Susan Hassol, Director of Climate Communication: The Science Has Never Been More Compelling, the Public Never So Misled

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"Susan Hassol, Director of Climate Communication: The Science Has Never Been More Compelling, the Public Never So Misled"

JR:  Please spend some time on the Climate Communication website and provide feedback in the comments section here.  It’s an important effort, and they can use the wisdom of the CP crowd.


by Susan Hassol, Director of Climate Communication

Joe Romm asked me to write a guest post introducing you to Climate Communication — a new science and outreach organization dedicated to improving public understanding of climate change science. Before I do that, I want to say that Joe does a remarkable job of keeping Climate Progress readers informed on an impressively wide variety of topics related to climate change. And he does so in a rapid response mode that is truly amazing. It’s the first site I send people to when they ask where they can go to keep up with what’s happening on a daily basis with climate change. We at Climate Communication are doing something different, as I’ll describe below.

This is a critical time. The science has never been more clear and compelling. Yet the public has never been so confused and misled. There is much to tell, and there are many scientists who are talented at and committed to telling it. People need to know the facts, and there are labs and universities ready to offer them. People also need to hear the stories of climate change, from scientists and other messengers whom they trust. The need is urgent, as the time for effective action is short. In this context, Climate Communication was born.

I’d spent a couple of decades working with climate scientists to communicate their work to the wider public. I had helped to put a lot of great reports on the shelf (see for example: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, Impacts of A Warming Arctic, etc.). But if a tree falls in the forest and not enough people hear, then what?

So we’re here to do everything we can to bring the science forward in a way that it can be heard. We’re still doing much of what I’ve been doing for a long time: helping scientists produce accessible reports and other science-based materials. But we’re also doing a lot more.

For scientists, we’re offering workshops in communicating climate science that go far beyond typical media training. We focus on the specific challenges of communicating about climate change. We go beyond problems of language to consider psychological and cultural issues. Our Science Director, Richard Somerville, and I led a climate communication workshop at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December 2010 and we’ll both be speaking there again this year. We led a workshop at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab on communicating about climate change. And we have more workshops planned. We welcome inquires about holding additional workshops and professional development sessions.

For journalists, we’re making the latest science available in a more accessible form and helping them identify the best experts to interview on particular topics. In a fast-paced and challenging media environment, we’re bringing the science to journalists in ways that are credible and helpful. Last week we held a telephone press conference featuring leading climate scientists discussing the linkages between extreme weather and climate change. We also posted a summary of the latest peer-reviewed science on that subject. Journalists are welcome to contact us and we’ll do our best to help.

For the public, we’re producing clear, brief summaries of the most important things they need to know about climate change, using not only words but also videos and animations. We’re providing concise answers to the key questions people ask: What’s happening to climate and why? How will it affect us? And what can we do about it?

The Yale and George Mason Universities’ studies tell us the questions most Americans want answered. Our science advisors answer those questions and more, simply and clearly, at our website in both text and videos.

Our Science Advisors include many of the world’s leading climate scientists, who are also great communicators: Ken Caldeira, Julia Cole, Robert Corell, Kerry Emanuel, Katharine Hayhoe, Greg Holland, Jeff Kiehl, Michael MacCracken, Michael Mann, Jeff Masters, Jerry Meehl, Jonathan Overpeck, Camille Parmesan, Barrett Rock, Benjamin Santer, Kevin Trenberth, Warren Washington, and Don Wuebbles.

You can read their bios, learn what they do outside of science, and even see them in action on our website, in brief bio videos. We also put together a short video on what the public really needs to know about climate change. And there are many more videos on common climate questions, extreme weather and climate change, and other topics. We hope to help amplify their voices and bring more clarity to public discussions of this great challenge.

So explore our site, spread the word, and please let us know how we’re doing and what we can do to help you.

– by Susan Hassol, Director of Climate Communication

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39 Responses to Susan Hassol, Director of Climate Communication: The Science Has Never Been More Compelling, the Public Never So Misled

  1. Lollipop says:

    It looks like a valuable effort and I wish you well. We need organizations like yours.

  2. Lollipop says:

    It looks like a valuable effort and I wish you well. We need organizations like yours.

    • Lollipop says:

      That said, I’m a librarian so I couldn’t resist reviewing your text for readability and it seems geared toward university graduates. I would really like some text aimed at an 8th grade level, but for adults. I can promise you that there are large numbers of adults interested in climate change, but whose literacy level is so low that your website is just going to frustrate them.

