk, and math which people don’t get, even people who, you would think, should understand it. For instance, there are well paid and highly technically trained software people at work who do not understand that if random variables X and Y are statistically independent, this mean P(X|Y) = P(X), and P(X,Y)=P(x)P(y) and what that means for prediction. If they don’t grok that, my expectations for the general public are surely lessened. So, famously, this would extend to how, people in general don’t understand conditional probabilities, and their “sense of story” conflicts with logical outcomes.

    2. The collective responsibility for climate disruption is so diffuse, and so large, that until extreme responsibility can be assigned to an element of our collective, people don’t seem willing to take individual responsibility, or they rate the fractional harm by an individual choice as less important. So, for instance, even if, objectively, land wind turbines are the cheapest energy source around, by almost any measure, and people repeatedly complain (at least in Massachusetts) about electricity rates, they don’t like the aesthetics of wind turbines and would rather the cost of generation be increased fivefold to put them out of sight in the ocean. Ditto large community solar farms or large arrays on people’s homes which are criticized for being not aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, they’re not colored beige, I’m sorry. There’s little or no ownership of the problem here, and I don’t know how to convey the ownership without sounding sanctimonious.

    3. I think scientists, especially in the current climate, like many academics, feel threatened regarding their funding sources, which, no doubt, are under assault. Indeed, if we aren’t entering a new “dark ages”, with the mood in the USA and in Australia with CSIRO, at least they are the “grey ages”. And Fox News talks about whether algebra is important or not, even if Dr deGrasse Tyson makes the mastery of these things the central and great focus of his on-the-road spiel. (He does a wonderful job.) Accordingly, I think they deliberately “shave off the edges” of their presentations, making them tentative. My response, therefore, is to say that we technically trained types, such as myself, even if I don’t have a doctorate and have never taught in university, who have employment in private industry and, so, are independent of such funding, owe it to the academics to do our best, as you do, Tamino, to Put It Out There, and let people know what’s going down. Some frustration is, that the technically trained, non-academic who might not publish much is not well respected by academics. My counter is that Guy Stewart Callendar, who did so much for furthering global warming science, was a steam engineer, with training and smarts. In such circumstances, drawing the lines is silly. (Yeah, I know, there are a bunch of engineers out there, notably aerospace engineers, who are science deniers.) And, yeah, I agree, it’s time that the people involved took some risks because of their ethical promises.

    4. I think people who are communicating the problem need to deal with their own emotions properly. There is a certain angst and tragedy to being Cassandra. The public will wake up, but, alas, it will probably be after the collective commitment to climate disruption is so large that (a) there’ll be damage coming down the road at them for centuries, and (b) they’ll be tempted towards quick-fixes like the “bollocks” idea of solar radiation management. But hopefully, they won’t be so overwhelmed with the challenges that they’ll forget about the long term: I’ve seen that happen in Scituate, MA, with rising sea levels and fiercer storms, and people just focus on the short term, wanting it to all go away, losing perspective. People in the know — climate scientists and the scientifically literate — need to admit to themselves that they are experiencing grief. This is why the Bill and Arnold piece on National Geographic TV is so appropriate. I recommend it.

    5. And, finally, I think we, all, find it difficult to find joy in all this serious stuff. I know I do. It somehow seems wrong. Yet, figuring stuff out, understanding the science irrespective of the consequences, doing the maths, communicating that to the public …. All that, I gotta say, is the stuff which makes my heart race and churn, because it’s what I am all about. We have been trained and see what might happen. We have a vision, and we don’t like it. But don’t forget that getting there is part of what makes it fun for us. That’s a feeling and a scene which is unique to us, and we should not feel guilty about it. Some meteorologists, for instance, get all excited when there are big storms and tornados and hurricanes, even if these might cause damage and harm. I don’t feel they should apologize for that excitement. These are phenomena to observe and understand. I think that goes for climate, too.

    As Tyson says, the Universe is supremely hostile to life, outside Earth. And the physics and maths of the climate system are subtle, and delicate. (Broecker’s angry beast.) We might nudge it into being more hostile than it has been for five thousand years. And that’s not good. In fact, I’d say, the only reason why the super-rich could be super rich recently is precisely because it has been pretty benign. If it turns, those with wealth with lose wealth faster than anyone else. And that, one would think, is plenty reason for them to pay attention. But, alas, maybe they are, after all, just stupid and lucky.

  16. Asteroid Miner: …crash from overpopulation and resource depletion… Of course. I could have included Malthus and Meadows (Limits to Growth) on my list. And studies like Safa Motesharrei et al., 2014, “Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies”. And Schramski et al. 2015.

    And check out the comment threads at ourfiniteworld.com; lots of doomers but not what I would call “conservative.”

    And many self described leftists and progressives don’t get limits; there’s plenty of solar energy, we’ll fly our planes with biodiesel, etc. I hear this stuff at political meetings of people who by middle American standards (this is central Seattle) would be called commies. It’s frustrating; people don’t get it.

  17. Mike McClory

    I think the biggest problem is timescales. It’s a very slow moving car crash. It’s difficult to get politicians to think of any further than the next election, and the ‘general public’ are little better. We should be appealing to people based on what sort of world would we like to leave for our grandkids and great-grandkids.

    It’s interesting to see that local politicians in Florida are now starting to kick up a stink about climate change now that their cities are becoming directly affected by sea-level rise.

  18. The sheer volume of ad-hom (from both sides) distracts from the actual information being disseminated. As soon as someone feels insulted, they disengage with the point you are trying to make.

  19. Craig Allen

    The way news stories never show a temperature plot when they write about the latest record being broken. Sometimes they’ll show a temperature anomaly map, but hardly ever a plot. I assume they think that readers can’t cope with something that technical. But they have no qualms about presenting plots of financial data such as share prices.

  20. In general, I’m happy with the way global warming is communicated. The stuff I read conveys the risks and uncertainties, and leaves no doubt that action is needed.
    Of course I am annoyed at the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world who lend some legitimacy to the deniers. Rupert should just shut up.
    I don’t think you need to worry about the message getting through to the general public. It is the politicians and business leaders you need onside. If they tell the public something needs to be done, they will accept it. Hence the need for Rupert to shut up.
    Your blog is, however incredibly useful to me. I don’t have the time, energy, or expertise to knock down the facades of reality erected by the deniers. You do, and that makes me more sure that *everything* the deniers say is rubbish, and just to trust the scientists.

  21. I have seen the same problem, Tamino. My wife; my sisters; my kids; my friends, all accept what I say about climate, but they’re not really that concerned. They seem to think the consequences of what we’re doing to this planet in terms of emissions, are just too far off; and surely ‘they’ will do something about it before it becomes a problem?

    But my biggest frustration—and perhaps therein lies the solution—is that not enough climate scientists engage with the public; not enough make a noise. With a notable band of exceptions it’s almost as if many of them don’t really believe it’s a really serious long-term problem either, which I guess is just another manifestation of denial. And if scientists don’t express their concern strongly and unequivocally, how can politicians—who by-and-large are scientifically illiterate—be expected to take the subject seriously?

  22. There is too little reference to the “remaining carbon budgets”. I am frustrated at the lack of authoritative voices comparing these to our personal greenhouse gas consumption emissions. (i.e. the average emissions by groups such as world, nation, city, village, demographic class or even just me).

    Example: How many Tesla’s can I buy before the embodied carbon breaks my personal share of the 1.5°C remaining carbon budget? That’s not including driving it.

    Please, Tamino, as an authoritative voice can’t you do something on this?
    One of my attempts is “Three failed eco-towns” (http://ow.ly/10lrYd ). I think it’s quite good but not up to your high standard.

    • Your piece is indeed very good (if not very encouraging).

      That headline number of ‘everyone in the world has 33 tonnes left for 1.5C – use them wisely’ is a good way of getting people to understand how close to the edge we are. If we had a way of enforcing that, things would really start to move…

    • Geoff.

      My sentiments exactly.

  23. John Pattinson

    You and others have been talking about climate change for many decades, yet still the clear evidence is small (less than one degree or a few centimetres of sea rise) or just too far away to be seen (ice packs disappearing). The difficulty is that the symptoms are just too slow to emerge and are hidden by the weather noise, so climate change is just not figuring on peoples’ immediate horizon as vital.

    People are trying to get the story across, but then it is moderated to insignificance. For instance, we get very bad weather and some immediately link it with climate change, but then somebody says “er…., well we can’t say for sure that it is due to climate change” and so the point is lost. People go back to their day-to-day concerns, putting the roof back on or wiping out the mud from the flood, and not thinking about how the next ‘big one’ could be worse.

    Trying to talk about something that could take a generation or more to have a real impact on your audience and keep it at the forefront is just not going to work. Another problem is that those most likely to be affected first, those living in the marginal areas, are those least likely to have heard of climate change, have the least ability to influence their government and have the least time to do anything about it. I think the focus needs to be on those who can do something about it now — politicians, industry leaders – who will be allocating the funds to research that will made a difference. These people are not just populist extremists (who can I be thinking of). There are some serious thinkers amongst them who need to spend more time thinking beyond the next election and actually planning for the future based on the strong well presented evidence before them. They have started; energy policy is changing, but not quickly enough. So applied pressure through strong thoughtful evidence needs to be maintained, this is what you do best. Sober reflection by those with influence will have the greatest impact. If the popular vote can eventually be won through greater knowledge then that will be even better, but that will always be a difficult slow task when most people have many other more pressing things to think about.

  24. For me, the big frustration is our inability to hand ownership of the problem to the public. You engage a citizen on the subject of AGW, you demonstrate that mankind is in deep do-do and …. and pretty-much there it ends.
    Twenty years ago I encountered this situation and concluded that the nub of the problem was lack of information on carbon footprint. That citizen, alarmed by the situation mankind faces, is utterly helpless. They could take on seriously radical action and shun all carbon-emitting activities, or attempt to. But would that (does that) have many takers?
    The information I was being asked (as a volunteer 20 years ago) to hand across to the public was very poor. The public were advised to recycle, don’t leave TVs on stand-by, switch off dripping taps, use public transport rather than drive, use fresh food rather than processed/packages food, etc. The citizen will quickly realise that such behaviour change obviously will not sort AGW on its own. Then add in that they don’t see politicians taking AGW seriously (even today there is no obvious urgency) and you have lost the attention of that citizen, If AGW is the problem as described, if mankind is in deep do-do, it simply isn’t their problem to fix. There are seven billion souls on the planet. Why pick on them? After a couple of goes at explaining AGW & its consequences, that citizen will begin to ignore the problem. It is not their concern.
    (Indeed, how many who are concerned with AGW actively manage their carbon footprint? How many who fight-the-good-fight wholly substitute the personal task of personally mitigating AGW for the personal task of spreading the message to those who are yet to see the light – that messaging becomes ‘job done’?)
    But if the public knew which of their actions/decisions really did make a difference, they would be more minded to attempt to reduce their emissions, to become engaged with the problem. Thus recycling my whisky bottle 30g(C), a TV (these days a very old one) on stand-by 30g(C) a day, dripping taps (per litre dripped) 0.2g(C), saving a gallon of petrol 3,000g(C), etc. Now convert this into a ration (say 1 ton/year – back 20 years ago reducing emissions by 50% was seen as the first step & UK emissions were about 2 ton/year) and, voilà, we all have the same number of minutes in a day, hours in a year. A kWh of electric = 1 hour, a gallon of petrol 1 day, etc.

    So that is my most frustrating communication problem and what I see as a way round it, but this is sadly now all 20 years old.

  25. Martin Smith

    One thing that angers me is when anti-AGW reporters/bloggers interpret a new paper/study as evidence against AGW, when it really isn’t, and then the authors of the paper have to respond by writing a rebuttal to say what their own work really means. Maybe the peer review process needs to add a new question: Can this work be misinterpreted by media/bloggers? If yes, require the authors to add a section to the paper to pre-bunk the misinterpretation.

