Climate scientists realize they must hang together….

Here’s your chance to offer them messaging advice

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The big story today is that two different groups of scientists are organizing efforts to respond to the most effective and self-destructive disinformation campaign in human history.

This is a welcome, but the challenge is enormous given that the disinformers and confusionists have many advantages including a big head start, much more money, a status quo media that prefers drama to substance, and a simpler task — creating a compelling narrative that does not have to have any basis in fact to convince people to keep doing nothing.

As if to underscore the challenges, the story of the two different groups became conflated, leading the far bigger group to put out a news release with this banner headline:

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In the rest of this post, I’ll try to clear up the confusion and offer some basic messaging advice.  Some of the members of one of the groups of scientists read this blog, so if you have any advice on what they should be doing and how, post a comment.

Here’s the AGU release:

An article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, and then picked up by media outlets far and wide, misrepresents the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and a climate science project the AGU is about to relaunch. The project, called Climate Q&A Service, aims simply to provide accurate scientific answers to questions from journalists about climate science.”In contrast to what has been reported in the LA Times and elsewhere, there is no campaign by AGU against climate skeptics or congressional conservatives,” says Christine McEntee, Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union. “AGU will continue to provide accurate scientific information on Earth and space topics to inform the general public and to support sound public policy development.”

AGU is the world’s largest, not-for-profit, professional society of Earth and space scientists, with more than 58,000 members in over 135 countries.

“AGU is a scientific society, not an advocacy organization,” says climate scientist and AGU President Michael J. McPhaden. “The organization is committed to promoting scientific discovery and to disseminating to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public, peer-reviewed scientific findings across a broad range of Earth and space sciences.”

AGU initiated a climate science Q&A service for the first time in 2009 to provide accurate scientific information for journalists covering the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. AGU has been working over the past year on how to provide this service once again in association with the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico.

AGU’s Climate Q&A service addresses scientific questions only. It does not involve any commentary on policy. Journalists are able to submit questions via email, and AGU member-volunteers with Ph.D.s in climate science-related fields provide answers via email.

The relaunch of the Climate Q&A service is pending. When AGU is ready to announce the service, we will notify journalists on our distribution list via a media advisory that the service is once again available for their use.

For additional information about the Q&A service please see a 2 March 2010 article [pdf] about the 2009 Q&A service that was published in AGU’s weekly newspaper Eos, and a blog post about the service on AGU’s science communication blog The Plainspoken Scientist.

This is all to say that the AGU part of this story isn’t really much in the way of news, even though it is a good idea.

MJ‘s Kate Sheppard opines:

I’m troubled by the idea that AGU set up in this press release by creating a delineation between “a scientific society” and “an advocacy organization.” This statement makes it appear that any effort to fight skeptics on climate science would by nature be “advocacy” work, and that a scientific group, by extension, should not then participate in it.

This only serves to affirm the talking point of climate change deniers that scientists who take the time to explain the science and refute lies and misinformation are engaging in “activism.” The repetition of this false association by such an esteemed scientific group is problematic.

Yes, the AGU statement was unnecessarily wishy-washy.  The AGU should have focused on what explaining what it is doing and not offer ill-defined statements of what it isn’t doing.

The L.A. Times did accurately report:

John Abraham of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, who last May wrote a widely disseminated response to climate-change skeptics, is pulling together a “Climate Rapid Response Team,” which so far has more than three dozen leading scientists to defend the consensus on global warming in the scientific community.

Abraham has become active in organizing scientists to debunk disinformers (see “Climate scientists eviscerate Lord Monckton’s attempt to disinform the U.S. Congress“).  He explains his thinking on this new effort:

Recently, a number of new efforts have been launched by scientists in order to improve the communication of climate science.  One effort is the American Geophysical Union’s 700 scientists who are on staff to answer questions centered around the Cancun climate conference.  Another effort is one that I am personally involved in, the formation of a “rapid response” team of scientists that can respond quickly to media inquiries related to climate change.  Both of these efforts reflect the fact that we haven’t been effective communicators; we are trying to get better.

The main motivation for forming the climate rapid response team is to provide rapid, high-quality information to the media and the public.  We know that each year, the science supporting human-caused global warming gets stronger and each year, the consequences become larger.  We also know that the window of opportunity is quickly closing.  If we don’t take meaningful action soon, we will be committed to significant environmental damage.

It is important for people to know that while this problem is complex, a lot is known about it.  The vast majority of top climate scientists understand this is a serious threat.  There are very few legitimate scientists who disagree, in fact, approximately 97% of the top climate scientists believe we have a problem.  There are a few scientists who disagree.  That disagreement is helpful, we want people trying to find fault in the science.  However, people should know that the very small handful of scientists who disagree have not, in more than 20 years, been able to find a major fault in the science, they have not been able to propose an alternative explanation for the marked warming of this planet.  All their explanations have continually turned out to be wrong.

On the other hand, the general public and members of government are split virtually down the middle on this issue.   Half are concerned about global warming, half are not.  Why is that?  A major reason is that there is a great deal of bad information which typically germinates in the blogosphere and is created by people with little or no real expertise.

We are not na¯ve, we know that solving this problem will require real effort. Many of us believe the alternative is worse.  We are on a path to cause real destruction to our planet and I am talking about more than just polar bears.  This is a danger to the planetary system.  Even if we were only interested in self-preservation we would want to take action.

We are also not na¯ve in recognizing that there is a political piece to this.  It is well known, at least in the United States, that conservatives tend to be much more skeptical about climate change than liberals.  I don’t think that needs to be the case.  We need to move beyond partisanship toward cooperation.  We’ve got to remember that conservatives care about the environment too.   There have been many conservatives who have made comments about the need to act on climate change.  We hope that continues because in the long run, history will look unkindly on those who have stood in the way of saving the planet.  This will be an enormous political liability – although by then it will be too late to fix things.

The timing of these efforts was not linked to the recent elections in the U.S.  The American Geophysical Union’s effort coincides with the scheduled Cancun climate conference.  Our effort happens to be occurring simultaneously and is timed primarily by a recognition that scientists have an obligation to defend the science and engage the public.

We scientists have two hats that we wear.  We are both scientists and human beings.  As scientists, we need to find ways to get accurate scientific information to a wider audience in a way that is policy neutral.  As humans, we are concerned.  I am concerned not only for myself, but also for my children and for people in the world who don’t have the resources needed to adapt to the coming change.  As a human, I have an obligation to speak up for them.

It is too bad that scientists have to take personal and professional risks in order to be good citizens of the planet.  It shouldn’t be this way, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Also part of this is Scott Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences at Suffolk County Community College, who comments here and who I have reposted (see “The complete guide to modern day climate change“).  He told the LAT:

We need to take bold measures to not only communicate science but also to aggressively engage the denialists and politicians who attack climate science and its scientists.

“We are taking the fight to them because we are “¦ tired of taking the hits. The notion that truth will prevail is not working. The truth has been out there for the past two decades, and nothing has changed.”

We will all hang together or we will surely all hang separately.

Scientist are notoriously poor at messaging — heck, even smart people who are great speechmakers can be really poor at messaging, like, say, the current President.

So here are some excerpts, with revisions, of one of my first post on this general subject (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1“):

Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king”¦. The subtle art of combining the various elements that separately mean nothing and collectively mean so much in an harmonious proportion is known to very few”¦. [T]he student of rhetoric may indulge the hope that Nature will finally yield to observation and perseverance, the key to the hearts of men.

churchill.jpgSo wrote a 23-year-old Winston Churchill in a brilliant, unpublished essay, “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric.”

The ever-worsening reality of human-caused global warming is driving more and more scientists to become desperate about our future (see “Desperate times, desperate scientists“). Yet poll after poll shows that scientists and those who accept scientific understanding as the basis for action on climate change are failing to persuade large segments of society about the urgent need to act.

Anyone who wants to understand “” and change “” the politics of global warming, must understand why the deniers, delayers, and inactivists are so persuasive in the public debate and why scientists and scientific-minded people are not. A key part of the answer, I believe, is that while science and logic are powerful systematic tools for understanding the world, they are no match in the public realm for the 25-century-old art of verbal persuasion: rhetoric.

Logic might be described as the art of influencing minds with the facts, whereas rhetoric is the art of influencing both the hearts and minds of listeners with the figures of speech. The figures are the catalog of the different, effective ways that we talk-they include alliteration and other forms of repetition, metaphor, irony, and the like. The goal is to sound believable. As Aristotle wrote in Rhetoric, “aptness of language is one thing that makes people believe in the truth of your story.”