      If you want to make a project of making a website for low literacy readers who want to know about climate change, you’d be doing a great service. Someone really needs to make one. Americans, especially working class Americans, don’t read particularly well. Check out this: http://nces.ed.gov/naal/kf_demographics.asp

      • Clark Meyer says:

        I agree about the need to make the information accessible to an 8th grade level. I’ve got some 8th graders who RIGHT NOW are starting their investigations into the “debate” about global warming:

        http://clarkbeast.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/courting-controversy-teaching-global-warming/

        http://clarkbeast.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/courting-controversy-teaching-global-warming-ctd/

        • Joe Romm says:

          I think it is a serious mistake to knowingly subject students to extended, highly polished disinformation. Sure, it valuable to see what the disinformers are doing, but “The Great Global Warming Swindle” is just non-stop disinformation. It has no place in a classroom.

          • Lollipop says:

            I’m not sure about that, I’ve used sites like that plenty of times to talk about bias and disinformation. Exposing students to that and walking them through how to identify markers is a key part of teaching critical thinking and the evaluation of sources.

          • Clark Meyer says:

            You’re not the first to make that point, Joe, as you can see from the comments on my blog. And you may ultimately be right . . . though I really hope not. We’re going to take the time to deconstruct, question, and analyze both films, andI’m pretty confident that, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, “the truth at last will out.”

            We’ve got to realize that telling the truth again and again isn’t getting through in a society that navigates by “truthiness.” If we don’t present the misinformation along with the information, you can bet they hear/find it anyway. And if we don’t walk students through the process of sorting all this out, how do we expect them to do it on their own?

            We’ve already watched An Inconvenient Truth and are a class period away from finishing TGGWS. The students have a list of claims they want to investigate further, like why there’s an 800 time lag between temp. rising and CO2 rising. Or whether or not volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans. Or if climate scientists predicted global cooling in the 70′s. All of these claims are easily tracked down. And when the students realize who is lying, they’ll not only understand the issue better but also be better inoculated against misinformation in the future.

          • Joe Romm says:

            Nobody is telling the truth again and again — that’s the myth. There was a brief window when they did and it worked.

            When people explained the science — Gore and the IPCC — media coverage and public opinion rose together. When people stop explaining the science, both fell.

            I would debunk the lies, a la Skeptical Science and this site — but I’d never show TGGWS.

          • Carl S says:

            I would have to agree with Clark on this one. I would agree with Joe if the class being taught was a science class, TGGWS would have no place in that setting. But this is a writing class, and geared towards journalism I suspect. In that context showing the students the range of material that is out there on a controversial (in a political sense) subject and requiring them to think about the material and research further seems like a great exercise. The purpose of the class appears to be to encourage critical thinking along with writing skills – just teaching them the science does not accomplish that purpose.

          • Pangolin says:

            Teaching the “debate” about Global Warming to 8th graders has the exact same purpose and intention as teaching the “debate” about creation vs. evolution. It’s a vehicle to allow political propaganda into classrooms where it would be otherwise forbidden.

            There is no actual scientific debate about basic Anthropogenic Global Warming theory. There is a vast body of science which details and confirms it and separately, a political marketing campaign to seed doubt and confusion to insure corporate profits. There is no factual equivalence between the two stances.

            What Clark is doing is promoting a political agenda to a captive audience. No more, no less.

          • Clark Meyer says:

            Hey, woah there, Pangolin! Look I agree with everything you write in paragraph two:

            “There is no actual scientific debate about basic Anthropogenic Global Warming theory. There is a vast body of science which details and confirms it and separately, a political marketing campaign to seed doubt and confusion to insure corporate profits. There is no factual equivalence between the two stances.”

            It’s called reality.

            And I agree in principle with your point in paragraph one:

            “Teaching the “debate” about Global Warming to 8th graders has the exact same purpose and intention as teaching the “debate” about creation vs. evolution. It’s a vehicle to allow political propaganda into classrooms where it would be otherwise forbidden.”

            Most of the time, “teach the controversy” is exactly what you describe.

            But not here. Have you even read my blog? You could NOT be more wrong with your paragraph three.

      • Robert says:

        Can you provide links to a website that is written at the level and in the manner that is appropriate for these low literacy level adults? Any topic would do, but something related to science would be great.

        How about Simple English Wikapedia?

        For example:

        Simple Wikipedia – Global Warming
        http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming
        , or is that too basic?

      • Joan Savage says:

        The US EPA web page, http://epa.gov/climatechange/
        has a link to “A Student’s Guide to Climate Change”

        We have to remember that higher-order critical thinking can be a challenge even for adults..