    • I raised a similar point. If a climate-related paper has wide importance it will be read and summarized for a larger nonspecialist audience, and if there is any possible way that it can be deliberately misconstrued by motivated denialists then it will be misconstrued.

      This is completely predictable and scientists have no excuse for continuing to make that error. (Some people may recall the old Peanuts standby of Charlie Brown futilely hoping that just for once Lucy wouldn’t pull the football away as he tried to kick it.) It’s not difficult to include a key clarifying sentence or two in an abstract and a paragraph or two in a conclusion, and to ensure than any organizational press release that goes out is equally clear.

    • Martin Smith

      Gavin has posted a good piece on this problem over at Real Climate:
      http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2016/04/the-volcano-gambit/

  26. My answer is “almost everything”. The focus shifts from time to time (currently it’s frustration with the unspoken assumption that renewables and EVs do not emit GHGs during their full life-cycle, since Paris agreed to get to carbon neutral and we don’t have a way to suck carbon out of the air.

    Another way to look at the “almost everything” is that however it’s communicated, it ain’t working. Someone mentioned Kevin Anderson, in an earlier comment, and, as he says, we known for a quarter of a century about current climate change and humans’ causative behaviour, but have, essentially, done nothing about it. Now we have Paris but the INDCs don’t even kick in until 2020, and not reviewed until 2023, so the can is kicked down the road once again.

    At this point, I have no idea how to communicate the urgency of this issue, in an environment where Newspapers and news programmes are more interested in the lives of celebrities and viral Youtube videos, as well as selling us more stuff.

  27. “What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?”

    That People like you, spend much time to responde climate denial, the time would could be better used and if someone want to belive, that antropogen climate change is a hoax, you will never chance his mind, because he is a true believer.

    That you talking with denials is for a layman nearly the same as if you say, you not really sure about what you talking and thats why climate denialism is so wide accepted, therefore it gets to much attention

  28. How can we talk to the “other side”.
    There are a lot of people who don’t believe in global warming. None of the Republican candidates wants to do anything to reduce CO2 emissions.
    What can you or I say that will change these people’s minds?
    This blog is – I believe – frequented almost exclusively by people who take climate change seriously. I don’t think it is possible to change senator Imhoffes mind. But what about the rest?

  29. Biggest frustration.
    Right wing media and it’s prominent identities not being held to account for dishonesty.Over the years they have aggressively ridiculed and attacked the integrity of scientists ,called for sackings,demanded apologies, spoke of corruption and holding people to account while trying to erode the public trust in science.
    Most of them are quiet now that their “pause” is gone,time they be held to account and their credibility assaulted in the same prominent and aggressive manner in which they have attacked their targets,there is plenty of material to work with.
    With a complex subject as this it’s easy to mislead that significant element of the public who have little desire to understand the detail, exposing those with no credibility is as important as communicating the science.

  30. Tamino, I’ve read nearly every post on this blog, and many of those more than once. Forgive me for not pretending you’re just another reader, and, perhaps, for my presumption…

    SkS got a column in The Guardian reaching a much wider audience than they used to. Could something like that be an option for you? You’d stand a good chance of being able to contribute from that platform as a guest contributor, I think, and reach more people.

    There are many options outside your expertise, too. You seem ready to try something new.

  31. I wish the nature of the risk was stated more succinctly more often.

    We are conducting a vast, uncontrolled experiment with the only atmosphere we have with potentially severe consequences. That we don’t know the exact outcome is precisely why we need to stop or slow down the experiment with urgency. We can’t reset the experiment if it goes awry. We are inside the test tube and we can’t escape.

    This message should be front and centre instead of the piecemeal bits of “evidence” we keep reading about.

  32. I think the general level of science communication is excellent, and the information is at hand to anyone with access to the internet, however the developed world prefers wilful ignorance, and as others have said and I paraphrase, they enjoy the bread and circuses of consumption culture, and the societal obsession with economic growth.

    I suspect that until the direct consequences of AGW hit people, they prefer to ignore the oncoming problem, it is very hard to imagine any future that isn’t much like the present, and the present is a far more comforting place. Anecdotally, in my personal life, it’s an unwanted conversation.

    We, the residents of the UK, have a kind of national treasure, David Attenborough, who seems to take AGW seriously, has made a documentary about it, but as I’m certain people know, the UK is already backsliding on any commitments it made in Paris without any serious public outcry.

    Incidentally, my background is completely arts based, but the mechanics of AGW are not that complicated, one doesn’t need to understand complex math to get it, to not get it, one just has to not want to get it.

  33. rhymeswithgoalie

    I’m going to go the other way and mention something at the basic technical side of the issue: People don’t understand the difference between temperature and heat, and therefore argue about the squiggly temperature measurements as the tide of heat swings back and forth between the ocean and the atmosphere, rather than appreciating the total heat buildup our planet has achieved so far.

    As for not being considered important or urgent, remember that for many people CC is competing with a job loss, or a child’s Special Needs, or the mortgage, or Aunt Patootie’s cancer or cousin Louie’s meth addiction or Mr. Toodark’s false imprisonment. I regret but am not going to cancel my round-trip flight to visit a dying friend.

  34. “What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?”

    — Too much political correctness coupled with scientific correctness. (Very ineffective for convincing the stupid and/or corrupted and those who need to demonstrate group membership by a “sacrificium intellectus”.)
    — Not enough ridicule and contempt for science denial. (This is why someone like Ted Cruz could chair the U.S. “Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness”.)

    • Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Once Republicans won a majority (and these elections were state by state) – partially due to vast numbers of Democrats not bothering to vote, and stupid candidates running away from Obama because they had been persuaded he was “toxic” – the senior member of the committee on the Republican side was in charge.

      Due to the Kochtopus, Exxon, and the vastly wealthy lobbying machine (earnings, 100:1 along with the deception), people are confused as to the strength of the evidence. Perhaps that could be done better, but you underestimate the power of money. I’m not sure if Jane Mayer’s work in The New Yorker is available across the pond (or if you’re feeling flush, you could buy her new book “Dark Money”), but a simple search on Jane Mayer Koch New Yorker will turn up a range of her work that is summarized and expanded in the book. The truth about this decades long campaign of profiteering and deception is startling; it is now taking over colleges and universities as well, not totally, but enough to provide a credible appearance of an acceptable alternate reality.

      It’s not dissimilar from John Mashey’s work. But our Fox (Murdoch) media, and infotainment, and addiction to instant media and “trending”, have made it possible to obscure real news. Even the New York Times is beholden to advertisers, so false balance rules.

      The US is big, and it’s central part is solidly ignorant about climate change, and hates it too. All too common to blame the messenger.

    • Ralph Snyder

      I doubt that ridicule is a winning tactic.

      But I am open to convincing.

      Convince me.

      • For too long the misinformers have enjoyed a peverse dispensatiom where they attack and ridicule while not being held to account for their BS,time the gloves came off and their credibility torn to shreds in the mind of the public.Ridicule,why not if justified?

  35. Lots of great comments, and hard to add anything more, but I would like to state a couple of things:
    People do not easily deal with complexity and nuance, both of which are necessarily part of the full scope of understanding AGW. This is a hard nut to crack without oversimplifying to the point of misleading.
    The biggest wake up call for me, even after I fully accepted AGW, was the realization and implications of the long persistence of CO2 in the atmosphere even if we halted emissions 100% today. I don’t think most people understand this, and probably think there will come a time when we wean ourselves slowly off CO2, and the next day all will go back to normal.
    That is one piece of communication that I would like to see the average person come to fully appreciate and understand. It makes the urgency of action much more salient.

  36. What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?

    We are social-emotional-rational-critically analytical-risk assessing animals. My suggestion is that man-made climate disruption must be communicated in a way which speaks to our universal humane cultural values. Values appeal to our social relationships and our rational-emotive psychology… unfortunately not as much “hard science” as geophysics… but more likely to result in a behavioral response. Just my opinion.

  37. One thing that could be communicated better is to compare standard climate science projections to those of the denial side. For example, temperature predictions. A second issue to be communicated is the lack of any common hypothesis for the ‘no climate change’ crowd. a third may be to examine the few scientific attempts to find negative feedbacks to cause low climate sensitivity.

  38. I have found it difficult to convince people who should know better that we are going to hit the carbon ceiling much sooner than most people think.

    Here in Oregon, we pride ourselves on being ahead of the curve, using a lot of green energy (mostly salmon-killing hydro), and legislating moving away from coal (our per capita carbon footprint is still 15.1 Mg CO2e per capita, still much higher than the world average).

    I spent the day yesterday in Salem at Willamette University’s Clean Power Forum, where the head of the state Global Warming Commission and others spoke to mostly students and a few faculty like me. I was whelmed and underwhelmed, not overwhelmed.

    Near the end, I said that I didn’t think much of Oregon’s climate targets, because they were so unambitious, that Secretary of State Kerry had said over a year ago that we needed to de-carbonize the economy by 2030, and what was being discussed (50% reduction by 2040) didn’t look anything like that.

    There is an inadequate sense of urgency in these people – and these are activists and supporters!

    A look into my crystal ball predicts that we have until 2031, perhaps 2035 before we hit the world-wide carbon ceiling, that warming in the El Nino cycles of the ’30s will be so devastating that some rogue nation will start pumping SO2 into the atmosphere, and we will see the Paris accords start to unravel.

    I am not in a state of panic, nor despair, but…

    [By an odd twist of fate, Salem was filled with smoke from nearby field burning – I am guessing that the Air Quality Index was in the upper 200s].

  39. as someone who writes a weekly “minimag” column on climate change at the huffington post (“Climate Change This Week”), I find this topic compelling, and agree with many of the points made above. (e.g., I remember explaining to my teenage daughter at one point the “slow crash” we are going through. She’s now a journalist at Reuters.) Married to a scientific wizard (who is actually a good communicator), I try to occupy the position of “peasant” when listening to explanations, and use that as my guide for editing my column.

    So, how can we turn those frustrations into gold? Remember a few good marketing tools:
    be aware of your audience – if it’s the general public, then:
    – go with simple messages, repeated frequently, from trusted advisers*
    – make “the [promoted changes in] behaviors easy, fun and popular.”

    *this has worked wonders for Republican marketers, well before Dump.
    One marketer once told me that data indicate you have to repeat a message close to 20x before anyone hears it…

    I try to layer CC consequences and info with generous chunks of CC solutions and progress on those solutions (focusing mainly on the big 3, for me: creating sustainable populations via family planning, promoting clean renewable energy/energy efficiency, voting like a climate hawk). I try to tie those solutions to the solutions for the top current voting concerns: jobs/economy, health, and national security. Humor and attractive graphics are valuable.

    Don’t get distracted from these marketing basics.
    (BTW, on the numbers thing: another marketer once mentioned that in this info-rich world, people will remember rounded off numbers far more than precise numbers — e.g., 400+ rather than 458. Something else I try to follow.)

    And don’t be shy about trying to reach out to your favorite media sources and letting them know – consistently and often — when they are failing in their job… but offer constructive suggestions. Hope this helps.

    • Your point about repetition resonates with me. Reading Tamino’s repeated posts about the pause and why it was an illusion was the thing that changed my mind about it. Every time Monckton got press about it Tamino seemed to be there with the refutation.

  40. Biggest frustration, Hmm.

    1) The innumeracy of people in general. Who genuinely don’t understand the difference in magnitude of produced energy between a 3GW nuclear power station and a (500MW) solar farm (in the UK) (a factor of 50-odd). This makes sensible discussion about infrastrucutre change very difficult. Politicians are just as bad as the populace (2 scientists/engineers in the UK parliament of 600 MPs).