The figures have been widely studied by marketers and social scientists. They turn out to “constitute basic schemes by which people conceptualize their experience and the external world,” as one psychologist put it. We think in figures, and so the figures can be used to change the way we think. That’s why political speech writers use them. To help level the rhetorical playing field in the global warming debate, I will highlight the three rhetorical elements that are essential to modern political persuasion.

First: simple language. Contrary to popular misconception, rhetoric is not big words; it’s small words. Churchill understood this at the age of 23:

The unreflecting often imagine that the effects of oratory are produced by the use of long words”¦. The shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient. Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal with greater force to simple understandings than words recently introduced from the Latin and the Greek. All the speeches of great English rhetoricians “¦ display an uniform preference for short, homely words of common usage”¦.

We hear the truth of his advice in the words that linger with us from all of the great speeches: “Judge not that ye be not judged,” “To be or not to be,” “lend me your ears,” “Four score and seven years ago,” “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” “I have a dream.”

In short, simple words and simple slogans work.

Second, repetition, repetition, repetition. Repetition makes words and phrases stick in the mind. Repetition is so important to rhetoric that there are four dozen figures of speech describing different kinds of repetition. The most elemental figure of repetition is alliteration (from the Latin for “repeating the same letter”), as in “compassionate conservative.” Repetition, or “staying on message,” in modern political parlance, remains the essential rhetorical strategy. As Frank Luntz “” the bane of climate progressives (see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah.“) but an undeniably astute conservative messaging guru “” has said:

There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.

Third, the skillful use of tropes (from the Greek for turn), figures that change or turn the meaning of a word away from its literal meaning. The two most important tropes, I believe, are metaphor and irony. “To be a master of metaphor,” Aristotle writes in Poetics, is “a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.” When Bush said in 2006 that the nation was “addicted to oil,” he was speaking metaphorically. Curing an addiction, however, requires far stronger medicine than the president proposed (see “Bush State of the Union Addresses on Energy: Yada, Yada, Yada”¦.“).

Rhetoric works, and it works because it is systematic. As Churchill wrote, “The subtle art of combining the various elements that separately mean nothing and collectively mean so much in an harmonious proportion is known to very few.” Unfortunately, the major player in the climate debate, the scientific community, is not good at persuasive speech. Scientists might even be described as anti-rhetoricians since they avoid all of its key elements.
Few scientists are known for simple language. As the physicist Mark Bowen writes in Thin Ice, his book about glaciologist Lonnie Thompson:

Scientists have an annoying habit of backing off when they’re asked to make a plain statement, and climatologists tend to be worse than most.”

Most scientists do not like to repeat themselves because it implies that they aren’t sure of what they are saying. Scientists like to focus on the things that they don’t know, since that is the cutting edge of scientific research. So they don’t keep repeating the things that they do know, which is one reason the public and the media often don’t hear from scientists about the strong areas of agreement on global warming.

Needless to say, the deniers are so good at repetition that they continue to repeat myths long after they have been debunked by scientists. Scientists, and the media, grow weary of repeatedly debunking the same lies, the same nonsensical myths. But that, of course, only encourages the deniers to keep repeating those myths. Like my 19-month-old daughter, they know that if they just keep repeating the same thing over and over and over and over again, they will eventually get their way. And they have (see The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2 and Part 1).

Of course, when your “way” is just to get people to keep doing the same thing they have been doing for decades (i.e. nothing), your messaging task is considerably easier because the default position of most people, the media, and policymakers is “do nothing.”

Finally, scientific training, at least as I experienced it, emphasizes sticking to facts and speaking literally, as opposed to figuratively or metaphorically. Scientific debates are won by those whose theory best explains the facts, not by those who are the most gifted speakers. This view of science is perhaps best summed up in the motto of the Royal Society of London, one of the world’s oldest scientific academies (founded in 1660), Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word. Words alone are not science.

So, to be effective communicators, scientists will need to learn the essentials of rhetoric.

What advice do you have for these scientists?


97 Responses to Climate scientists realize they must hang together….

  1. cyclonebuster says:

    “Computer Modeling” of “Underwater Suspension Tunnels” will answer all the questions they need to know about how to regulate our climate back down to pre-industrial revolution conditions! Are you ready to do a blog here about them yet?

  2. ChicagoMike says:

    “In contrast to what has been reported in the LA Times and elsewhere, there is no campaign by AGU against climate skeptics or congressional conservatives,”

    And why not? It’s like arguing that the earth is round but not being willing to also state that the earth isn’t flat. I think the American people need to hear over and over that climate-deniers in particular and American conservatives in general have abandoned mainstream science.

  3. The Onion ran a story recently along the lines of “American People Hire High Powered K Street Lobbyist to Represent Them in Congress” which is about what they need.

    Climate Scientists need to similarly hire a communications expert/lawyer/speaker/translator to be careful that not even one sentence they utter in congress can be twisted by the climate zombies that are after them

  4. Jose says:

    I think it’s important for scientists to communicate that they’re ordinary human beings just like everyone else. It’s a silly thing to stress but a lot of people see scientists as some otherworldly priesthood which makes them distrustful. I suspect this also helps fuel the “it’s all a conspiracy” meme.

    Stressing that there isn’t a conspiracy would also be good. Essentialy that’s the main argument against anyways.

  5. Mike Roddy says:

    This is great news, and overdue. John Abraham and Scott Mandia are brilliant men and courageous defenders of science, which in this case translates into defenders of the truth against oil and coal company lies. I hope they inspire other scientists to join them in many proactive ways, some of which we may not have thought of yet.

    They’ll take plenty of arrows, all right- Stephen Schneider got a lot of death threats. Abraham and Mandia have already shown great courage, which will be required for this fight just as much as knowledge and clarity.

    Listening to Schneider deliver a speech at a Society of Environmental Journalists convention at Stanford three years ago changed my life. There was then no other choice but to fight the deniers and delayers with everything I’ve got. Climate scientists, when the Becks and Limbaughs lie like hell during a discussion (normal for them), call them on it! People like Joe Romm, John Cook, and Tenney Naumer have been carrying this burden for you for years, and now it’s your turn.

    Never mind circus acts like Monckton. People like Watts, McIntyre, Lindzen, Inhofe, and the rest of them need to be totally humiliated with the facts, and not let off the hook via searches for common ground or timid statements like “I see your argument, however this data point..” etc. Prove them wrong, and go after them like bulldogs, like Monbiot did when he grilled Plimer.

    Paid global warming deniers have poisoned the public dialogue and stalled serious action to get us off fossil fuels for way too long. Scientists have a serious moral responsibility to communicate the vast evidence that they have uncovered. You will earn the gratitude of the country and the world, and save countless lives.

  6. Robert says:

    I think the “deniers and delayers” may be on the ascendancy simply because they have a more attractive product to sell. In the UK the mood for climate change action has gone from fairly enthusiastic to “don’t mention it in polite company” over the last couple of years as people have seen how it has translated into very high tax on high-end cars, more expensive flights, higher electricity prices, and a general perception that the government is using it as just another excuse to pay for its excesses.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am firmly in the camp of those that believe we should take urgent and drastic action. In fact I relish the challenge. At a personal level we have cut our domestic gas and electricity to about 35% of what it was in 2006, the most dramatic action being to permanently turn off the central heating and rely on two log burning stoves (for which I collect the wood – it keeps me fit!).

    But the enthusiasm with which I started the project is now tarnished by a recognition that the rest of the world is not following those individuals and countries that are making an effort. And it’s not all about the US either – the explosive growth of fossil fuelled Asia is frightening. I have no idea what will rein them in, short of world war 3.

  7. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Good Bill Maher commentary that includes some stuff about climate change…

  8. The Wonderer says:

    Scientists should be spending their time doing science, and this would be possible with ample support of others. Organizations supporting them should include (and certainly not limited to):

    1. A broad-based “big tent” organization with a positive message, that organizes the base. One component would include a web-site (NO BLOG with all that noise) with educational material and references, including basic facts, a mesmerizing and up-to-date section with graphs of forcings, and “lines of evidence” (from Tamino). Large emphasis on membership and fundraising.

    2. A separate organization specifically designed to hold media and outspoken & misguided sorts accountable. Large staff of lawyers.

  9. PAUL DONOHUE says:

    Scientists are supposed to make the inventions, cure the diseases but never contribute to the political discourse. That’s unfortunately the current thinking which unfortunately many scientists have accepted. Lawyers and know nothings must just love it. I say go Science and give em’ hell.

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    I think there are to stories here. First is to educate people about the science behind climate change.