    • otter17 says:

      Check out this series on Youtube.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v006xb5nVtM

      “Climate Science in a Nutshell”

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Cool web-design, cool project on a hot topic. Good to show BAU emissions vs Action.

  4. Peter Mizla says:

    Thanks for posting JR- I saw this over at SS early this AM- and perused through it. Its really very good. Very straight forward- with basic but pertinent information, with easy navigation.

    The public is indeed very misinformed and uniformed- I do my very best to change this everyday. Its to say the least a daunting task.

  5. Rodel Urmatan says:

    Great project! Congratulations!

  6. Joan Savage says:

    One off-the-top reaction to the time sequence map for high temperature:

    We also need to see the number of days over 110F, otherwise it looks like there’s a negative feedback that prompts temperature to plateau around 100F. And we know there is not.

    When core body temperature reaches 104F (40C), an individual suffers heat stroke, so it is critical to show the number of days when heat stroke is an immediate danger.

    If 120F days are forthcoming in the time frame, be sure to show them, too.

    Thanks for all your work, so please take this comment as eager encouragement!

  7. Lou Grinzo says:

    Add my thanks and best wishes to those above.

    I would also second the “vote” for a presentation that provides newcomers with a somewhat gentler slope to climb. The trick, of course, is helping them understand enough concepts and time frames that are alien to most people before they lose interest. The timing is particularly nasty, as it involves not only very long periods (e.g. we’ve been trying to aerosol ize every atom of carbon we can find for the last 250 years), but perverse lock-in effects, like the warming that’s “in the pipeline”, as the saying goes.

    Probably the number one fact I wish everyone knew is that CO2 hangs around in the atmosphere for a very long time. I routinely tell people that love is fleeting but CO2 is (virtually) forever. Many newcomers, probably the vast majority, I would guess, implicitly assume that if we cut our CO2 emissions by 50% the atmospheric level of human-added CO2 would then decline by 50% in a few weeks to a year.

    That’s the kind of misunderstanding I would love to see an educational/outreach program try to eliminate.

    • Peter Mizla says:

      SORRY about my typos above- trying to work here with a contractor

      The warming in the pipeline is the real kicker, Lou.

      Its a difficult concept- along with ‘Climatic Inertia’, to explain to many people. What many fail to understand is that the time lags we are having are nothing more then a ‘Fustian Bargain’.

      Many expect ‘Global Warming’ to me no more winters, endless balmy summers of barbeques and days at the beach. They expect it to basically happen quickly- and now! When the average person does not see these events happening- they believe the deniers and say its a hoax.

      Many are unable to see in their day to day activities the more subtle changes to their environment. With extreme weather events- some may be just beginning to ‘wonder’ what is ‘happening’

      With the number of extreme climate events beginning to ‘snowball’ as the climate models have suggested- its a matter of time when havoc spreads from these events and leads us into economic and societal chaos.

      By then however we will have reached 450ppm C02 and the game is likely over.

      • MemphisBill says:

        What do you mean when you say “the game is likely over”?

        • Peter Mizla says:

          Game is probably over at 450ppm?

          Most climate scientists believe at that level many feedback’s will begin to kick in- like the unstoppable melting and collapse of the western antarctic ice shelf. At 450ppm- it will be very difficult to prevent a further rise to 500-550ppm of CO2- unless you see a 90% reduction in emissions.

          The warmth in the pipeline at 450ppm will bring us into the realm of out of control climate change. At the level we are at now- 390ppm (the yearly low) sustained over time is the highest in 17 million years- when there was no ice in the arctic all year.

          Dr. James Hansen in his book says that at 450-500ppm CO2 levels about 35 million years ago- ice started to glaciate in Antarctica- we go to that level of C02 again- it begins to melt rapidly.

          a 20-30 meter sea rise over time will make is one of the devastating effects of climate change, this is what you will see over time with CO2 even at 400ppm- wanna go higher?

          C02 at 450ppm and a rise of 2 degrees C over the preindustrial era- Hansen calls A ‘Prescription for Disaster’ – we just cannot do it.

    • dick smith says:

      Lou hit the bullseye on two points.

      First, that CO2 emissions are virtually forever. I have yet to find a great explanation of CO2 lifetime on any website.

      Second, cutting CO2 emissions by, say, 50% does not cut back the CO2 ppm levels at all. It only slows the annual growth from 2-3 ppm to 1-2 ppm.

      The preface to the 50% cut mistake (above) is another fundamental misunderstanding.

      CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have grown dramatically in recent decades. But, if we stopped all further GROWTH those co2 emissions, atmospheric CO2 would still continue to GROW unchanged–at today’s rate of 2-3 ppm. STABILIZING the growth in emissions does not STABILIZE atm. co2 at today’s 390 ppm.

  8. Raul m. says:

    Very nice, is there room for introduction to the issue of where do people stay when they are needed for reasons beyond ordinary but everyone is ordered to evacuate an area. Say the teller at a local bank, does that person stay at a cot in evening at a shelter. Or just trust that the condo will be Okey even when there is road damage etc.
    Shouldn’t an option be safe and secure comfortable etc.

  9. EDpeak says:

    A great and much needed project and great complement to ClimateProgress and SkepticalScience. One question that came up in one of the links, which you might as well hear from us rather than from a ‘skeptic’ is:

    “..the odds of such a heatwave occurring are about 1 in 10 million. An event like the 2003 heatwave becomes much more likely after factoring in the observed warming of 2°F over Europe and increased weather variability.5 In addition, comparing computer models of climate with and without human contribution shows that human influence has roughly quadrupled the odds of a European summer as hot as or hotter than the summer of 2003″

    IT sure sounds as if you’re saying that the human influence increased the odds from “1 in 10 million” to “4 in 10 million” is that what you mean to say?

    http://climatecommunication.org/new/articles/extreme-weather/overview/

  10. Doug Bostrom says:

    Roughly aligned with this topic, Australia’s “The Conversation” features a thought-provoking item of “what if.” Maybe worth highlighting on CP??

    “Diamond planets, climate change and the scientific method

    Recently my colleagues and I announced the discovery of a remarkable planet orbiting a special kind of star known as a pulsar.

    Based on the planet’s density, and the likely history of its system, we concluded that it was certain to be crystalline. In other words, we had discovered a planet made of diamond.

    Following the publication of our finding in the journal Science, our research received amazing attention from the world’s media.

    The diamond planet was featured in Time Magazine, the BBC and China Daily, to name but a few.

    Our host institutions were thrilled with the publicity and most of us enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame. The attention we received was 100% positive, but how different that could have been.

    How so? Well, we could have been climate scientists.

    Imagine for a minute that, instead of discovering a diamond planet, we’d made a breakthrough in global temperature projections.

    Let’s say we studied computer models of the influence of excessive greenhouse gases, verified them through observations, then had them peer-reviewed and published in Science.

    Instead of sitting back and basking in the glory, I suspect we’d find a lot of commentators, many with no scientific qualifications, pouring scorn on our findings.

    People on the fringe of science would be quoted as opponents of our work, arguing that it was nothing more than a theory yet to be conclusively proven.

    There would be doubt cast on the interpretation of our data and conjecture about whether we were “buddies” with the journal referees.

    …”

    More:

    Diamond planets, climate change and the scientific method

  11. hankster says:

    I believe that a map showing the projected “wet bulb 95 degrees F” chart would be a very powerful toll in convincing peoples of the danger of GW. This would show people the number of days during which non-air conditioned exposure for more than five hours would be fatal for most people. Is there already a source for this type of map?

  12. Andy Hultgren says:

    Very cool site. Love the graphics. One quick issue: when I click on the “What’s Happening to Our Climate” tab, there seems to be an issue that the content disappears (goes back to the homepage) as soon as my mouse moves off the content window. Makes it hard to read the list of links I can click on! I understand this is intended to function as a dropdown menu. Because the menu is so large, I’d recommend letting it stay in place until the user clicks off of it.

    Additionally, there are a *lot* of things the user can click on in that menu. I’d recommend cutting the list down to the 3-5 things you really want the reader to focus on, and move the rest of the content into “deep links” within the site; allowing the user to begin with the main message and view more detail as s/he desires (linked to from appropriate points within the overview sections).

    This would, additionally, allow you to cover more more technical content within the “deep links” while allowing you to focus on a more non-technical style in your overview/introductory pages (i.e. it would address some of the other comments above).

    You site is both excellent and very much needed. Thank you for the opportunity to provide some feedback; and I wish you and the project very much success!!

  13. Badgersouth says:

    Poynter.News University offers a free, 4-hour, online, self-directed course, “Covering Climate Change.”

    To access it, click here.

  14. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I have not been all over the site but looked at the first 3 sections of ‘What’s happening to our climate?’

    CO2 etc are referred to as ‘heat-trapping’ and ‘greenhouse’ gases but this makes an assumption that is common with scientists and other well educated people. That assumption is that everybody understands why they are so-called. But I quickly discovered when I was interviewing for my 2009 survey that plenty of people do not understand why they are called ‘greenhouse’ gases.