    This is really about the solutions, not about climate change itself. On the whole I think we should talk about the solutions as much as possible, because time is short and (apart from in the US and maybe Australia?) the populace does actually understand/accept that there is a real problem. Giving deniers too much attention makes it seem like there is still debate.

    2) Not enough people understand carbon budgets, and that it’s accumulation that matters, not rate of emission, and worse, that all the ‘2C’ trajectories assume massive negative emissions. They are being lied-to when they hear that ‘2C is possible, alongside continued growth, so you just make a few changes but otherwise carry on’.

    Kevin Anderson is one of the worlds best communicators on this subject. He should be on the TV every night, rather than giving talks in small university lecture theatres. He’s nearly as good as Schneider. He also walks the talk, unlike so many, and that really resonates with people (he moved to a smaller house, he no longer flies). I don’t know how we make that happen, but I like to think that if more people heard and understood his message that they’d feel empowered to make changes to their own lifestyles (and understand why it is now necessary, not optional).

    3) As others have mentioned, there is a gap between getting people to a) accept that there is a problem and b) actually do something significant (like stop intercontinental flying or insulate their houses). This needs social pressure. Nearly everyone just does whatever all their friends do.

    I have become increasingly outspoken on this at work (largish corporation), and in external meetings, and have actually been surprised to find myself pushing at an open door. People no longer think I am a ‘wierdo’ for bringing up the subject or saying ‘no, flying to conference X is not reasonable given the state of the climate emergency, so I’m not going’. Indeed I find people are glad that _someone_ said something, because there is still social pressure not to mention it.

    But a lot more people need to do this for the tipping point to be reached where this becomes ‘normal’ and everyone makes real changes. People don’t feel sufficiently empowered (or coerced) yet. I don’t know how to make this move faster. It may be that norms can only be changed quite slowly (in which case we may just be f*cked).

    Countering denial remains important in places where it is still prevalent, but most effort needs to go into causing a) personal change, which is fast and b) infrastructure change, which is slow. Govts have not bought into ‘a’ at all (because they still think that ‘growth’ is more important (and incompatible). They are probably right about the latter.

    I like the ‘mobilise’ campaign in the US – I think they have the right idea of making clear that there is an emergency on, and that everyone must vote for politicians that agree enough to actually do something.

    In terms of getting people to understand what they can do and how much difference that makes, the ‘Carbon Conversations’ system is very effective: http://www.carbonconversations.org/what-carbon-conversations That is spreading slowly – anything that helps it spread faster would be good.

    Does any of that help?

  41. One of our biggest problems is the disrespect for knowledge and education in this country if it is not attached to a material goal.

    Young people are easily led, and they have smartphones, so maintaining order and interest in a classroom, with a poor paid and disrespected teacher, is difficult. It takes some maturity to learn what we don’t know and set aside preconceptions.

  42. Three major issues:
    1. Most places (including here, and WUWT) engage in personal attacks against any and all who disagree with their perspective. It reduces the credibility of the blogs and their contributors.

    2. Too much argument about sensor fidelity. It gives both sides an easy way of dismissing opposing views.

    3. FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doom) can only get you so far, and I think the general public has AGW FUD-fatigue right now. How many times can we be at the tipping point? How often can it be ‘worse than we thought’?

    At some point we need to start looking at the pros of a warming planet.

    I believe my country (Canada) would benefit greatly if the tree line were to move a few 100 km north of where it is now. I understand it’s really bad for Miami, but would all of that extra usable land in Canada offset the cost of a flooded Miami?

    My point is that unless we start painting a more balanced view of outcomes the issue will remain polarized and very little will be done about it. It’s hard to find common ground when something is either entirely bad or entirely good– know what I mean?

    • Will, there will undoubtedly be some good effects of global warming. But they will be hard to see in the midst of a global economic collapse and population crash.

      • Will…
        I don’t really see the establishment of a new set of circumstances that would most certainly lead to the US eyeing Canada for it’s survival as a good thing. Changing the climate to move the treeline hundreds of miles to the north would do that.

        That said, muskeg, bog and rock doesn’t make for great farmland. In my own Newfoundland, no amount of warming will help on that score.

    • Will.

      The “pros” of global warming as humans have instigated it are similar to the “pros” of making an airliner’s cabin less stuffy by crashing it into the ground.

      Learn some ecology.

    • Will wrote: “I understand it’s really bad for Miami, but would all of that extra usable land in Canada offset the cost of a flooded Miami?”

      More temperate Precambrian granite and muskeg will offset the loss of coastal Florida and it’s trillions of dollars of fixed infrastructure investment? Seriously?

      Think about the entire population of Bangladesh picking up and moving into India as the sea rises. Now go read up on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and tell me that it will go smoothly.

      I find that those who try to bring up the pros of a warming planet tend not to live in regions where there will be serious negatives.

      While you’re learning ecology, bone up on some basic geography and history.

      • It never ceases to amaze. Most of the arable land in Canada is in production now. In addition to boning up on some basic geography and history, it might be a good idea to recognize that Canada is a separate country. Even if we could move more agriculture to Canada, would it be a problem if we weren’t growing our own food? Yes.

      • If there really *were* lots of arable land in Canada just awaiting a good defrost, I don’t think that Americans would need to worry about lacking access to it, what with current free-trade treaties and the military balance of power in any probable scenario out to the distant medium term.

        Of course, as there isn’t, it’s rather moot anyway.

      • Tokodave, note that Will claims to be Canadian, so one would think that he should know that most of the arable land in Canada is already in production and that the Canadian Shield extends in an impenetrable barrier to agriculture across more than half of Manitoba and the upper third of Saskatchewan. Then again, I know plenty of Canadians who claim to get nose bleeds if they venture north of Bloor Street, so maybe he’s never even heard of the Shield, much less seen it.

      • Not to mention 61% of Ontario:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Ontario#Geology

        “My home & native land”, though I live in Georgia now.

      • Mais ois! I grew up in Quebec and my first geology job was in Chibougamau!

      • “61% of Ontario and a full 90% of Quebec”

        Which is why I didn’t bother mentioning them, Doc. Outside of southwestern Ontario between Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, a tiny fraction of the province’s area, there is precious little intensive large scale agriculture in the province. I find that people who don’t know anything about Canadian geography and the Shield look at Manitoba and Saskatchewan on the map and assume it’s verdant prairie wheat country all the way to their northern border, when it just t’ain’t so. Where wheat can be grown it already is.

      • I could quibble a bit about the phrase ‘tiny fraction’, but it would be just that–a quibble. If anyone is curious, here’s a bit from statscan about Canadian ag:

        http://www.statcan.gc.ca/ca-ra2006/articles/snapshot-portrait-t2-eng.htm

        Also:

        “Canada — despite its size — has by far the smallest proportion of total land that is agricultural at only 7.3% (Table 1), mainly because of soil quality and the nature of the Canadian climate and terrain.”

        http://www.statcan.gc.ca/ca-ra2006/articles/snapshot-portrait-eng.htm

    • Will, across much of southern Australia where I live the arable zone is a strip several hundred kilometres between desert and ocean. Shifting agriculture poleward isn’t an option. For a large proportion of the global population, moving to somewhere with a better climate is not an option. There’s nowhere to go or it’s just not possible to get there. Europe, the Middle East, the US, and Australia are already turmoil over fear of refugees and others wanting to migrate across borders. This is only going to get worse.

  43. Many commenters ‘speak my mind’, but especially geoffbeacon and Al Rogers.

    Our goal is carbon neutrality (or carbon negativity – 350 ppm goal – actually!) Communicating what carbon neutrality means and what it looks like (i.e., examples) is needed. Most of us need to be able to ‘see’ the future before we can even aim for it.

    Besides energy-hog homes and transportation, we have an energy-wasteful economy (e.g., organic fruit from Chile, cars that last only 5 years, and homes that are too big and made too cheaply). I’ve seen what approaches carbon neutral living in rural Southern and East Africa, and have seen aspects of it here in the U.S. – some bicycle everywhere or live in conscientiously tiny homes or apartments, others garden extensively, and a few have photovoltaic arrays. I’ve seen very few examples of people actually living a carbon neutral lifestyle who have the economic wherewithal of being Earth-exploitative.

    Three couples and one individual I’ve met (in VT, MA, NM and NYC) who intentionally lived closest to my carbon neutral ideal were conscientious objectors to paying “war taxes” or otherwise lived in ways to minimize the need for income (and thus owed nothing to the IRS). I’m sure I’ve met others, but didn’t realize what they were doing (and not doing).

    One ‘problem’ with living lightly on the land is that it generally takes you out of the limelight, and others don’t see how rich a life one can live without ‘stuff.’

    And on top of all this, I might not actually have a good grasp of what a carbon neutral lifestyle looks like!

  44. rockandrolldoctor

    1. “Balanced-view” approach inappropriately applied by the media.
    2. The role of overpopulation underemphasized.

    I also agree with an earlier commenter that the phrase “climate change denier” should be replaced with “climate science denier”.

  45. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse


    What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?

    By whom?

    Everyone seems to have an opinions to share.
    Informed opinions? Not so much…

    It’s frustrating to have to wade though oceans of opinions just to get to a few islands of fact.

  46. Humans have the ability to push potential problems into the future – ask a smoker

    People do not like being told what to do

    • Photon Wrangler

      Ex-Smoker here.

      You have hit upon something, I think. Like everyone else, I’ve been exposed to my share of anti-tobacco PSAs. I knew how many people it kills every year. I knew it reduced both the quantity and quality of life. I knew it was costing me lots of money. I knew it would likely cost me even more down the road. I saw the horrific pictures of sickly, blacked lungs. I saw people breathing (and still smoking!) through a hole in their neck.

      But I didn’t care. I just tuned it out. You’re right, humans have an incredible ability to insulate themselves from negative consequences.

      But then some things happened. One, I became a father. Suddenly what happened to me 15, 20 years down the road mattered. Mattered in ways I could never have fathomed beforehand. And two: I read something… interesting. It wasn’t about the bad things that would happen if I didn’t quit. I knew about that stuff, and I didn’t ever want to see it. This was different. This was about the good things that would happen if I did quit. That after X weeks I’d have a noticeable increase in energy. That after X weeks I’d have a noticeable drop in blood pressure. That after X months, I’d see a certain return of lung function.

      It all spurred something in me. And I quit. Just. Like. That.

      Grim-faced presentations of the negative (but typically distant) consequences didn’t work for me. But having a stake in the far-future, and having an incentive to create a better ‘near future’ for myself… that did the trick.

      • Hey, Photon Wrangler, of all the posts I’ve seen here thus far, yours makes the most sense to me.

        I think folks like Tamino, Gavin, James Hansen, etc. have on balance done a pretty good job. But when you are up against ideology, especially one that cannot or does not want to see harm from the current course of actions, you have a really tough educational challenge.

        And your post highlights another important point: it is only when you really grok that there is an existential threat that you are even willing to consider changing course. We all get the existential threat of climate change. GOP Congressmen? Not so much. Only when they see that their own personal well being is at stake will they make the required effort. That may come too late to avoid some serious consequences should the GOP continue to control Congress for a few more years.

        I sincerely wish the composition of Congress changes. The U.S. has to come on board big time, regardless of whatever anyone else in the world does. I hope that will happen in time. And I will be only too happy to be wrong about this.

      • There’s a very real possibility that the Senate could go Democratic this year. IMO, that’s something that we should work towards.