    The second story is to tell the patient about his cancer and what must be done to avoid a fatal ending. Or how to brief the public about the manifestation of worst case scenarios “species extinction event”, and what must be done to avert it.

  11. I think it would be vise for the scientists that actually already have the contacts abroad to use them for the fight back in USA.
    We here in Sweden try to follow the debate over there and realize how important it is for sake of the whole World to get people in USA to understand what science really is about.
    To speak out the truth about what is happening.

    There are lot of scientists here in Europe that can be part of the discussion.
    As living in Sweden I can mention a couple of them, well known here and maybe over there:

    Johan Rockström is probably well known for every one.
    His speech on TED

    Christian Azar from Gothenburg might be less known.
    He has been writing things about the US climate politics and is in Sweden an authority in the field of Climate Science.

  12. James Newberry says:

    One point I would suggest is to stop referring to oil (petroleum, mined methane, coal, uranium) as “energy resource.” Among a long list of reasons Americans should make this change is the fact that it is a liquid, a phase of matter, and is in fact a material resource. Continuing to say “energy resource” for these materials is the perpetration of fraud. They are matter, not “energy.”

    Think of what just happened concerning massive fraud in the financial sector as gamed by government abettors. No one knew what they were doing except the gamers. One might say fraudulent terminology is What Is The Matter With Energy. There is no energy “in” oil. Energy (molecular bond) IS the oil, a (mined, toxic, explosive and increasingly rare)) material. And its material product of combustion (human destruction by fire) remains in the air long enough to heat the planet some ten thousand times its heat of combustion. Not so good.

    But it (nation-state subsidized “fuel”) is cheap, isn’t it? What do we value? Plutocracy, oligopoly, poisonous fraud and unending resource wars? Pay no attention to trillion dollar direct and indirect nation-state, annual subsidies, and external subsidies (“economic externalities”) that are much larger, which have gamed the eco-nomics . Perhaps these “energy credit default swaps” may come to include demise of the world food economy, a subset of global ecology, which is beginning to “crash.”

    Perhaps we should stop being timid.

    Peace and good luck,
    James Newberry

  13. Michael Tucker says:

    “The ever-worsening reality of human-caused global warming is driving more and more scientists to become desperate about our future.”

    I am very glad scientists and especially the AGU is beginning to speak out.

    BUT If this is an emergency shouldn’t the president speak about it as an emergency?

    “A tree a day will keep global warming away” – Really Mr President? Is that all we have to do? [From a speech given to high school students in India.]

    If not the president, how about the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy? Couldn’t we get some clear messaging from these folks? Couldn’t they emphasize the science and what the future holds?

    How about the First Lady? If the president is not willing and his science team is not willing would Mrs. Obama be willing to speak about the importance of limiting GHG’s for the future of our children?

    It is just hard to sell the American people on an emergency if no one in authority is also treating it as an emergency.

  14. Jeff Huggins says:

    Great News, and Here’s Some Well-Intended Advice

    I applaud and respect any scientific organizations, and any scientists, trying to take a stronger (and clearer) stand.

    I’m pressed for time right now, but I’ll offer some quick thoughts.

    My first piece of advice is that some leaders and scientists from BOTH organizations should (ideally, please) read this blog, or at least this particular thread on this blog, for thoughts and advice and tips. Other people will provide great comments, I’m sure, and I’ll try to provide some comments over the next several days. My only problem today is (yes) today is busy.

    My second quick thought is this: Although the “message” is very important, of course, we should also not lose sight of the fact that the medium (and media) are VITAL too. Indeed, in some senses (and we’ve heard this before) the medium IS the message. In any case, in a piece of communication (TV, radio, print, etc.) both media and message are important — including the fit between them — but that’s the more commonly understood point. In addition to that point, the point I’d like to convey is this: The ultimate and best “medium” for actually generating understanding among the public involves in-person, sincere action. In other words, if a scientific organization or society is going to run a campaign, that’s super, and helpful, and necessary. But, in addition, the same scientific society (and hopefully a number of them, working together) should send 100 of its scientists and other staff to actually sit on the front steps of the API headquarters, for example, for each day for a week, and then on the front steps of that big building in Washington with the dome on top and the steps in front. I’m not joking. Seriously. I couldn’t be more serious. Media campaigns are helpful, and we need ’em, but Real Heavy Gravity only comes from people seeing that, “my oh my, Sally, those scientists REALLY ARE CONCERNED!” No matter how good a media campaign is, we all know (these days) that campaigns involve the heads of organizations, an ad agency, a few testimonials, some production, and there, you have it. EVEN THE BEST campaigns can’t convey the genuine sincerity and gravity that come with (non-violent but substantial) direct action. That’s simply the way humans work. The scientists who understand “how humans work, as social beings”, can tell you. The day that The New York Times carries a huge bold headline, like the one when Pearl Harbor was bombed or when WW II was won, saying, “WORLD’s SCIENTISTS SURROUND AND SHUT DOWN U.S. SENATE CHAMBERS FOR TENTH STRAIGHT DAY: FIFTY ARRESTED YESTERDAY!”, is the day that we can finally say that our messaging is beginning to work. I’m not joking.

    I’m not joking. Nor is there any good reason why this can’t or shouldn’t be happening.

    I’ll try to pose more observations and suggestions as time allows, over the next five or six days.

    Bravo scientists!



  15. Dave E says:

    #1 Cyclone Buster. I saw your previous post on “underwater suspension tunnels”. I don’t believe that you had a link to a description their either, but from what you have said, I gather that they are a mechanism of bringing cold water from deeper in the ocean, presumably to cool the surface waters and the atmosphere. I assume that it would indeed do this, but at the cost of warming the deeper ocean more quickly than it is currently warming. It seems to me that this is merely doing more of what we have been doing for centuries–trying to dilute our pollution as widely as possible so we don’t notice it as quickly. In the longer term, I would be afraid that this would exacerbate the effects of ocean acidification and anoxia.

  16. Tim L. says:

    For climate scientists:

    1. Don’t harbor the illusion that it’s sufficient to “just do science.” If what you’re seeing poses a genuine threat to human survival, then you have an obligation to tell the public and decision-makers in clear and compelling terms the nature of the threat.

    2. Explain things as if you’re explaining it to your grandmother. If you can’t explain it in terms the average person can understand, then you have no way of effectively countering the b.s. put out there by deniers.

    3. Fight fire with fire. Call the deniers out and press them to substantiate their assertions with peer-reviewed research. Challenge them to identify which organizations or industries are funding their work. “Follow the money,” i.e., don’t just accept that they work for, say, the “Heartland Institute.” Press them to identify the real money behind their “employer.”

    4. Be clear about what’s “uncertain,” but don’t let that be used to cast doubt on what we DO know and what has long been accepted by peer-reviewed scientists. Know that everything you say or write will be scrutinized, picked apart, and twisted; so don’t make it easy for the deniers to seize on your nuanced language. Be clear and be bold in stating what we have a high degree of confidence in.

    5. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

  17. Windsong says:

    I’m self-employed and worked for people who were very intelligent, wealthy individuals who didn’t believe in global warming. One was a democrate and when I mentioned GW, she said, “well, you know there are some scientists who say it’s not real.” After some discussion, she finally admitted, “yeah, it’s happening, it is real.”

    There is another customer, a republican, who is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met– very, very kind and extremely generous. But when it comes to climate change (or pollution, period!), he becomes very agitated– angry even– and absolutely refuses to confront the Truth. However, his job and his wife’s job depend on GW being non-existent. Basically, he’s very loyal to the person who pays his high paycheck. I stopped working for him– in part– because I couldn’t stand his attitude concerning this extremely important issue. To me, it’s cowardice.

  18. Windsong says:

    I can no longer make comments! The last 3 times I’ve tried, they are not printed!!

    [JR: And yet here you are. My spam filter has a mind of its own. I have moved every single item from the spam-catcher list, but it does not help…. Sorry.]

  19. MarkB says:

    Science deniers tend to view a scientific organization accurately communicating the peer-reviewed science to the public as a threat.

    “The organization is committed to promoting scientific discovery and to disseminating to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public, peer-reviewed scientific findings across a broad range of Earth and space sciences.”

    Remember – deniers don’t like what the science indicates, and the above is mainly what the IPCC does. AGU doing a great public service is another battlefront for deniers.

  20. Jeff Huggins says:

    An Idea/Suggestion

    (I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen something like this before, so it may have already been done? But in any case, if it hasn’t been done, it should be.)