    If you really want to get through to people who have no understanding of basic science, it would be helpful in the Intro to start with some very simple sentences such as:

    “There are a few gases which are called ‘greenhouse’ gases because like a greenhouse, they trap the heat from the sun and stop it from being returned to the air outside. Therefore, the temperature of the air inside the greenhouse is higher than that of the air outside.

    These ‘greenhouse’ gases do the same thing in the atmosphere that the greenhouse does in the garden: they absorb or trap the heat from the sun and stop it from radiating back into space. Therefore, the temperature of the atmosphere gradually rises. And the more greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the higher its temperature gets.

    This is why scientists talk about global warming and why they talk about as a problem. It is a problem because there are limits on how much extra heat …blah, etc.”

    Then talk about how heat is a form of energy and the consequences of extra energy, why CO2 + are referred to as pollutants, etc.

    When people really understand the very simple basic mechanism of GHGs, they can see through the nonsense of climate scientists defying the laws of thermodynamics, CO2 just being a ‘plant food’, ‘its natural’, ‘its the sun’ etc. That is half the battle won, ME

  15. Clive Hamilton says:

    It’s not about the science, and has not been for some years now.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Clive, I think at base it is still about the science.

      The enemy has used a variety of tactics but its main strategic aim has been to cast doubt on the science and destroy its legitimacy in the minds of the population at large.

      Once that doubt is created, there is room for a variety of alternative explanations, provided by you know who.

      That overall strategy has only succeeded, to the extent it has, because it has exploited a major failing in our education systems and that is the failure to excite learning about science. Even the most basic principles and laws are not understood by a sizable fraction of the population.

      When the basic physics and chemistry are understood, the strategy and tactics of the denial industry fail. So if you want to split hairs you can say its not about the science but is certainly about scientific literacy, or the lack thereof, ME

  16. ZJ 77 says:

    I find that it is not terribly well understood, or adequately despised, that a vast swath of corporations, interest groups, and think tanks produce their own sets of facts and propaganda on issues that affect their bottom lines. I usually start global warming discussions with fair minded and persuadable people by illustrating that well paid professional liars abound. Creating an early understanding of this corruption of the information stream is vital to help students/people avoid later seduction by denier claims.

  17. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Great effort by Climate Communication on an issue that confronts all Nations.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.co m

  18. a face in the clouds says:

    Keep in mind that I am referring to the C students of the world, which includes most of us:
    * In my experience, the link below has been valuable in convincing people that warming is taking place and speeding up. An update would help.

    http://www.arborday.org/media/mapchanges.cfm

    * Long-term projections which extend beyond the average person’s lifetime are important, but they tend to make readers/viewers think the worst problems won’t occur until after they are dead. Breaking up the projections into groups of five or ten year places the problem in a person’s lap.

    *Baby Boomers, their children and grandchildren were born into distinctly different climates. Baby Boomers have watched these problems unfold over decades but subsequent generations have never known any different. “The Good Old Days” approach is a tough sell in terms of putting it into perspective. I always have to start out by confessing that I watched a black and white television as a child. I’m sure you can jump start a climate change conversation better than I can, but there it is. It also might be a good idea to begin the conversation by assuring younger folks that it is not their fault, that we are in this with them, and that we still have full control over our future.

    Hopefully that wasn’t wasted space.

  19. Brian R Smith says:

    my email to Climate Communication

    Found you through Climate Progress. Your work & direction is a cause for celebration.  Congratulations on exactly seeing the need and tackling it.  I wish you the best in the effort and will direct what contacts i have to you.
    I do, however, want to offer a suggestion.  I find that white type on a black or dark gray background  is distractingly difficult to read.  The eye strains to combat the tendency of the white type to mosh together.  White type has little edge definition. Compare the ease of reading the text at the water resources page with the black-on-white   type on the charts on the same page.  I think there is a big difference in ease of readability & therefore in effectiveness.

    I also find the background image distracting instead of complimentary. Very dark (not inviting overall),  but then weighted with a bright glaring sun that constantly pulls the eye away from concentration on the text, which is the important thing.  So I would suggest getting away from the dark presentation, go for max readability and perhaps a format that doesn’t float the site contents over a background that seems disconnected from the content.

    But again, thank you for a major step in closing the information gap between climate science & the public. This is the urgent task in a crucial political battle.
    Best,

    Brian Smith
    Willits Economic Localization