  47. I like a lot about how climate change is communicated, but have two suggestions for now:
    • a lot more time devoted to a holistic look at what will happen in the lifetime of people born today in a rich city near you, and in a poor city far away. The idea is to give people the tools to understand what will happen to us, and empathy for the challenges others face as well.
    • a lot more time devoted to solutions, giving a broader context, eg,
    —wonks say that nuclear/carbon capture and storage/etc is needed for the following reasons, and yet people oppose these solutions.
    —wonks say that a GHG cost is needed, works way better than subsidies, and yet people oppose these solutions. And yet other taxes will be displaced, and people will be happier…
    —wonks say that a shift to more efficient cars, air conditioners, etc helps, and it’s not just because you reduce your energy use, but because when this happens, … (eg, reduction in the most polluting, GHG and otherwise, electricity source, for the air conditioners, etc). Perhaps some context about why it isn’t just about you depriving yourself. Social scientists will have insights, eg, it might work better to say, wonks say that a shift is needed, and 10% of the public has responded….

    One reason to give solutions a broader context is that those of us in the US can say truthfully that R solutions back when Rs were interested in climate change were preferred by the economists over D’s subsidizing one’s favorite solutions. It allows us to make the discussion more bipartisan. Also, many today indicate that climate change can be addressed without any hard work, especially emotional. Social scientists say that this is important, because people won’t respond if they think that they are part of the solution or part of the problem. But perhaps it’s important that the discussion be at an emotionally honest level. The majority of Rs agree with the clean power act, now that President Obama has stopped talking about green jobs and has started talking about climate change.

    I appreciate the question and all the wonderful answers others have produced.

  48. Biggest frustration of it all:

    The people doing the bulk of the communicating are not scientists, never mind climate scientists. That’s the politicians, the news readers, the journalists, the school teachers. They don’t really understand what they’re saying and aren’t in any position to put across the science well, or, more to the point put across the counter points based in science to the (often false) objections raised. Slowly changing with more news orbs giving actual scientists space in their webpages but not quickly enough to counter the ones giving the anti-scientists the oxygen of publicity.

    2nd biggest frustration:

    That people still think it’s something that’s going to happen in the future. That was true 20 to 30 years ago but not now. Time is running desperately short and the economic, social and environmental costs of those decades of inaction are starting to spiral. The costs of mitigation are going yo balloon in very short order. That’s what will destroy economies – the inaction, not the action.

    How do you get across to people that it’s happening now other than through their own experience of unnatural disasters like extreme flooding, heat waves, etc? It’s time to start saying more of, “we told you so and we told you over 20 years ago”.

    • [I should have sat down and put my thoughts in order before responding… Sorry for the multiple posts]

      Another frustration: the changes happening need to be put into human terms. The “size of Wales” factor that’s used in the British press:

      E.g. The amount of mass lost in the Arctic since 1979 is equivalent to a 1 metre covering of ice across the whole of North America (n.b. not sure if that’s correct, haven’t done the sums). The amount lost in Antarctica is x, the amount gained in sea ice around Antarctica is only a tiny z% of that overall loss.

      Quotes like that first one – if it were real – are what make Joe Public stop and listen to what you are saying. Things like 50Gt of ice have been lost do not because there are too many people who don’t know have a clue what a gigatonne is and even those who do, can’t actually mentally comprehend the sheer scale of it.

      What amount of energy does a global 2deg rise in atmospheric temperature actually equate too? Skeptical Science use the number of nuclear bombs exploding per second for ocean temp rise, which is getting there though I find that a little too abstract still. Is there a way of making people realise just how much more energy that actually equates too because 2 deg C just doesn’t sound threatening.

  49. I think one of my biggest frustrations is how even people who probably agree about the basics, can end up fighting about how to communicate; what not to say, how to say it, include uncertainties, don’t include uncertainties, etc. My impression is that this is a combination of false balance and ego. I think it would greatly improve if we all acknowledged that there is more than one way in which to communicate a complex topic and tried to recognise that even if we disagree with how someone has presented some science, that we mostly all have the same overall goals; a better understanding of what is a complex and important issue.

    • In around 1990 I attended a presentation by David Suziki, in which he stated that the 90s were the last decade in which humanity could act to avoid dangerous climate change. I was very struck by his use of the frog-in-boiling-water metaphor, which was the first time I’d heard a real-world use of the parable.

      In hindsight Suzuki was bang on the money. Humanity was somnambulent during the 90s, and remained so in the decade after: and it’s only in the last year or so that there’s been any real detectable shift in the awareness of the problem at a global governence issue. And yet at a basic societal-, species-level we are still mired in our indulgent, profligate and extravagant consumption and waste of resources, with no visible policy response that will have any global effect. Vested-interest denialism has very successfully seen to that: the repeal of the Australian Labor/Green government’s price on carbon is the classic example of this.

      Watts et al effectively won the contest to mitigate or not as soon as they started – our selfish limbic systems took over (or, rather, remained in place…) before their first lines of ink were dry on the paper.

      And for all that I’m an enthusiastic participant of the blogosphere community and its efforts to try to instigate real action against fossil carbon emissions, we’re really all pissing in the wind. We still all post as if we’re going to come up with the final, actual argument that’s going to enlighten the world, when the reality is that our monkey (and reptilian) DNA is not along for the ride.

      We’ve missed the mitigation boat by at least a decade folks – at the very least – and we’ve not yet woken up to what the battle is now… which is how do we respond to minimise the depth of a disaster which is inevitably going to descend on our kids and grandkids, and on the breadth of life on Earth, and to what extent are we going to continue our selfishness for another few decades so that we can rob from the future in order to wallow in our own self indulgence.

      This is the message that we should now be communicating. Not “how do we avoid the bad bits of cliamte change?”, but “we’ve been too selfish and ignorant to understand the early warnings, so what are we now prepared to do to salvage something of the future?”

      The trouble is that by the time we as a species accept that second message, the only option remaining will likely be to put your arms around your knees and assume the crash position.

  50. I’ve been lurking here for quite a while. Here’s a question that Tamino is probably uniquely qualified to answer: if you look at economic studies of the cost of climate change (“social cost of carbon”), or the cost of adaptation/mitigation, you’ll find that estimates of those numbers, and how they will change with time, are all over the place – order of magnitude differences. They are used to decide all sorts of questions about how to proceed politically and legislatively to address climate change and its consequences (cost-benefit analysis).
    To my knowledge, no one has ever addressed the statistical significance of any of these studies (Stern, Garnaut, Nordhaus, Cline, Tol). Is it possible to put 1 or 2-sigma bounds on any of their numbers, or is all of that economic ‘analysis’ just an empty exercise?
    To put it more simply, is it possible to say anything from statistical analysis about choosing the ‘optimum’ path to take to get us started on the right path out if this mess?

  51. Lawrence Martin

    Please take the time (four minutes) to watch this Jon Stewart video before reading my comment…

    Stewart talks of an alternate universe which has allowed binary thinkers to create their personal version of reality delivered to them by talk radio, the internet and Fox News, Their opinions are validated 24\7, they never have to leave that comfortable safe world.
    Anthony Watts provides a safe place for climate deniers to proclaim their belief in a conspiracy by 97 percent of scientists to perpetrate a hoax that will destroy America. Jim Hunt, Neven and I have the aforementioned weather man in an extremely uncomfortable situation regarding a secret(s) Anthony is terrified we are about to reveal. He can rest assured, his secret is safe with us for a short while longer… then the comedy begins. It is my belief that a little sunlight and a lot of ironic comedy will take care of Tony the troll. A good place for background is at the Wingnut Alternate Reality thread at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog
    With the Americans having a presidential election this year it is absolutely imperative that Climate Change is a major issue and gets attention it deserves

  52. Not so much a matter of frustration but a wish for more public engagement via our peak science advisory bodies – like The Royal Society and US National Academy. I’m one who thinks that appeals to authority have been subject to unreasonable criticism, yet for most people – even most scientist – it’s not possible to subject the science to competent personal critique; the considered advice from experts is not just the better course to take, it most often is a requirement for those in positions of trust and responsibility. For such people to fail to take heed of expert advice where the consequences involve foreseeable harms can best be described as criminal negligence – and that has strong legal precedents.

    A thorough critique of such a multi-faceted science is beyond any individual, and whilst there have been some well credentialed efforts to present what is known about climate to the lay public I think it would be of great benefit to have a much publicised review done with the imprimatur of respected orgs like NAS and RS. It needs to be a classy video presentation and I would like to see it begin with background of such institutions – what they are, what they do, why they are trusted and respected – as well as give the viewer a look at how suitable experts are selected to do the review and critique to gather both the working expertise, from top working climate scientists as well as appropriate ‘outsiders’ who can’t be readily accused of being biased. It wouldn’t hurt to include some background for each – both to emphasise their competence as well as their humanity.

    The potential for quality graphics to visualise climate processes and changes from human activities are there – but such a presentation needs to somehow raise it above mere advocacy and I think only our highest tier science bodies have the prestige and probity needed.

  53. From tamino way above
    “I’m proud of how this blog has increased awareness,..
    But I often feel discouraged that I’m not reaching the people I need to reach.”

    I’m from Australia and a regular commenter on Oz’s #1 political forum – a forum that has 100s, sometimes even 1000s, of comments a day from an equivalent number of people, on a variety of political topics and it is well known that the forum is monitored by the 3 major parliamentary parties on a regular basis.
    And I frequently post links to this site with relevant excepts – on the ‘pause’ for just 1 example,
    And get positive feedback.
    And others sometimes do the same.

    Your audience, your reach, your impact, is wider than you I suspect you think it is.
    Please continue.
    .

  54. hannahs dad

  55. “Your audience, your reach, your impact, is wider than you I suspect you think it is.
    Please continue.”
    +1

    My number one frustration, with how the science is communicated comes in two parts. The first trivial the second not so much, but it is the why for the above.

    The first frustration is that at this time I don’t have daily/ubiquitous access to pay walled peer reviewed papers. When i want he actual “good oil” on something it is painful to get, and sometimes(often) I skip it as I am busy with life. Not actually much of problem, “blind freddy” can see from the temp graph with a 5 + 11 yr running mean we have problem, and when that is paired with a Co2 graph and a small amount of basically incontrovertible quantum mechanics level stuff, then the what and why is rather clear to very much high enough level of certainty that risk management says we should have acted decades ago. So I don’t really need the “good oil” except for the side effects of my second frustration. That said, this site and a few others, have pretty good oil.

    As a student and observer of the human condition I am fully aware of how much people do in fact in general bury their heads int he sand about anything they don’t want to know. For instance i frequently see parents who I know know better do what they know to be daft stuff, because they’re too tired or busy. Motivated thinking creeps up and drives lots of people way more often than they realize (and in hindsight: mea culpa).

    The level of denial and head in the sand about stuff as obvious as the cherry picking that made the pause seem real, is however a tad special. To then now be talking about how the recent rise is just El Nino… when the fact that the no warming meme since 19XX was also largely caused by Starting at an El Nino, BUT, back when that was the trendy way to deny reality, El Nino, was as incomprehensible to them as Spanish. Their ability to do that with straight face and not be embarrassed by the hypocritical contradiction of it all beggars belief. That would be funny, if it wasn’t both serious and dire.

    The frustration is how much it is not simply enough to tell the truth about climate change, and present the science. You also have to combat wheedling, PKBing, emotive fallacies, misquoting both the famous misquotes and my own statements being taken out of context.
    Basically the people objecting to AGCC using social engineering to persuade people with cult of personality that they should side with them.
    When the argument really boils down to, “Ewww you dont want to agree with him… he smells”, that is kind of frustrating argument to counter. That some people seem to fall for it, is also frustrating. When I remember that 419 scammers do indeed find ‘marks’, I remember that those arguments no matter how seemingly insane, do get traction.