    An idea for a possible campaign, easy to imagine in print, and probably could be done in a way that would be great on TV too. In any case …

    * * *

    Scientists Are Conservative …

    so when the vast majority of us, virtually every leading scientific organization in the world, and over 97 percent of all relevant scientists polled, conclude that it’s very, very likely we have a problem, you can be confident that it’s very, very likely we do.

    (and then a great picture or more body text or a simple diagram or whatever)

    * * *

    Cheers for now,


  21. Richard Brenne says:

    As usual, Joe’s essay about oratory was wonderful. Pericles, the greatest of the Athenian “leaders” had no title but used oratory to convince the 18,000 members of the Athenian citizenry on any course of action, like ending war and putting the soldiers to work building the Parthenon and bringing Socrates and other scientist-philosophers to Athens.

    Yet over 2400 years later our previous shrub of a president couldn’t use oratory to convince a well-trained dog to sit.

    Just as Bush, Rove, Cheney, Beck, Limbaugh, Inhofe and others of their evilk wanted to overturn LBJ’s New Society, Truman’s Fair Deal, FDR’s New Deal and even TR’s Progressive movement, they’ve also wanted to overturn the Enlightenment itself.

    Name such a powerful attack on Science since witches and other heretics were burned alive without going to Mao’s Cultural Revolution or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. You can’t (don’t feel bad, neither can I).

    Imagine if they were refuting the basic tenants of Cosmology, Evolution, the Periodic Table of Elements or Gravity. Come to think of it, many of them also attack the first two. This leads only to a Mad-Hatter’s world where there is no distinguishing between truths and lies.

    Yes, scientists live with their work on the edge of the unknown, and even the basis of gravity becomes complex and questionable at the deepest levels of physics. But that doesn’t mean that gravity doesn’t tether us to the Earth or that we can’t jump on a trampoline in the fear that we won’t come back down.

    And so we need to stop burning fossil fuels if we are to survive.
    If climate change were a conspiracy and a hoax as many relentlessly powerful people claim, it would have to go back over 150 years and include Tyndall and Arrhenius in the 1800s; Keeling, Baxter and Gilbert Plass as described two posts below working in the 1950s, and every contemporary working, published atmospheric chemist and physicist and every glaciologist, oceanographer and biologist working in the field except for such a handful of contrarian cranks (Lindzen, Gray, Christy, Singer, Pielkes) that you can name both them and their motives.

    As Joe recommends, in your work, papers and at conferences, discuss amongst yourselves what you don’t know.

    In public, say the basics of what you know again x again (to the thousandth power).

    Here are some examples:

    The Earth’s carbon cycle goes back billions of years. When CO2 rises or falls dramatically, it becomes the primary forcing of climate change, more than the cycles of the sun or Earth’s orbit.

    Our species has taken coal, oil and natural gas that had been sequestered in the Earth’s crust for up to 450 million years and burned it, sending a significant portion of the CO2 into the atmosphere.

    In the U.S. we have about 600 power plants that each burn about a mile-long coal train a day. That means a 600 mile-long coal train is burned every day in the U.S., and since we consume 1/7 of the world’s coal, that means all the people of the world burn a 4,200 mile-long coal train a day, or a 1,500,000 mile-long coal train a year. Altogether we’ve burned a coal train that would almost reach the 93 million miles from the Earth to the sun, and that would reach much farther (in CO2 pollution dumped into the atmosphere we’ve considered an open sewer) if oil, natural gas and all the other human causes are considered.

    Sea levels have risen and fallen almost 300 feet during the last 2.5 million years of ice ages and interglacials, with CO2 ppm of 180 during the coldest periods and 280 ppm during the warmest. Those swings of 100 ppm have produced those sea level rises or falls of up to 300 feet. Human burning of fossil fuels and other human causes have caused a 110 ppm increase in CO2, meaning if that level is maintained or increased (as everything shows every indication of doing), we can expect a sea level rise of at least 200 feet that will be unstoppable over many decades and centuries. (The reason it’s not 300 feet is because much of the ice has already melted since the peak cold of the last ice age 20,000 years ago.)

    Buddha, Bible characters, Shakespeare, Galileo, Newton, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and our nation’s founders left incredibly positive legacies – the legacy each of us leaves for people a similar passage of time into the future will be almost exclusively negative if we do not act.

    Human CO2 increase has raised temperatures about 1.5 degrees F in the last century, with 1 degree coming just since 1970. Around 90 per cent of the heating goes into the oceans, and that’s like putting the energy output of 190,000 nuclear power plants into the system, with 10 additional nuclear power plants coming on line each day.

    With every degree F rise, 4% more water vapor is evaporated in the oceans and that comes down not in the predictable precipitation patterns favored by agriculture and civilization’s entire infrastructure, but in unpredictable storms like those we’ve seen this year in Pakistan, Eastern Europe and the U.S.

    With business as usual (which is the only business that seems possible right now), that could mean a 10 degree F increase by 2100, which would mean a 40% increase in water vapor, which would mean storms of all kinds of unimaginable severity and frequency, enough that most of the world’s most expensive infrastructure of all kinds could no longer survive.

    But here at the AGU, we’d rather keep all this to ourselves. Or if the right person sends us the right e-mail, we might respond.

  22. greg says:

    … just in time to bang their heads against the brick wall of the new congress.

  23. J Bowers says:

    JR: “The AGU should have focused on what explaining what it is doing and not offer ill-defined statements of what it isn’t doing.”

    Actually, Joe, I’m glad they did in as I’ve already gone head to head with a classic denialist in MSM comments who was trying to make out the AGU was doing precisely what they say they aren’t doing. It’s a good smackdown to have when you can quote the AGU directly, and show the denialist lie for what it is. I suspect the AGU knew they’d be “memed” as being partisan and that’s why it’s there.

  24. Will G. says:

    Congressman Jay Inslee said it best when he pointed out that if an astroid was hurtling toward earth, scientists would converge on members of congress giving advice and information. AGW is a slow moving astroid, but will have similar consequences. I agree with Jeff Huggins. 50 Greenpeace activists shutting down the Senate wouldn’t do much, but 50 climate scientists would raise eyebrows.

  25. Jeff Huggins says:

    Scientists Fight Back?

    Joe, the catchy green headline caught my attention, and now I’ve finally read about these two efforts, and I do applaud these folks for their efforts, but I can’t think of any battle in all of human history that has ever been won based on any notion of the word ‘fight’ that could be attached to these particular initiatives. If this is how the scientific community is going to “fight”, I give up.

    What am I missing?

    Here I am, imagining major campaigns and trying to think of the “big idea”, the “reason to believe”, the “tone”, and other such things; and also imagining that thousands of scientists should converge on the White House and Senate and so forth; and trying to argue in favor of the major scientific organizations cooperating to offer full-day seminars, in person, to each and every Representative and Senator; and these initiatives, if I understand them correctly, as well-intentioned and helpful as they’ll be, call for members of the media to pose questions about the science?? So, we’re relying on the media, and their communication of the science, to be effective? Yikes.

    Do people realize (I know you do) that we just got trounced in an election? What are we smoking?

    To be clear, I’m not being critical of the post and the messaging advice: I think they’re great, and very helpful. But our aim is WAY, WAY, WAY too low if these are the sorts of things that will constitute our “fight”. Even kindergartners know that, in a fight, you don’t wait for your opponent or the teacher to ask you a question by e-mail.



  26. Aaron Lewis says:

    JR, Thanks, a good list of communication issues.

    Speaking the truth about AGW is not “Advocacy”! It is teaching science. The people that deny AGW are just as just as ignorant as people that think the sun revolves around the Earth. Denialists may not be “bad” people, but they are ignorant. And, if they persist in their ignorance, then they are “crazy”. That is not a politically correct thing to say, but it is the truth. AGW is reality. People that cannot grasp reality are crazy.

    A congressman’s, belief in an Earth-centric universe is mostly benign to other people. However, his denial of AGW can be catastrophic to fellow humans. Now, who wants to go tell voters that they just elected a bunch of “crazies” to congress?

  27. Jim Shewan says:

    Another common tatic used by the flat earthers is to hold there talks in university facilities. When a “world is cooling” talk is given by “Professor Bob Carter”at the University Of Waikato it sounds like he has the support of the scientific community and I suppose in a way he has.

  28. Prokaryotes says:

    Important points

    By the 20th century, scientists had rejected old tales of world catastrophe, and were convinced that global climate could change only gradually over many tens of thousands of years. But in the 1950s, a few scientists found evidence that some changes in the past had taken only a few thousand years. During the 1960s and 1970s other data, supported by new theories and new attitudes about human influences, reduced the time a change might require to hundreds of years. Many doubted that such a rapid shift could have befallen the planet as a whole. The 1980s and 1990s brought proof (chiefly from studies of ancient ice) that the global climate could indeed shift, radically and catastrophically, within a century — perhaps even within a decade.