    That I then also have to craft very carefully how and what I say, so that it has the impact that I need is really frustrating. What I like about this website, is that it gives me good ideas about which ways to present the statistical information such that it is as clear as possible.
    Its also handy when it reminds me of stuff I forgot, or shows me things i never knew about stats and time series. I always knew the no warming stuff was bollocks, but it was the explanation on this site that let me find more and clearer ways to explain that.

    TLDR: talking to motivated listeners, that hear what they want to hear, then change the topic. AGCC is such large and complex piece of science that once they have ping ponged through their 19 favorite memes they then start again, and ignore that those memes were refuted last time around.

    BINARY thinking:
    I am on some days have been computer programmer, or a digital electrical engineer, it could be forgiven if I as consequence of my work started to get little black and white in my thinking. That I get so frustrated so often by people that reduce the scientific problem of is rising Co2 levels warming the planet
    to the us and them question, they… (the pinko lefty greenies…) want it so it must be bad and not only bad but wrong.
    It is not just binary, it is >one bit< binary thinking. (bullshit mountain)
    That people cant separate the scientific question what does more CO2 do to climate?
    From the rest of their ideological framework, and cant get further than finding out what the rest of their perceived tribe believe so they can think it too.
    It is not just binary thinking, raising Co2 levels further is a bad idea. There is almost no grey in that at all.
    It is lumpy binary thinking, where you make one binary decision: "I belong to and identify with that tribe", and then proceed to believe everything you think that group does.
    Mob mentality. Uggh.

  56. Oh and lying goddam bastards… they frustrate me too. Especially the ones that are meant to be >leading us< instead of pandering to the polls, and adopting the policy that has the best door stop memes because that is what will actually get you elected.
    So on my good days, I lay the blame at the root cause, and I am frustrated that such large fraction of voters fall for that. or dream of a political system in which it is not the least informed and least engaged voters that effectively choose which of two parties gets in so the whole political rhetoric system and debate is geared and optimised to obtaining their vote. AKA dumbed down. I am reminded of a talk by Richard Alley in which he was asked if the pollies get it? He described what the difference was between how they acted with the doors closed, (curious, human, and intelligent!) and what happened once the doors opened: Sound bites, tribal memes, and waffle.

  57. 97%. It’s nowhere near that low. That wrongly gives the impression that one in thirty professional climate scientists reject that carbon dioxide causes climate change and that humans are the major source of increased carbon. It introduces a level of doubt that is unjustified, and gives space to the contrarians.

    That the IPCC’s choice of 2100 as a bound for predictions in the 1990s has come to frame all popular communication of medium and long term impacts. This causes several problems. Firstly, that people are unaware that in the long term carbon concentrations are pretty much irreversable – an excess will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds and thousands of years. Most people seem to think that if we stopped burning coal tomorrow we’d be in the clear within a short while. The second problem is that a great number of very serious impacts occur after 2100. Indeed, they increase in severity from that point. The third is that 2100 is no longer very far away. A child born today in a developed country will be alive at that point, and children born within the next decade in developing countries will also be alive (assuming no increase in life expectancy).

    • That the IPCC’s choice of 2100 as a bound for predictions in the 1990s has come to frame all popular communication of medium and long term impacts

      This has long been a bugbear of mine.

      The only limit that should be included in every projection of the impacts of global warming is the consequence at plateau. Anything less is thimble-rigging.

  58. I’m going to drop this in again. In simpler form.

    The PUBLIC has to understand the urgency, the emergency and enough of the fundamental science to make the connections themselves.

    Scientists DO NOT communicate with the public. They communicate with the media. This is medium good to pretty darned good (Faux news excepted).

    The communication that has yet to happen is between the media and the public, and the message has to be the full set of the urgency, emergency and fundamental science, that BAU cannot continue.

    For that communication to happen it has to interrupt BAU. The public needs to have the information interrupting them in prime-time, in the middle of the game, and not according to a schedule they can plan around. It has to be purposefully disruptive of the daily routine.

    That”s the requirement and the frustration is that it seems impossible to make it happen in a Democracy like ours with privately owned TV stations and a wholly dysfunctional legislature…

    The only way it can happen is if the media itself signs on to do it. So how do we persuade THEM to spend the necessary advertising space on climate documentary Public Service Announcements that the Congress won’t even authorize? Reality is that this isn’t going to happen if we don’t MAKE it happen and it is going to take a hell of a hard-sell to get it to happen..

    We’re talking to the wrong people. We’re talking to the wrong power-brokers. The ones that count are the ones who run the media, not the ones that pretend to be democratically elected.

    The other avenues are blocked… in particular the Congress (which should be our first recourse) is part of the problem. WE can’t and don’t speak directly to the people, and as long as the glass teat is dispensing its soporific, mind-killing nonsense on schedule, the people do not and CAN not hear the “BAU won’t work anymore” .

    They cannot hear that message until it interrupts BAU. Until the glass teat gives them an unexpected taste of bitter reality.

  59. “What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?”

    Nothing. For the most part the message has been received, and rejected. Reasons for rejection include: it’s technology will save the day; I don’t give a damn about Florida / Bangladesh; it’s a problem for my kids to solve; and there’s nothing I can do about it anyway so I might as well enjoy life.

    While we can continue to try to educate our friends, neighbors and candidates for local office, we should recognize that most people don’t care and will never care about this issue until such time as food prices rise or there’s interesting news out of Florida about the sudden loss of potable water and everyone in Miami has to leave.

    I’ve got about 30-40 years in this life. I will bet that the Keeling curve will be less steep in my lifetime (James Wimberly believes that annual CO2 emissions are peaking right about now), but there’s no way that the curve will be flat or downward in that time. (If there’s a massive holocaust, like nuclear war, that causes the curve to decline, I don’t much suspect I’d survive that.) And the simple reason is that we are still too close to our great ape ancestors. As a global community, we just can’t look that far ahead.

    • Francis, I echo your thoughts. I’ve said many times in the past that the only things that will likely see an avoidance of the inevitable consequences of global warming are near-term nuclear war or (natural or manufactured) pandemic.

  60. I am hopeless at explaining anything so I don’t know why I’m even trying to write anything here :-)

    Analogies. People need simple analogies that point them in the right direction (and that are hard to pervert into giving the wrong answer). Right answer for wrong reason is ok (especially if a footnote is provided)

    Consider a jigsaw:

    Science: we might know the exact shape of a missing piece but have no idea what colour it is (c.f. neutrino)

    Global warming: We might have correctly assembled a dozen pieces together – and know that they’re put together correctly because all the pieces interlock – but still not know exactly where in the jigsaw the chunk belongs (c.f. Understanding the science around climate change and knowing it’s right but not knowing what the impact on the weather will be)

  61. Chuck Hughes

    We need the “Straight Talk Express” to be employed by the Scientific Community. Tell us straight about what is most likely to happen to humans and the planet and give a best estimate on how soon to expect it. We need to start making real plans about how to survive. We can’t do that with vague generalities. These assessments need to be updated regularly as the situation demands and it needs to be articulated in such a way than anyone can understand.

  62. To expand a bit on one of the frustrations I mentioned. A lot (most?) people get their climate change info from newspapers, news programmes and talk shows. But those snippets of information (even when accurate) are sandwiched between trivia stories, interviews with celebrities and advertising. All this trivialises an incredibly serious situation. One minute we might be hearing about a record Arctic ice melt and scary sea-level projections then, the next minute, there is some story about (to pick a random headline on a front page) “Celebrity who took out injunction over extra-marital threesome is named in US media”.

    Of course, people are interested in other stuff but it always gets me when the very next story is such a trivial matter that has no impact on almost everyone. I don’t know how that can be improved except to have bits of the CC story sprinkled across a news program or through a newspaper (“and now back to our lead story …”) so it come first and last.

  63. Many good comments. One element largely missing is TIME. It has taken society well over a century to establish the path we are on and to get us to the place we are. No matter what we do, it will take decades of hard work to change the path to try to end up at a better place. This needs to be acknowledged.

    A corollary is it takes many, many ACTIONS to effect change, and that in fact it is true that no one action will really do anything. Deniers delight in saying this. But it is akin to saying no one squad action wins a world war: True, but missing the point entirely of how one wins a world war. The Greatest Generation themes often stressed this point: Individuals matter both not at all but are ultimately the only thing that matters in great, world changing enterprises.

    On the positive side, some small building blocks are, in fact being put in place. As most of us know renewables comprised more than 50% of new power last year. Not much change globally from that in one year as deniers constantly and correctly from their sadly limited point of view like to point out. Or even over a decade. But, over time, across multiple decades and in concert with many other changes, yes such a change in investment really will make a difference.

  64. There is no problem with the way scientists are communicating. That job has been done remarkably well.

    The problem is in who we are as a species. We are a modestly intelligent species with wonderful hands, probably the most remarkable appendage in the animal kingdom. Elephants and most cetaceans are likely smarter and octopuses have a more complex brain. We evolved on the savanna as a social and communal creature. Our brains did not evolve to do calculus. They evolved to tell stories, perhaps. The fact that most or all of your readers can do calculus is an aberration. Your blog self-selects for people who like numbers, maybe 2 or 3% of the population.

    As a complex organism, the human economy does not have free will. There are thermodynamic reasons why the organism has to dissipate every available energy gradient and increase entropy. As a consequence, fracked gas does not replace coal any more than nuclear power reduces emissions. Capitalism did not “win” over communism because it treats people fairer, but because it is more efficient at exploiting energy gradients. Neither system treats people or the environment especially well.

    As Daniel Dennett says: “What we have to understand is that free will is our capacity to see probable futures, futures which seem like they’re gonna happen, in time to take steps so that something else happens instead.” Daniel Dennett https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joCOWaaTj4A

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and keep on trying for the sake of our grandchildren, but I come to this blog because everybody here makes sense and frankly most people don’t. A good friend told me the other day that he agreed with me global warming is a problem. So I asked why was he still a republican and he said there are other more important issues like the government trying to take away his guns.

    He isn’t going to read this blog or the National Climate Assessment.

    So I don’t have any idea what we can do better.

    • Maybe your republican friend can shoot his way out of the consequences of AGW.
      We apparently have a faulty threat assessment capability as a species. This can only be overcome by critical thinking paired with education.

    • Heh, I commented first and read the comments after, and have just now discovered yours Tony.

      I absolutely concur.

  65. What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?

    Human nature.

    The issue isn’t really with the communication of the science. It’s with the way that our species assimilates and processes danger. We’re not evolved (as a species) to deal with danger that isn’t immediate and epinephrine-inducing. To put it simply, we don’t have the adaptation required to see how our intelligence, and the products thereof, have affected the biosphere at distances and timeframes that are beyond those that have influenced our evolutionary past.

    Heck, the science with which we’ve constructed the modern world is a very recent and highly emergent phenomenon from our evolution, and it’s not been around long enough to feed back into our genome. Expecting that energent phenomenon to be able to communicate with the lizard brain is a part of the problem: which is the lizard brain itself, and not the marvellous emergence in the grey matter that Home sapiencs evolved around it.

    If we can’t grasp the nettle and take conscious, thoughtful, deliberate, and non-instinctive control of our species’ lizard brains, then nothing will succeed, and science will eventually feed back into our genome by removing (as a consequence of its actions) it from the planet.

    • Very good note. It’s been observed that there were a number of Homo sp. over the past million years or so, and some (most famously H. neanderthalensis were present in the same time and place during our early days. Every one of them disappeared after our appearance on the scene. We’re now working our way apace through the rest of the biosphere.

    • > We’re not evolved (as a species) to deal with danger that isn’t immediate and epinephrine-inducing.

      I think that is very perceptive. It’s certainly part of the dynamic of why those who are too busy trying to survive don’t ever really stop and think.
      But perhaps another part of the problem is that we also manage to produce individuals who learn how to exploit that: for example, advertising seems designed to exploit the lizard part of the brain.

  66. I’m often frustrated by what I affectionately call the “optimism gap” in climate communication. The problem is so huge and so daunting, it’s quite easy to shrug off the real progress we are making in reducing emissions. But the future really is up to us and what’s happening in renewable energy right now could be a game changer. The nascent evidence that we can now grow our economies without growing our emissions is something we all have to keep an eye on, too.

    Finally, I have a very basic pet-peeve in climate communication: it’s industrially driven, NOT “human-driven” or “human caused.” Humans themselves don’t cause climate change; it’s the fossil-based energy system we use. And if most people had a real choice, they’d happily switch to clean energy! When we say “human-caused” we can fall into the trap of making people feel guilty instead of empowered. (More here: https://medium.com/@aaronhuertas/dear-humans-industry-is-causing-climate-change-not-your-activities-227198c5abb8)

    Thanks for asking. This is a great thread!

  67. The fact is people just don’t care. It’s too chronic and the structure of our civilization– which is characterized by borders, countless value systems and political/religious philosophies, special interests, etc is not conducive to a globally unified attack strategy. There’s no cool visualization, no stylish colorbar, no forward-thinking art work, etc that is going to make people care. It is never going to be a pub conversation in the way Trump’s antics or Bernie Sanders vision will be. If climate change is ever solved, for example by the rapid deployment of a new energy source, it will be for reasons other than climate.

    Climate change is humanity’s final examination, and we’re still learning the format of the first examination of the semester.

  68. This is the sort of thing that really frustrates me:

    http://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-are-climate-models-wrong-on-rainfall-extremes

    Scientists do an interesting study but overstate the “our results suggest problems with climate models” angle. Sections of the media (and blogoshere) then jump on it and further exaggerate the implications for AGW and the usefulness of climate models.

    Blame lies mostly with the media & deniers, but given the stakes, I think scientists should be much more careful how they communicate these sorts of studies. In this case, some fairly obvious difficulties with inferring climate extremes from paleo data seem to have been glossed over…(though I can’t access the full paper yet).

  69. Chris, I’d have said that “[c]limate change is humanity’s final examination, and we’re still [on summer holiday]…”

    :-)

    It is never going to be a pub conversation…

    “[N]ever” might be a stretch. I suspect that in 50-100 years it will dominate many discussions, with people wondering WTF their parent and grandparents were thinking by ignoring and even denying the damage that their actions were inflicting on the planet.

  70. turboblocke

    My bugbear is people using scary figures to show the cost of going low carbon… talking of hundreds of billions over the next X years and never mentioning the benefits. An example: the German energy transition levy cost 20 billion euros in 2014. Sounds scary doesn’t it? But the actual amount paid by small users is only 6 Euro cents/ kWh. The average 4 person household in Germany uses less than 4,000 kWh/ year. So they pay only about 240Euros/year, that’s less than $1/ day for a family of four. And that’s not including the benefits of subsidies towards efficiency financed by the levy not the merit order effect of renewables lowering the wholesale price of electricity.

    • Everything I read and understand about energy and our use of it leads me to conclude that we cannot keep using the quantity we are currently using, by at least an order of magnitude if not two. Biophysics says it is impossible. I think people understand this at a gut level and that understanding causes most people to reject the possibility that we can find the money to pay for a transition to a carbon free (or low carbon) based energy system.

      Your post implies that all we need to do is come up with the money and the necessary transition will happen. I don’t think reality works that way. Not only due to physics but also politics and economics. Thus, your figure for energy use in Germany is at the household level; at the systems level (i.e., the entire country including all economic activity), the figure for Germany is more like 46,000 KWH/year per capita. There’s that order of magnitude…

  71. As a scientist, an outdoors person, a backcountry skier and mountaineer (yeah, those are real glaciers in my profile picture..) I’d always had more than a passing interest in climate issues. My interest turned to activism when, as a project manager for an Environmental Impact Statement, I was reviewing the Climate Change write-up and had a “WTF” moment reviewing what the contractor had written. It was pure unadulterated BS. I told the contractor…”that might have passed for other EISs you’ve done…it’s not flying with an EIS where I’m the project manager” and I rewrote the entire Climate Change section to be scientifically accurate. After that I decided to become active on climate change issues and have given/written several presentations focusing on the potential impacts on the mining industry, which as you might imagine can be a challenge!
    Can it be frustrating? You bet. Is it necessary to keep doing it? Absolutely! I always think of Tamino’s post from 2011: I’ll continue to do what I can, come hell or high water. Expect both.
    (https://tamino.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/hell-and-high-water/)
    Thanks Tamino for all your work!
    Chris is right. It is our final exam, we have to keep up the lectures….

  72. I’m continuing to hope – and I see a little movement – that science curricula will contain a communications course. It is important to share your work in a way that people can understand it – and not just people in Universities.

    Best,

    D

  73. I would like to see every media superstar thinking about their futures and doing their damnedest to get the news out. This includes particularly people like Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, all the rappers, Adele, and everyone else (no doubt I’m out of date). Top sports people, sports “heroes” and all. Actors, not just diCaprio and a few others.

    This is one of the great disservices of the Kochtopus and disinformer networks, to prevent people thinking about consequences in something that threatens everyone, not only in the next generation, but now and the next few decades. We get the focus right after an event (Sandy) but there is a news drought about the western Pacific typhoon swarms, for example. Floods, not until it’s in my backyard. No matter how the evidence piles up, people are too busy to pay attention. One of the things they’re busy with is instant media, screaming, selfies, and, of course, for the working stiffs, just getting through the day.

    Poverty is a great disincentive for activism too, and the disinformer networks know that people have trouble finding time even to register to vote if it is made difficult enough.

    Shockingly, low gas prices merit only celebration, but don’t dare suggest taking up some of the slack with a gas tax. Instead, we get regressive sales taxes, because that’s the only one that will get through.

    Respect for knowledge and wisdom seems to be at an all time low, and getting worse. I’ve been startled at the speed (days) of the descent into rage and violence now center stage, and the lack of appropriate condemnation.

    It is beyond stupid.

  74. Tamino – many thanks for asking this excellent question of your readers. Unprecedented AFAIK across the web’s Anglo climate-focussed sites. In my view there aren’t a great number of regular commenters on these sites – a thousand at most I’d guess – so gathering the views of even a hundred or two of us on one thread is actually an important survey. There have to be critically important insights that have not previously been assembled since nobody has asked “What are your frustrations?” with its underlying question of “What could and should be done better?”

    Since you ask, my own “frustration with the way climate change is communicated” begins with the lack of attention to key terminology, meanders through that to the science of committed AGOH, delves into that to the need for a meta-reductionist assessment of the feedbacks’ interactions, explores that to the black arts of opinion management and the geopolitical objectives they serve, and above all that to the necessary and sufficient combination of strategies by which the avoidable error of AGOH can still be resolved.

    Given that frustrations have been building for over three decades, and that they are mostly around under-discussed convoluted issues, describing them takes quite a lot of text – which I hope will cause no offence.

    So, Terminology.

    I share the view that the basic terms of the issue: “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” were expressly coined for their innocuous impression to minimize public concern – since the appropriate terms are very different. When a car’s engine is getting too hot people don’t say “Oh dear, its warming!” but rather “Bugger, its over-heating!” Hence if we want to be heard I’d suggest the appropriate term is “Anthropogenic Global Over-Heating” [AGOH]. Similarly, ‘Climate Change’ being a neutral value term doesn’t begin to describe what’s happening to the climate, and so neither affirms nor wins affirmation from peoples’ own experiences. By far the best term I’ve found is “Climate Destabilization” [CD] (which, after a few years use, I was delighted to hear no less an authority than Sir Crispin Tickell bluntly affirm to a journalist).

    These terms may be objected to by the lukewarmers and brightsiders who persist in claiming that the quickest message of change is the one that avoids worrying anyone, but after 19 years of inaction since Kyoto I suggest that their view is sheer conditioned prevarication (AKA piffle). We have to use appropriate descriptive terminology of the global climate emergency if we want other to recognize their predicament.

    Next, Committed Warming.

    Even the most candid of climate scientists such as Mann, Forster, Hansen, Anderson, and others, who have my profound respect as scientists, seem mostly to steer clear of any public assessment of the shortcomings of the ‘climate sensitivity’ approach to assessing committed warming. Our rate of increase of airborne CO2e ppm is now far beyond any prior paleo-analog (10 times?) and it is surely patently rash to base projections on such analogs. The wish to avoid frightening the public into apathy is of course laudable, but if that means continued token action then the outcome is no better. Thus we need the clear (accessible) description of committed warming in terms of the combined factors of time-lagged warming, plus phase-out emissions warming, plus the loss of Fossil Sulphate Parasol warming, PLUS the warming from the ongoing warming-driven acceleration of the 8 Major Interactive Feedbacks’ outputs, (with most of those eight each having the potential not just to offset a total cut of annual anthro-CO2e output, but to dwarf it). In addition, that information has to be accompanied by science-based credible commensurate mitigation policy proposals as the crucial antidote to apathy. (More on said policy proposals below).

    Next, evaluating the Feedbacks’ interactions.

    The maths of assessing the potential rate of acceleration of the sum of outputs of 8 positive Major Interactive Feedbacks [MIFs] – of which 7 are non-linear – is, so I’m told, more than a hard problem; it supposedly runs beyond the present capacity of reductionist science. Those interactions can be seen in classes including:
    – ‘Indirect’ interactions, such as the timelagged warming – from heat-feedbacks such as Albedo Loss or from GHG-feedbacks such as Soil Desiccation – which then accelerates both the source feedback and most other feedbacks (with one of the majors, Fertilized Peatbog Decay, being driven by and driving rising CO2 concentrations).
    – ‘Direct’ interactions, such as the very numerous ‘direct coupling mechanisms’ between chains or looped chains of individual feedbacks – for example the Ocean Heating & Acidification FB drives Arctic sea-ice decline and so the Albedo Loss FB, which in turn generates warmer air masses over the Arctic Ocean, whose fingerprint has been recorded in acceleration of the Permafrost Melt FB up to 1500kms from the coast. Some of these mechanisms are actually mutual between two feedbacks, and their overall recorded number appears to be rising in line with the research effort. (I found 80 in a few days perusal of the literature).
    – ‘Driven’ interactions, such as warming from AGOH plus the MIFs’ Indirect and Direct interactions driving the migration of the meteorological equator northwards and of the rainfall patterns poleward, and also driving the destabilization of the Jet Stream, that have radical intermittent impacts on the activity of the feedbacks’ direct coupling mechanisms.

    There is of course no prospect of sufficient monitoring to trace and reliably evaluate the global activity of the myriad diverse interactions – some are plainly too inaccessible, such as the Methyl Hydrates FB contribution of CO2 to the Ocean Heating & Acidification FB, which is decayed from CH4 outputs occurring at around 400ms depth on the continental shelves (not to mention the ESAS).

    It can at least be asserted that this is an integrated system in which no single major component’s future conduct can be reliably assessed individually. Yet to date I’ve not seen even a scientific overview of the feedbacks’ interactions, let alone any evaluation of their potential for an abrupt acceleration of combined outputs imposing an AGOH untenable for human civilization. While that abrupt-change threshold reportedly cannot be calculated under conventional maths, that actually means only that a novel approach is required. Even an assessment of the number of summers in which that integrated feedback system’s overall output could shift from innocuous to untenable would be of great value in assessing the necessary and sufficient mitigation strategy. While that research may be ongoing, the whole field seems to be veiled from the public gaze and discussion in the communication of climate science, which give no confidence that it is actually being studied as an integrated whole system to the extent it clearly warrants.

    Next, opinion management and its geopolitical objectives.