  29. Al Bratton says:

    First of all, I’m glad I found Climate Progress on the internet. I am a Progressive with concerns about the politicians that deny global warming and the general public that appears to be unconcerned with the possibilities of suffering through the impacts of global warming. I’m no scientist, just a concerned American citizen. And, I want to help get the message out to my fellow Americans who are uninformed about the possible impacts of continued global warming.

    I have two community blogs I post articles on that I find on the internet. I usually copy and paste a portion of the text and then provide a link back to the original article source. I have copied the entire article and then include a link acknowledging the url source of the original article. (I have found that some readers will not follow a link suggesting “read more” of the article.)

    Also, I have a problem at times with an article from Climate Progress(for example) because it has several blue glowing links spread through the page that makes the page look like a Tennessee road map. (Not really. That’s just an exageration or maybe a metaphor.) I know these links are references supporting the sources of the article content. But, some people won’t click on links because they tend to get off track and wind up feeling like a lost hiker. It happens to me, too. However, I realize there is no other choice especially when there are some people out there who are constantly trying to find a global scientist to accuse of publishing false information.

    I appreciate your opinion of my comments.

  30. Prokaryotes says:

    What must be done now, to counter catastrophic climate change?

    Immediately switch to renewable energy – clean tech and create a second “clean” industrial revolution. We need to adopt technologies such as “BECCS” to sequester carbon. Carbon footprints must be minimized and this does not mean less of lifestyle choices. Actually clean technology can deliver and increase consumer joy at the same time.

  31. Wonhyo says:

    My advice:

    Take the offensive and stay on the offensive. Be ruthless in discrediting climate denialism and climate deniers using any effective method within ethical and legal limits.

  32. Adrian says:

    I think the messaging should be an interdisciplinary effort: all those good things Joe mentions in his post about rhetoric, figures, tropes, etc. are pretty basic but unfortunately often not taught. Maybe young (or not-so-young) scientists should be taught to write poetry, just as English majors should learn the various laws of thermodynamics or gain practical experience in how an ecosystem works (I’ve been reading E. O. Wilson’s Consilience).

    Thus,scientists should partner with persons trained in rhetoric and communication to figure out the best way to get the message out. And they should realize that people have different ways of understanding things. Work with some hip-hop artists, some people who speak “street,” some really good PR people. I recently heard a talk by an educator who taught children some elementary climate science through art projects and hands-on activities. Those children educated their parents.

    Some of the denial is very conscious. The other day I spoke with someone, a friend, who said she admired my “strength” in being able to think about these things, because she finds them so distressing her mind turns away. She and others I’ve met deliberately engage in continuing to live as though climate change isn’t real. “Yes, I know it’s terrible. Now let’s talk about something else.”

  33. A few weeks ago I asked John Cook if I could distribute the Scientific
    Guide to the Skeptic’s Handbook to science teachers. He suggested a
    better option would be to use a more general guide, targeted more at
    climate skepticism in general rather than Jo Nova’s booklet. The past
    two weeks, John Cook and a group of very talented authors from his site
    have been working on The Scientific Guide to Climate Skepticism. We are in the 5th revision and are
    nearly ready to send it out.

    The Guide is for high school and middle school teachers to give them a
    quick summary of how we know humans are driving climate along with why
    the arguments against it are incorrect or misleading. It is written at a level that middle and high school students can understand
    if these teachers choose to distribute the document.

    You would be very surprised to know that most science teachers and many
    college science professors are not aware of even the most basic
    information in our Guide.

    The next step will be to send it to a bunch of scientists for feedback
    with the hope that they’ll put their names to the 2nd page of the
    document before emailing the PDF to science teachers. I have already
    handed the 3rd version of the Guide to a colleague of mine in the
    Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS) to show the
    board. Hopefully, they will approve the final version and then allow us
    to distribute the guide to thousands of teachers in NY state.

  34. Douglas says:

    My $.02 advice for these groups: remember, it is about visuals as much as text. There are a wealth of tools out there for presenting the visual side of climate change, be it graphs, photos, animations, or whatever. Use them, post them on the internet, and make them easy to find.

  35. Rob Jones says:

    The problem here is that you will be arguing with idiots.
    They will drag you down to their own level and then beat you with experience. They will rapid fire you with invalid arguments, ignore your reasonable answers and hit you with more debunked nonsense.
    What exactly can be done when logic and reason don’t work?

    The answer must lie somewhere else.
    A general strike of academics in regions ruled by republican deniers perhaps?
    A log of business’ who support action on climate change so consumers can support them? If every business is on board can the politicians validly ignore them?
    It seems to me that the information campaign is fighting the battle on the enemy’s battle ground. You can not use this strategy and win. Think about it and hit them where it hurts. Academia is on your side, fight the battle in the schools and universities, hit your opponents in the hip pocket, devise new ways of ridiculing them but the use of words and the media to convey your argument is a lost cause and devoting too much time and effort to it is a waste of your resources. Fight smarter battles not losing ones.

  36. Jim Groom says:

    Fight like hell and don’t stop. There is no other choice. Our political hopes are screwed for some time to come, but the men and women of science can’t sit by and watch the parade of ignorance take over the direction of the country. Perhaps politically, it is already too late.

    In politics we can let the whole institution fall into the sea, but we can always re-build a political institution from the ground up. It’s been done over and over since the dawn of time.

    However, in the case of a sustainable Earth for our decendants there is no such possibility. I have every faith that the leading scientist working together to stop the nonsense will indeed have a positive effect. There is no other choice…they must for our future. It is my wish to see Mann and the rest of the big guns take on the idiots on the ‘hill.’ It would riviting television and a chance for idiot America to become educated. I can hope…can’t I?

  37. Steve L says:

    I’m no expert on communicating, but I know they’re not going to make a difference if they just come out with mundane ways of saying, “this is the truth, as best we know it.” People don’t want to read that. That is, the people they need to reach don’t want to read that. No, people like reality TV with lots of obnoxious characters. They are engaged by antagonistic interactions. They want to see a cage match for all the marbles. They want pageantry and sex appeal and white hats and black hats. I can only think of two ways to get this out there, both of which are ridiculous, but one of which might not be too ridiculous.

    1. Some sort of Big Brother or Survivor (TV competition with protagonists and antagonists in close quarters, scheming toward victory) Climate Debate (yes, even though there is no legitimate debate, you have to have it to engage the misled). Imaginative people might find a way to make that work — I can’t.
    2. Climate Olympics. Get the best challenges to IPCC or mainstream climate understanding. Collect them. The first event is to have a competition for the best arguments against climate change science and policies for mitigating AGW. Let Koch Industries fund it. Give medals. It doesn’t matter. Make it a big show. There will have to be judges. I don’t know how to make it sexy. Determine the best ten ‘skeptic’ arguments. For the second event, have contestants refute the arguments. The contestants can be, I dunno, Angelina Jolie, Sarah Palin, Sigourney Weaver, etc, etc. Or climate scientists. It might be possible to get people to participate in – and other people to watch – something like this.

    I really think that something like a game show/sports competition could work. It can’t be like Jeopardy — the message wouldn’t reach enough people. It would have to be like the Superbowl, with a halftime show featuring star power.

  38. dp says:

    a campaign to get the rest of us up to speed and keep us there would take pressure off the besieged researchers.

    frankly, scientists coming under repeated political attack is a social failure. to be able to operate today & plan for tomorrow, industrial society must have detailed accounts of its needs, its impacts, and how the world works. this makes it both unfair and unproductive to leave scientists to defend themselves.

  39. Joe S says:

    Just some thoughts from a marketing perspective. The terminology in common use does not convey any sense of urgency. Think about the subliminal messages we send when we repeat phrases like:

    “Global warming” – That sounds downright pleasant, doesn’t it? When I think of warming, I think of home, of safety, of comfort.

    “Climate change” – No better. When I want a change of climate, I go on vacation. It’s not quite something I dread.

    “Greenhouse gases” – Isn’t a greenhouse a clean and protected environment where we grow delicate flowers and ripen juicy tomatoes? Is that truly the best way to describe what is in essence a toxic chemical stew?

    “Fossil fuels” – Oh, come on now. I handled fossils in grade school, and remember the experience warmly. How is this a bad thing?

    If the threat is serious, why do we insist on using such rosy turns of phrase? The media thrives on negativity. Feed them the juicy quotes they need, and let them do the rest.