    The Cindarella Question – whose existence is masked by layers of opinion management – is quite why supremely well informed govts still take no serious action on the obviously dire climate predicament ? There are token actions massively hyped as ‘strenuous’, ‘laudable’, even ‘radical’, but nothing remotely near commensurate, and this has been the case since 2001, and arguably since just before Kyoto in 1997.

    The prime reason that question doesn’t get asked is that there is very skilled and well funded effort put into opinion management in maintaining a delusion that we know why they don’t take action – “the fossil lobby prevents it.” There is at least 21years of documented evidence with multiple cross-bearings that this is untrue. It is belied not only by the acts of commission and omission of Cheney and Obama, but also by those of the core US allies in a rarely cited group called the “Five Eyes Alliance,” comprising US-CAN-NZ-AUS-UK. This began after WW2 officially as an “intelligence-sharing” group, but that was never candid, since without prior agreement of policy no state can sensibly share its intelligence.

    This isn’t the place to cover the full case for the fossil lobby being only a tertiary player in detail – I’ve done that in a 6-page appraisal that I’d be delighted to send if you’d care to email an address where you could collect it. A brief outline must suffice here, with the starting point being that this is no sort of conspiracy theory – it is about a covert policy – which is a practice routinely used by every govt to the best of its ability.

    The unanimous passing of the US senate’s Byrd-Hagel resolution in ’97 was an early indication of a will to inaction. While it was devoid of the slightest hint of science denial, is set the marker of refusing any climate treaty that was less than universal – on the spurious grounds of national industrial competitiveness. Having been an observer for GCI at the early CoPs in Geneva I knew of the strong efforts the US had made to attract all nations to sign up to the UNFCCC – on the understanding of agreeing a first treaty for developed nations with large fossil fuel use to be followed later by a universal treaty. That the US diplomats then massively complexified the Kyoto drafts, and by the US example set a derisory level of emissions cuts, was a further hint of bad faith to come.

    It came in the form of Bush refusing to send the signed treaty for ratification, thereby gratuitously reneging on it rather than just letting the senate decline to ratify it. Cheney, with actions including appointing a crass malicious buffoon as US ambassador to the UN, then used the new international distrust to ignite a “brinkmanship of inaction” with China, who responded with a flat-out coal-fired industrial growth policy. A further notable action in 2005 was reneging on the US signature of the UNFCCC by rejecting the legal 1990 baseline and setting a new unilateral baseline for US emissions. What this classic cold-war warrior singularly failed to do, despite having served US supremacism right back to the Nixon regime, was to mount any visible policy by which to eventually break communist China’s predictable rise to global economic dominance. Given that the maintenance of its global economic dominance has been the US paramount bipartisan policy priority since WW2, and that the profits of all US corporations partly depend on it, this was a telling omission.

    In March 2009 Obama reneged on his recent election’s climate action rhetoric by refusing to ratify Kyoto and affirming the 2005 baseline, thus signalling to other nations (over his supporters heads) that the ‘brinkmanship of inaction’ would be maintained. He went on to crush the Copenhagen conference by publicly snubbing China’s president and demanding a ‘deal’ from his deputy by which each American would still have about three times the emissions rights of each Chinese in 2050.

    This was followed by the Whitehouse sabotage of the senate Climate Bill (for details see the forensic account by Ryan Lizza “As the World Burns”: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/10/11/as-the-world-burns ) and by the Whitehouse ‘Office of Budget Management’ blocking the EPA’s legal duty to regulate CO2 , which lasted for 6 years until a small NGO filed a law suit for negligence. His complete exclusion of climate from a hard-fought re-election campaign – when it could have provided a critical wedge issue and was a prime chance to raise the profile of AGOH – was a measure of the importance of keeping climate off the political agenda. Token legislation on vehicle emissions and coal power for 2025, alongside limited renewables’ support, have been more than offset by his “All of the above” energy policy, which has already boosted shale-oil and gas to massive outputs.

    All of this conduct has been ‘hidden in plain sight’ by the single fact of a massive fabricated campaign of denial extending from web comment-threads to the MSM to Congress, with US fossil interests trailing their coat as being responsible for its funding. No doubt many here will recall the sudden huge boost of denier activity in the summer of 2009 after Obama’s flip on climate policy, since when denier activity has never declined. There were also many memorable flips of Republican politicians from supporting action to denying the science outright. (Previously Senators McCain and Clinton had even done a now-unthinkable joint tour of Alaska to be filmed by the media alongside AGOH impacts).

    A further pointer to the fraudulence of the very seductive “blame the fossil lobby” meme is that the lobby actually split between US and Europe in the late ‘90s, with zero denial-funding by the European majors since then. In addition, the US fossil lobby raises only about 8% of US GDP, implying that other sectors’ corporations massively outweigh it, and could easily combine to silence its propaganda if they were not content to see the near total deflection of criticism from Obama’s inaction. Indeed, if they were not content to see Climate Destabilization intensifying globally, they would long since have forced the US govt into commensurate action. The implication is that the objective of that inaction thus serves the interests of all major US corporations, not just the fossil lobby.

    This US/EU disparity was very notable at the Paris CoP, where US corporations were absent or mostly obstructive, while a group mostly of the EU’s major corporations titled the B-Team pressed for a goal of “Net-zero emissions by 2050” – which was up to 50 years tighter than the UK govt’s goal that was boosted by the Five-Eyes Alliance members to become the Paris Outcome. Similarly, the EU oil majors including Shell and BP lobbied hard for a global carbon price, and got publicly dissed by Exxon for doing so.

    In the run-up to Paris, the denier premiers of both Australia and Canada were conveniently dumped, but their replacements both came to the conference with their predecessors’ utterly derisory ‘INDC’ proposals. Likewise Obama had pulled a classic stunt on a Beijing visit, where China was well-placed to peak its emissions by 2030 and chose to declare this as their INDC. In response, Obama reneged on his own ‘Cancun Pledge’ by declaring a lower cut equating to just 12% off 1990 by 2025. The western media responded with adulation.

    The outcome of Paris was actually Cheney’s policy not Obama’s, in that it met his stated goal of seeking only voluntary constraints from nations and avoided any allocation of legally binding national emissions rights under a declining global carbon budget. This leaves the most powerful free of any legal duty to comply within a framework, while the weaker are left more vulnerable to coercion. The agreed Paris goal of: “Net-zero emissions in the second half of the century,” – in lacking any definition of valid offsets, or their proportion, or their target date, was ambiguity cubed. As such it is the ideal expression of the only denial that really matters, which is the “Denial of Urgency” by governments.

    The reason that the US-led Five-Eyes-Alliance promotes the “Denial of Urgency” as a means to avoid any commensurate action has little to do with the US fossil lobby, in that a policy steadily phase-out of fossil fuels from 1990 to 2030 could have avoided the present risk of economic turmoil from reserves’ sudden devaluation. The only issue I’ve seen of a scale to notionally justify the hazard of intentional inaction on climate – is that the US has no preferable means of breaking China’s bid for global economic dominance than letting AGOH rip and waiting for crop failures and food shortages in China to generate civil unrest leading to chaotic regime change.

    One further point of the evidence for this is that the necessary exit strategy for such a covert policy was provided by Cheney’s long time friend and collaborator, the renowned anti-communist, pre-eminent nuclear scientist and defence strategist, Edward Teller. In 1995 he published a paper far outside his field proposing the use of ‘Stratospheric Sulphate Aerosols’ as a cheap and simple means to control global warming, “should the United States one day consider that desirable.”

    In the interest of balanced info, it should be noted here that the critical weakness of Cheney’s covert policy is that it is so devoid of morality and prudence that it is beyond being merely inadmissible – once it begins to be exposed to public knowledge and outrage the administration in power will have no real choice but to deny its existence and bin it – though efforts at backsliding should probably be expected.

    The necessary and sufficient strategies for resolving AGOH.

    The area I find galling rather than merely frustrating is the absence of discussion of a commensurate global response to AGOH. The starting point of halting anthro-GHGs’ output to stop adding to the problem ASAP is urgently necessary but patently insufficient, but even the requisite actions for that are rarely discussed. The delusion of a viable resolution via free trade and voluntary action has been widely propagated, despite it being nowhere near as rapid as global regulation under an equitable and efficient climate treaty, and despite the narrowing window for timely action. Such a treaty has been opposed by the US since 2001 on the false grounds that it is ‘un-doable’ – when in fact the obstruction is US refusal to discuss equitable national emissions rights.

    The most viable framework for that treaty is that of “Contraction & Convergence” [C&C], where a scientific global carbon budget is agreed and spread across a number of decades and contracts steadily to near-zero by an agreed date. The nations are allocated emissions rights under that budget which converge from reflecting their diverse GDPs at the outset (which closely correlate with CO2 output) to reflecting their size of population by an agreed completion date. This change towards per-capita parity of emissions rights rests on an agreed year of population size. The national emissions rights are necessarily tradable, with low-industry high-population states getting a rising surplus to sell if they pursue non-fossil growth, and high-industry lower-population states needing to buy in a rising number of rights if they don’t switch to non-fossil energy swiftly enough.

    For all the C&C framework has received a unique level of endorsements and has long been the basis of climate policy of nations including India, EU, China, the Africa group, Brazil, Australia and others, it receives near zero media and website attention in the West. It will require a sea change in US policy for it to be negotiated.

    Yet even the most rapid ‘war-footing’ rate of global Emissions Control – say to near-zero by 2030 – would by itself fail to resolve the hazard of AGOH. The problem is not simply of timelagged warming from both past and ‘phase-out’ emissions, nor that from the loss of the cooling ‘Fossil Sulphate Parasol’. It is also the almost totally undiscussed fact that 7 of the 8 MIFs are already accelerating under 1.0C of AGOH and will not be halted by anything less than either a global cooling to well below this level – or by the exhaustion (outgassing) of their carbon stocks up to the equilibrium level of resulting global temperature. A paper by Ramanathan et al is worth noting here: “Observational determination of albedo decrease caused by vanishing Arctic sea ice” see: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/9/3322.abstract It reports the finding of a study of satellite-record Arctic sea-ice loss showing that the resulting Albedo Loss has imposed an average global warming over the period equivalent to that from about 25% of anthro-CO2.

    The implication of this one major interactive feedback among eight already having such an annual output – effectively a new China’s worth, rising annually and with which there is no negotiation – is that to avoid OGOH running far beyond 2.0C we have no better choice than to employ geoengineering techniques [Geo-E].

    The simpler of the two modes of Geo-E could best be called Carbon Recovery. It entails collecting CO2 from the atmosphere and, under the best technique, sequestering its carbon in farm soils where it acts as a soil moisture regulator and fertility enhancer. Using native ‘coppice’ forestry (re-growing trees from the stump) as the collection system, with village-scale charcoal retorts to minimize the feedstock’s transport, offers diverse benefits. These include raised global food security, massive rural employment, very large additional native forest habitat, and the conversion of hot hydrocarbon off-gasses to the liquid fuel methanol.

    To date this ‘Biochar’ option has had a poor press due largely to isolationist anti-productive-forestry NGOs who deny its utility and traduce its practitioners. In fact, as has been proven in trials in over 25 countries, when the charcoal is primed with a small percentage of compost or manure suitable for the farmland it’s used in it can substantially raise crop yields, cut fertilizer use and reduce drought and flood losses. In stark contrast to the BECDCS option (‘Biomass Energy with Carbon Dioxide Capture & Storage’) the Biochar option doesn’t require the capture, liquefaction and insertion of liquid CO2 into selected geology, its volume of carbon sequestered is verifiable for purposes of treaty compliance, and it has revenue streams from both charcoal and methanol sales to help offset costs.