    Think about getting phrases that convey a sense of urgency, like “Planetary Death Spiral,” “Extinction Engine,” and “Dead and Dying Oceans,” into the popular lexicon. That stuff is like red meat to reporters.

    Or, if the battle has already been lost, your best bet at this point might be to appeal to patriotism and talk about “Energy independence,” “Defunding terrorism,” etc.

  40. I have to say that the science organizations won’t get the attention of the public until they are willing to state categorically that the danger is catastrophy and immediate action is required.

    This includes taking to step of going into the political. (They may back this up by pointing out that the danger justifies their making political comment as the situation is serious enough to justify this.)

    They must demand immediate action and keep repeating the demand until they are listened to. They must go to battle against the denier sphere. They must go to battle on the changes needed (renewable energy). And they must form a new political force based on this principle–that the planet must be protected from thoughtless human profligacy.

    If they are not prepared to go to these lengths knowing what they know, then the public will believe the deniers because they see those in the know NOT taking action and therefore deduce that the situation is not as drastic as some make out!

    This movement must start with the scientists as they know the most about the situation, but should then make alliance with those who apply the control of risk in our community: engineers, doctors, planners, lawyers, etc.

  41. This is about survival!

  42. Roger says:

    Jeff H., Richard B., and others–great comments. Yes, to arms scientists! Out of the labs! To the streets! To the Capitol!

    I used to wear a lab coat (MS), then a suit (MBA). Now I’m ready to wear combat boots. Why? Because I can’t stand to see our only climate ruined by a handful of misguided and/or greedy fossil fuel executives!

    Given what is on the line, it’s time that we become a lot more agitated and a lot more aggressive. Anger, properly directed, is a sacred virtue!

    Meekness, when it allows evil to threaten the futures of billions of innocent children, and trillions of other living things, is a vice.

    We need every mild-mannered scientist in America to lay down their lab notebooks, make their hand-lettered protest signs, and become VISIBLE!

    Our collective futures on this planet depend on your finding your voice.

    You won’t be alone; many others will be inspired by your bold examples!

    You CAN and MUST do this! There’s NO emergency EXIT! No room for excuses. We need more scientific minds working on the perfect protest.

    If you want to have a dialog, go to “Contact Us” at


  43. Sime says:

    Create a load of bots.

    Let them loose on the net and every time they find denier nonsense counter with…

    “Climate Science is real.” or other equally straightforward statements.

    Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat…..

    Do not stop, never stop keep banging it home!

    In essence do to them as they have done to us only do it better, we are scientists so get clever, get devious, use the technology that we the scientists created to drive the message home.

    Failure is simply not an option, and if as a group, we scientists can not sort out the garbage being produced by the likes of Watts, Goddard, Monckton et al then quite frankly we don’t deserve to be saved from our own stupidity.

    Genocide is neither a credible or a viable option and neither is playing russian roulette with our only planet. With that in mind gentlemen do not make the mistake of playing by the “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” with these individuals or you will loose both the argument and much more importantly the amazing “Pale blue dot” we and all our children call home.

  44. Roger says:

    Opps! “Contact Us” is from another website…

    So, regarding my comment above, if you want to have a dialog (and I’d be happy to be in touch), go to, then look to the bottom of the page for email, phone or other means of contacting me at GWEN.

    We are brainstorming about ways to put more teeth in the climate movement!


  45. A face in the clouds says:

    Issue a formal “Truth Challenge” to deniers everytime they lie, gray or mislead. The entire burden of proof is on them. When they lie, send a “Truth Challenge” by registered mail and inform the press. Send them a separate challenge for each of their past lies. Don’t let up. If they won’t respond then inform the press of their cowardice. When the press carries an indefensible story, send them a “Truth Challenge.” If you have a website, readers can submit questionable stories for possible action. Readers could also post each “Truth Challenge” on their hometown newspaper websites and elsewhere.

    It’s all pretty simple. You are right and they are wrong. Force the liars into the light or into silence.

  46. Richard Brenne says:

    Roger (#38) – Thanks, and your comment is a great (and succinct!) call to action!

    Scott Mandia (#33) – Great work! I recently attended the California State Science Teachers Conference and despite California mandating climate change as part of their state-wide curriculum, I was very disappointed in the quality of teaching the teachers.

    I attended a class presented by an employee of one of the companies that supplies teachers with the resources to do their teaching. The presenting employee said, “How much CO2 is too much? Well, that’s a political question so we don’t discuss that.”

    When he took questions I said, “Actually, that’s not a political question at all, but a scientific one. Humans are adding too much CO2 to the atmosphere when all species that have evolved in adaptation to one climate are then forced to try to adapt to an entirely different climate.”

    I also made a few of the points I made in my comment at #21 above.

    The presenter said I was correct, then did his best Nutty Professor routine, dropping first the container that held the CO2 experiment, then the lid, then the container again.

    As one who is rabidly interested in everything pertaining to climate change, I found his presentation boring in the extreme. It was all nuts and bolts with no context, no discussion of what it all means that I tried to provide with my comment.

    I have absolutely no evidence to support this, but I couldn’t help wondering, “Did the Koch brothers get to this company to influence curriculum? Because providing no context and setting up a tedious experiment with no explanation about the implications would be a perfect way to bore students into climate change complacency.”

    Instead all you need is a 1976 AMC Pacer that you put in Death Valley during a July heat wave for a few days with the Koch Brothers locked inside, and you have a far more meaningful experiment.

    So Scott (or anyone else), is it possible the Koch Brothers or others are trying to influence climate change curriculum in our schools, or am I just being paranoid (and by the way, who’s following me)?

  47. Raul M. says:


  48. Ed H says:

    A couple ideas for messaging (without reading everything that’s been said so far, no time this morning, if it’s repetitive then good!) . . .

    Don’t bury the lede, lead with it. Instead of building a case in the limited time you have to explain things, start with the conclusion and back it up in the time you have.

    Stop equivocating. Instead of saying something like we’re 99% certain the climate is changing and it is caused by human activity have the courage of your convictions and just say it is happening. Speak from the center of your beliefs, not from scientific skepticism. Have a little faith. If you don’t believe it, don’t get in front of a camera.

    Make sure you use the limited time you have in interviews to get your point across which may not mean answering to denier’s objections. Corollary: If it’s a he said/she said interview speak to the audience, not the other side of the debate.

  49. Nick Palmer says:

    Richard Brenne on November 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm said:

    “except for such a handful of contrarian cranks (Lindzen, Gray, Christy, Singer, Pielkes) that you can name both them and their motives.”

    Not sure about Singer/Gray but what many denialists who quote these characters don’t seem to realise is that they don’t deny the fundamentals – Earth is warming and will continue to; it’s mostly due to CO2; we’re mostly responsible for that. Where they differ is largely about estimates of climate sensitivity. Thus they believe in larger negative feedbacks and smaller positive ones combining to make any overall rises less than mainstream climate science predicts. Basically they believe it won’t be a problem because it will be much less than expected.

  50. John C says:

    I encourage everyone interested in climate science to join the AGU.
    It is only $20.00 / year

  51. cyclonebuster says:

    “Underwater Suspension Tunnels” Solve all the above problems listed within this blog! You should do a blog about them here on “Climate Progress” then we can make “Progress On Our Climate”!

  52. Wit's End says:

    “We scientists must admit that we have not yet informed the public well about climate change, nor have we stimulated governments to take the actions needed to preserve the blue planet.”

    – Jim Hansen, Blue Planet Prize Acceptance Speech

    here’s the link to his website where you can read his public lecture:

  53. Jose says:

    I’ve already commented but since I’ve slept on it I’ve had some other thoughts.

    We need religious leaders to speak out on this issue, forcefuly and repeatedly.

    Not everyone’s beef is religious but religion is the primary objection for a lot of people. However they don’t say so upfront (although Infhoe does with his “yes god is still up there” remarks when he denies global warming). Notice how the twitter chatbot operator has pointed out that in the end the exchanges often come down to religion?

    The underlying objection may be religious but people don’t feel comfortable putting that out there so they put out a series of false objections. This is the kind of thing that just about everyone does when confronted by an unwanted salesperson. You tell the salesman that you have to confer with your wife when you’re not married, or that you can’t afford it (when you know full when you can), etc.

    A good salesperson knows that when your confronted by a false objection there’s no point in tackling it. You refute it very briefly so as not to appear rude and then address the REAL reason that’s holding them back.

    There’s no point trying to convince a potential sale that his nonexistant wife will approve of his new purchase. And there’s no point in telling the potential customer that you know his objection is false. You can confront him with documents proving that he’s single, it’s not going to make him change his mind.

    I’m not saying that making a scientific case is unimportant. It clearly is and it’s already been done ad naseum. Simply repeating it will net you a few more sales over time. But it will never sell with everyone, no matter how good a job you do.

    People of faith need to be reassured that AGW isn’t “ungodly” or incompatible with their faith. The good news is that AGW doesn’t really contradict the bible, although much of the evidence isn’t compatible with the notion that the world is 6,000 years old.

    We’ve had the scientific case we now need the religious one. The more examples the better.

  54. Magnus W says:

    One possible thing to do is to compare to EU… however i don’t know how that would fall out in the US…

    Meanwhile EU say “We see the U.S. disappearing as a partner in achieving meaningful climate action,”

  55. Leif says:

    cyclonebuster, @52: One major problem that I cannot envision solving is ocean acidification and therefor I am questionable of other clams. The cure all IMO remains stopping fossil fuel consumption.

  56. Jeff Huggins says:


    There is much use of the words ‘advocate’, ‘advocates’, ‘advocating’, and etc.

    Sometimes people confuse and confound different things that could be advocated for, and many people (who want scientists to stay out of things) use the word ‘advocate’ as if it’s a four letter word and to be avoided, by scientists (but not by themselves!) at all costs.

    But the following things are very different:

    1. Advocating for a genuine, informed, practical public understanding of the scientific conclusions, and (where helpful) the scientific understanding itself, and the implications of the scientific understanding, properly understood. In other words, to be simple, take the example of a big asteroid headed towards Earth and expected to arrive and destroy us in 100 days, if we don’t do something. Scientists can (and should!!) be advocates such that the public clearly understands: That the asteroid is coming. That it’ll get here in 100 days, more or less. And that the consequence will likely be that we’ll be destroyed, unless we do something.

    This much is plain and simple. None of the advocating that I’ve mentioned above is in conflict with the role of science or scientists IN ANY WAY. Indeed, such advocating (as mentioned above) is a responsibility and (also) an obligation of science and scientists!

    Who believes that the only job of “science” is to invent bombs and give us technologies for consumer products, and that any other stuff (e.g., theories, understanding, facts, and etc.) should remain in the heads of scientists, and kept in the universities, and kept out of the way of what corporations might want to do, until such time as that understanding can give us the bombs and consumer products? Nonsense! Science and scientists should be advocates for public understanding — and indeed such understanding should include an appreciation for the importance of a matter. One doesn’t genuinely understand something unless one understands its importance and likely implications.

    2. Advocating in general for the vital idea that public policy should be informed by “an understanding of facts and reality”, in other words, an understanding based in science, when the science is important. Science and scientists should advocate for this too! As a responsibility and obligation. If science and scientists choose not to advocate, strongly, for this idea, then I’ll promptly vote to have ALL public funds withdrawn from the sciences, which is something that I don’t want to do, at all, because I love science and understand its importance. But the public relevance of science IS that we should reflect accurate scientific understanding — we should reflect reality — in our societal decisions. If that’s not happening, then why should the public support science?? After all, we support CORPORATE scientific research when we buy commercial products. And, we are forced to support MILITARY scientific research when the government passes military budgets. But why should the public support any other forms of scientific research, with public funds, unless genuine scientific understanding is going to be responsibly taken into account when our leaders make decisions that are (presumably) meant to serve the public good?

    3. Advocating for truth and honesty when it comes to science. This falls within the scope as well, and clearly so!

    4. Advocating for the proper understanding of what sorts of technological and scientific approaches would be most likely to address a problem, scientifically speaking. Given that scientists can, and should, scientifically assess situations and problems, they can and should also scientifically assess possible ways of addressing those situations and problems. Here, I’m talking about assessing possible solutions from the scientific standpoint. I’m not talking about the costs or economics, nor am I talking about taking a stand on whether companies or governments should fund things. (To be clear, scientists as individuals can and should often advocate even on those latter matters, doing so as individuals, as anyone from any profession or walk of life can do.)

    5. Advocating for specific social, economic, and political solutions. This is where (and indeed, the only place where) it gets complicated. I’ll discuss this below.

    So, before that discussion, a summary: Science and scientists CAN and SHOULD advocate as listed in points 1 through 4. Indeed, it’s nonsense to think or argue that they shouldn’t. If the scientific organizations aren’t bright enough to see that much (but they are, of course, if they think about it), then scientists shouldn’t be trusted to open up Pandora’s Boxes, to give companies the know-how to launch new products with nano-particles, to invent bombs, to bioengineer crops, to fool around with genes, and so forth. There is such a word as ‘wisdom’, you know, and we can’t consider ourselves to have it if we want science to ONLY open up Pandora’s Boxes but not to advocate for a proper and responsible public understanding of science and of what science tells us about problems we are creating.

    Where are the philosophers here, anyhow?

    So, the only real question has to do with the sort of advocating I’ve listed in point 5. Some people (those who don’t want scientists to even speak unless spoken to!) will probably say that, when it comes to point 5, the matter is clear. Well, I say “not so clear!” Why? Here’s why:

    There is a difference, of course, between what a scientific organization does, as a scientific organization, and what individual scientists do, in their roles as scientists, and what scientists do in their general roles as living and responsible human beings, citizens, and “advocates for sense and humanity”. So, the type of advocating I’ve listed in point 5 is inappropriate to some of those roles just listed, but entirely appropriate to others.

    Also, look at the sorts of things I’ve listed in point 5. Well, clearly, some sciences ARE relevant to those things. For example, many economists consider economics a science, at least when it’s well done, so scientists of economics CAN and SHOULD advocate, as they see fit, even in relation to some of the sorts of things listed in point 5. Similarly, some social scientists CAN and SHOULD advocate, as social scientists, if they think that one policy will never work (from the standpoint of social science) but that another policy will. So, even in relation to the sorts of advocating I’ve listed in point 5, the answer depends on what science we’re talking about.

    Indeed, part of our problem is that those sciences are not advocating enough, in relation to public misunderstanding of some rather basic matters. For example, how many economists (scientists of economics) do you hear and see trying to inform the public about “externalities” and “neighborhood effects” and the well-understood limits of what “totally free markets” can be expected to do of their own accord? Here, I’m not talking about advocating for A PARTICULAR policy; but I AM talking about advocating such that the public understands important and relevant aspects of basic economics, so as to be able to make intelligent decisions.

    AND, in relation to the sorts of things I’ve listed in point 5, scientists as individual humans, and as citizens, can and often should advocate.

    In my view, Jim Hansen is just about the only scientist who seems to understand that scientists can, and should, advocate on all matters, points one through four (above), as scientists, and ALSO on aspects of point five if they choose to do so on the basis of their basic human responsibilities. I salute Jim Hansen. As far as I can tell, he has it right. Bravo! Joe also has it right, I think, although I’m waiting for him and CAP to start having demonstrative lunches on the plaza in front of the API headquarters, and so forth. I’d be there too, if I didn’t live 2,900 miles away.

    Anyhow, can we (and the scientific organizations, and scientists) begin to think straight about all the sorts of advocating that scientists can, and SHOULD, be doing, all of which fall well within the roles and scopes and responsibilities and expertise of science! We are WAY UNDER-DOING IT! We are letting humankind down, by handcuffing ourselves needlessly and letting other people confuse and scare us by means of a misunderstanding of the appropriate (and indeed necessary) roles of the scientific community.

    So, distinguish between the sorts of “advocating” I’ve listed in points 1 through 5. Understand that points 1 through 4 DO fall within the responsible roles of science, and necessarily so. Take off the self-imposed handcuffs. And let’s begin to make up for about thirty years of lost time.

    What more can I say?

  57. David Smith says:

    Jeff @ 15 – great comment…I think It would be ok if the headline read, “SCIENTISTS AND THEIR SUPPORTERS SURROUNDED AND SHUT DOWN THE US SENATE CHAMBERS….” The scientists maybe the main event, but including a lot of others providing moral support for the scientists. Visible activism of Americans expressing support of scientists in the presence of a throng of climate scientists would multiply the impact.

  58. cyclonebuster says:

    “Leif says:
    November 9, 2010 at 9:09 am

    cyclonebuster, @52: One major problem that I cannot envision solving is ocean acidification and therefor I am questionable of other clams. The cure all IMO remains stopping fossil fuel consumption.”

    That’s what ” Underwater Water Suspension Tunnels” do. They generate enormous amounts of electrical energy thereby offsetting Fossil fuels.