    The logical goal of a new global industry in “Carbon Recovery for Food Security” is of eventually cleansing the atmosphere of anthro-CO2, but the sheer scale of the task – at least 400GtC – implies that even significantly cutting CO2 ppm (at about 2.1GtC/ppmCO2) will take decades and need very extensive native afforestation. Globally about 1.6Gha.s (~4bn acres) of suitable non-farmland was found by a joint WRI-WWF study to be available for afforestation, but planting this huge area would take at least two decades, with a third for the last planting’s maturation before full-flow manual harvesting. If that were in 2050, the timelag on cooling would imply only the start of a cooling effect in the 2080s, with the atmosphere potentially being cleansed by around 2100 if rapid Emissions Control were also achieved.

    Given the limited area available for Carbon Recovery afforestation, the optimum means of investment in Carbon Recovery projects would have nothing to do with providing offsets for continued fossil fuel use, but would instead provide a low-cost means of nations’ gradually funding the recovery of their past carbon emissions. In addressing the climate negotiations’ prime bone of contention of developed nations’ “historic emissions,” this could potentially transform the prospect of agreement over more complex issues.

    In failing to provide significant cooling before the 2080s, Carbon Recovery alongside Emissions Control is again necessary but not sufficient to resolve AGOH. Together they would not control intensifying Climate Destabilisation impacting agriculture and generating the onset of serial global crop failures, nor could they avoid those impacts degrading the coppice afforestation as part of the Forest Loss feedback. The complement to provide the necessary and sufficient strategy is thus the additional use of a benign technique of the Albedo Restoration mode of Geo-E to achieve a sufficient global cooling to halt Climate Destabilization for the duration of the Carbon Recovery program.

    While the use of Albedo Restoration is now demonstrably inevitable, we thus far lack any technique proven to be both effective and reliably benign. The most promising option, “Marine Cloud Brightening” consists of putting a fine spray of seawater to clouds at about 3,000ft where its sea-salt content reduces the cloud droplet size raising the clouds’ albedo. In raining out over the sea within about nine days this technique can be trialled at limited scales, but as Prof Peirs Forster observed it will take ten years of research before there could be confidence of a technique’s reliably benign and effective outcome.

    Given that some techniques evidently would be hazardous, and some stratospheric techniques could only be tested at global scale and would take two years to rain out, there is obviously a need for a global scientific supervision agency under a UN mandate which would assess and licence research proposals, supervise research programs and eventually accredit any positive options for the UN member states to then consider agreeing on their deployment. There is also a case for that agency’s monitoring of Carbon Recovery projects with a view to identifying the most efficient sustainable practices and establishing a code of conduct to preclude a wide range of potential abuses – from farmland-seizures to old-forest clearances.

    With a large anthro-CO2 release still to come, and with the MIFs accelerating, it seems clear that the sooner both Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration could be deployed alongside stringent Emissions Control, the lower and earlier the eventual peak CO2 will be – the less momentum the MIFs will have built up – and the better the chance of stopping them. Thus the agreement at the UN of the mandate for that Geo-E supervision agency is actually no less urgent that the agreement of a commensurate Emissions Control treaty.

    Assuming the goal of climate science communication is raising the number of people supporting the end of Congress’s obstruction, the present focus on countering denial across many climate sites plainly is not working, in that the fraction polled as in denial has fluctuated between 28% and 50% since 1990 and is currently around 36% (see graph of recent polling on Grist : http://grist.org/article/way-more-americans-are-worried-about-climate-change/ ).

    However the idea that the president cannot act at this level of support is mere propaganda channelled by those unwittingly backing the US govt’s covert policy of inaction. With over 60% support for action, plus the ability to mount public education programs, plus the scientists’ longing to see their warnings officially endorsed, plus the president’s ability to negotiate and sign a treaty that the senate couldn’t refuse to ratify due to serious trade penalties, he is amply empowered for commensurate action; it is the will that is lacking. Thus the sooner climate science communication starts trying to make the concerned majority aware that the real focus for change is in putting implacable pressure on their government to take commensurate international regulatory action – rather than in trying doggedly to further raise the number of people rejecting the deniers’ brazenly dishonest propagandas – the better our chances of eventually resolving AGOH.

    With best wishes,
    Lewis Cleverdon

    • a 6-page appraisal that I’d be delighted to send if you’d care to email an address where you could collect it. toby@louploup.net

      • Thanks for your request, but I’m afraid the appraisal is not going on the web at the moment – it is printed on paper and needs to be posted to an actual address.

        Yours being the only interest so far in any of the five issues outlined in my comment above brings into sharp focus just what for me is the most frustrating aspect of the communication of climate science. With AGOH having started gaining global official recognition in 1988, that is 28 years ago, we are neither remotely near commensurate action, nor are the US public even moderately well-informed of the scope and urgency of the predicament. This is not for want of dogged effort by activists, nor by remarkable scientists such as Tamino, Mann, Hansen, et al.

        The graph on Grist linked above gives a clear curve of the failure to energize demand for commensurate action – and it can also be read as the line of the absence of strategic assessment by those striving to inform. It is as if there was a total unwillingness to believe that anyone would be so nasty as to have trapped dissent from the status quo by reinforcing a box of their own comfortable assumptions, in which they are not only almost totally disempowered – but also blind to what is actually being done in their name. Tamino’s question that started the thread is almost unique on a US climate site in asking openly for fresh approaches.

        So why are Americans so chronically unwilling to think outside the box ?

        Regards,
        Lewis

      • lewis, your comment consists of (by my count) 39 very meaty paragraphs, probably running well over 5000 words.

        I’m not complaining about someone taking time and space to say something substantial–quite the reverse!–but please do understand that some of us at least have limited time for our ‘blog lives’. I have bookmarked your comment for a time when I have at least a half hour to read and think about it.

  75. Here are two frustrations that impress me: the way that the mainstream media have dulled the message by their ill-considered habit of “even-handedness” in their treatment of the topic with respect to mainstream scientists vs. the skeptics (who are overwhelmingly cranks or propagandists); the other is the way that outlets who advocate for the mainstream science and science-based policy changes (like Climate Progress) seem to trot out a never-ending stream of ‘disaster’-style headlines even for relatively minor (or minor impact) findings in climate science. For too many people, this takes on an aura of ‘boy-calling-wolf’.

    • Humans have always built a cosmology and origin myths while living in a relatively stable environment. The ancient Greeks devised their system of gods over thousands of years.

      Now we have discovered that our world, our habitat is progressively destabilizing and sustaining human life and civilization will near impossible unless we make severe, rigorous changes to our world and our method of living.

      That’s cosmology by defining the end, not the beginning. Huge change. All the climate models and scenarios project into the future – that arbitrarily stops at the year 2100… but climate destabilization progresses beyond that…. even tops out about 8-12 degrees C – you can find the charts and read the studies.

      Hugely disruptive to our culture and civilization.

  76. With Climate change being a very slow moving disaster for most of us, and the poor scientific knowledge of the average person I have found the data/statistics and explanations move few people. So I have changed my story to be one of cool cars (Tesla), energy independence (solar panels) to be far more compelling. Showing others how we cut CO2 and energy costs over 90% yet can still have a comfortable lifestyle seems to be hitting home. Give people a compelling reason to change now. So I have started on a book idea – Driving to Net 0 – Stories of Hope for a Carbon Free Future. I figure it can’t hurt.

    • Sounds like a good idea. Certainly there’s a lot of effort put in by denialists to mythologize the difficulty/danger/expense/impossibility of anything that isn’t BAU. And it is true that denial proceeds from negative emotions about a perspective (or reality). Undercut the negativity, and you undercut the denial.

      Of course, it’s not a new tack to take: Al Gore has consistently emphasized the feasibility of addressing climate change in all his communicating around the issue. He’s stereotyped by the opposition as a ‘doomer’, but in fact he’s much better classed as a techno-optimist.

  77. Asteroid Miner

    I am frustrated with people who think their only purpose is to manipulate people. They frustrate on purpose, not to gain anything other than to make fun of the “college kid.” The whole WW2 generation is that type. Also, anybody who is unable to understand will act that way. There are people who we call provokers” because their only way of dealing with people is to try to cause somebody to become angry. Provokers will disinterpret anything you say merely to cause frustration. There is no point in trying to straighten them out. What they wanted was your attention. Don’t give it to them. They are perhaps your parents, but they are old children.
    Your only defense is to cease all communication with provokers and teasers. Just remember: when they need help, do not give them any.

    There are people who talk so ceaselessly that they never hear anything. There are people who have something else so continuously buzzing in their minds that they hear nothing. And there are those who are just too stupid or so uneducated that they cannot hear.

    It is just like telling people to stop smoking. The only thing to do is to live and let die. Maybe evolution will fix it in a few million years. Nature is not neat in the way she selects survivors. Many wrong people will live and many wrong people will die. It only on the average over millions of years that there may be improvement.

    • You make some good points, but I must take exception to this:

      The whole WW2 generation is that type.

      Unfair and inaccurate, IMO. And no, I’m not *that* old.

  78. > What’s your biggest frustration with how climate change is communicated?
    The best thing we could have done, wasn’t done.
    The gutting of Triana, “GoreSat” — DSCOVR.

    Instead of a live video stream, we get a handful of still images on most days, nothing on other days. It’s the “uncanny valley” of satellite imagery, not readily available, spooky to watch.

    The instrument is (finally, years belatedly) in its lovely location — fully lit Earth all the time. The return is marginal (downsampled) pixels to reduce bandwidth. http://epic.gsfc.nasa.gov/
    And the rest of the bandwidth is being used by the Defense Department, for whatever.

    Look at how incredibly enticing a video is, by comparison to the jumpy DSCOVR imagery. Himawari http://himawari8.nict.go.jp/ is in geosync, so you have to catch it during daylight over Japan, then click the little movie-frame icon in the lower right. And you can see how fast clouds move, how complicated the atmosphere is, the coal smoke over India piling up against the Himalayas, the coal smoke from NE China blowing out into the North Pacific.

    What happened? If the AGU video is still live, it’s worth watching.
    https://vts.inxpo.com/scripts/Server.nxp?LASCmd=AI:1;F:SF!42000&EventKey=174544

  79. > Himawari
    Ah, if all you see is nighttime from that satellite, click the calendar icon at the top and back up a day or two _then_ the movie icon in lower right, and watch a 12 hour segment. Just look. Watch how the air moves.

    Now imagine that in a big flat panel hanging on your wall — from DSCOVR’s point of view, fully lit, all the time, live. Wouldn’t you watch, and want to zoom in, and see what’s happening here?

    It’s a living planet. You can see it breathing.

    If the instrument’s available.

    This is the magic and this is why Triana was so crippled.

  80. PPS: do keep up with DSCOVR. We’ve just passed the equinox, moving toward the summer solstice — which means from the instrument’s point of view, Earth is tipping its northern hemisphere toward the sun and you can begin to see Greenland’s north and the Arctic Ocean, live. That will be increasingly visible until the summer solstice, and then tip back.

    The instrument came online last summer, and we’ve mostly been seeing the Antarctic pole until recently.

  81. Asteroid Miner

    Doc Snow: The WW2 generation gave the completely pointless Viet Nam war and they are not the greatest generation. See The Fourth Turning. They are the type that tries to make their children conform to them. Fair and accurate.
    The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous…Dec 29, 1997
    by William Strauss and Neil Howe

    [Response: I believe we’ve strayed rather far afield. Please table the discussion of the merits of the WW2 generation.]

  82. I think cosiliense of different data streams is underplayed. Its often
    mentioned in passing, as if taken as a
    given, but not often fleshed out to
    the extent of say, Fifty data streams pointing towards a conclusion.
    Some writings contain 3 or 4 from different fields.

    On that note, taminos examination of
    some bushfire data deserves wider recognition as part of the consiliense.