    If placed in the gulfstream there are two phases of operation. Cooling and Non- Cooling phase. In cooling phase it upwells cooler water to the surface to regulate Sea Surface temps anywhere between 70 and 90 degrees to the nearest 1/10 of a degree while generating enormous amounts of hydroelectrical power from the Kinetic energy in the gulfstream current. In non-cooling phase just the warm water flows through it but it still generates the electrical power. They actually regulate climate.

  59. Jeff Huggins says:

    Re David Smith (Comment 58)

    Great comment, David. I agree. That’s a super point. In fact, if scientists get active — and they should, and they will (but timing is the issue!) — it would be a mistake and shame if huge numbers of non-scientists weren’t right there with them, arm in arm, and bringing them drinks and candy bars. In fact, if I’m ever at an event with Jim Hansen, I’d be honored to shine his shoes if he’d like. Scientists need to speak out and support public understanding, AND the public need to support scientists and science. This will either be a “win-win” thing, or it will be a “lose-lose” thing. My own preference is for “win-win” things. They’re more fun, healthy, and meaningful.



  60. Leif says:

    “All I can say is, we better pray that man is causing this and we can resolve this crisis. The Mayans got wiped out due to migration. Nothing would scare me more than if man could not control this.” A quote by Michael Nash in an interview about his movie “Climate Refugees.”

    To this, 97% of climate scientists say man is the prime cause but we are rapidly running out of time to have any impact on backing away from our Gaia taunting folly.

  61. David Smith says:

    Sime @ 44 – I like your idea of Bots. Rather than printing a statement about climate science, they should just make the negative content disappear.

    I have to restate something that I posted previously because I believe that it may be a core issue.

    Sometimes I wonder if global warming denial by “conservatives” is a sort of sideshow event orchestrated by activist dirty energy interests to obscure the real issue. An issue that is not really defensible in our free market capitalist system. As we become aware of the damage caused by dirty energy it is clear that they no longer serve an acceptable positive roll in our economy. The cost is too great. The damage caused may be irreparable. Under normal free market circumstances such companies would fail and perish. Because these particular companies are some of the most powerful companies in the world they choose to use their extensive resources to extend their power and financial position, artificially.

    They poke the scientists and academia who get all riled up and they start yelling and at the same time go to their base and rile them as well with stories of elitist conspiracies taking their liberties and then sit back and watch the fun, thus, totally obscuring the actual risks and dangers and securing their continued existence.

    If this observation is correct then arguing science is not a useful tool or defense and, in fact, just fuels the chaos.

    The opposition has a clear strategy – incite chaos, progress will be stopped, the status quo is preserved. A more effective strategy for us might be Climate Hawks against corporate power in governance. Remove corporate influence and the 77% who support regulating GHG emissions might show up at the polls and express themselves.

  62. David Smith says:

    Jeff @ 57 – My only concern with scientists and advocating are 1) if such advocating underminds there percieved credibility as scientists and 2) If it distracts them from doing their science. One thing we need absolutely is for the science to be “correct” because many decisions, sometimes involving life and death and our collective futures, will be made based on the science.

  63. I am a retired physicist with no credentials in climate science, but with long experience in several areas of applied science, and respectable academic credentials. I have given a course of lectures entitled “Science and Society” to “The Older Adult Learning Center” where I live. The course gives heavy emphasis to Renewable Energy and Climate Change. See

    While I have delivered the message to a dozen or so people by this mechanism, I have been unable to find a larger audience. If John Abraham gets his Rapid Response Team going, it will help, but does he envision covering the whole country and going directly to individuals rather than through the media filters?

    I suspect that many people like me would be willing to speak on behalf of science, but also lack a forum.

    I think it would be wonderful if someone who knows PR methods would organize a network of people like me scattered throughout the country to get out the message in volume. I’m ready to sign up.


  64. Drew M. says:

    There are so many factors to be addressed regarding messaging climate change and making it real in the public’s mind.

    I agree with Jose (54) that religious leaders are an important group of people to discuss these issues. My father (retired minister) once addressed a small congregation in rural Nova Scotia, with a sermon called “Six Billion SUVs” (it was NOT encouraging everyone on the planet to have an SUV- quite the opposite). Some members of the congregation were very upset, notably owners of SUVs. But, within weeks two families (and this is a congregation of approx. 50 families) had sold their SUVs, because they were genuinely moved by the notion that religious responsibility carries with it a need to care for the plane. Obviously the scale is off for what needs to happen, but the importance of religion in the lives of North Americans cannot be underestimated.

    But another segment of the population exists, where religion is in decline- the young. Many of the mega-churches of the 80s are starting to fade, as fewer and fewer young people bring their families to them. This is true across the board for most congregations in North America.

    What are the youth doing today? Facebook, smart phones, video games, sports, etc. This switch from pre-programmed, heavily editorialized media (TV, newspapers, magazines) is a tremendous opportunity to get on the ground floor of new forms of communication. TV still has a way to go before it truly is ditched in favor of using the internet, but it is happening quickly for younger people, who are too impatient for commercials or too busy to be home at 9 on a Thursday night.

    I saw that a British company made a video game where the goal is to minimize climate change in a sim style game. Scientists should speak to game designers like Sid Meier or Shigeru Miyamoto, people who have shown a willingness, and eagerness, to engage in creating a challenging game. The reason is to get the reality of climate change so ubiquitous and entrenched in people’s minds that the thought of climate change not happening is beyond stupid.

    The CEO of Kiva recently stated the Zynga (creators of Farmville) are one of their biggest ‘competitors’ (he stressed that Kiva was not out to ‘win’ against other charities- he meant competition for people’s attention and time). This is incredibly insightful, as it re-iterates that a huge part of the messaging problem is not simply traditional media sticking with their sponsors distorted opinions, but it’s also the broad array of technologies, that can be used for tremendous scientific good (for example, eBird) or simply distractions (Farmville). These two can be combined to promote real information that is fun to engage with (think Farmville 2050- this wouldn’t be hard to create, you’d need a handful of developers).

    This is simply one plan to address one segment of the population, and I know time is running (ran?) out already. But if we want to go on the attack, it must be on all fronts. New Media devices (tablets, smartphones, generally fast computers), and popular forms of activities on these (games, social networking) should be one of the main channels to work on. It’s a matter of redirecting people’s attention to something of importance, and being able to offer them something fun and interesting when they do start to pay attention.

    Also, (I’m not joking, at all) bring back Captain Planet.

  65. Mike Roddy says:

    Many interesting comments today, thanks. I’m glad that the troops are rising to the occasion.

    Suggestion: The next time there are a climate scientist on one screen and somebody like Watts on the other during a talk show discussion or CNN segment, the scientist should say something like:

    “Anthony Watts, you are a fool, and everything you say is a lie”.

    That might succeed better than dueling charts, etc, since the deniers have their own phony charts and temperature/CO2 evidence. The other positive outcome will be that a statement like that one will be replayed on all of the networks and on YouTube about 20 million times. Especially because it happens to be correct.

    Richard Brenne, welcome back, and thanks for the info about schools. I had the same feeling. John Borowski, a science teacher, has done extensive research on corporate distortion of the science curriculum. You can reach him through Tim Hermach of Native Forest Council in Eugene.

    [JR: No, that isn’t what a scientist should say. There is no winning strategy against Gish Gallupers like Watts, but he isn’t a fool — he is a calculating disinformer. Humor might be better, but in general scientists should simply turn down such ‘debates’.]

  66. James Newberry says:

    For those who insist that mined fossil materials are “energy resources,” consider the energy of carbon-hydrogen bonds in these materials occured through photosynthesis, which has an average global solar conversion efficiency of one percent. Solar to corn kernals maybe 0.1%. Similar for ancient ocean diatoms that became petroleum.

    By defining hydrocarbons as “energy” we begin measuring combustion efficiency after at least 99% inefficiency. Direct solar technologies are at least an order of magnitude better “energy efficiency.” Current “energy” use globally: about 16,000 Gigawatts average (equivalent power) during a year. Solar resource on Earth: about 170,000,000 Gigawatts. (Factor of 10,000).

    However, in your energy out divided by energy in equation, what scientific distortion is it to place solid, mined hydrocarbon material (coal) in the denominator. It “does not compute.” Thus my contention that without fraud, “Coal is not an energy resource.” One might ask “What is the matter with energy?”

  67. Jeff Huggins says:

    Hi David (Comment 62), a few thoughts:

    David, I understand your points in Comment 62, and to a degree I agree with one of them. But …

    On your first point (1), such advocating (as I’ve suggested in points 1 through 4 of my earlier comment), if properly done, has no good reason to undermine their credibility, and it shouldn’t. Even to the degree that it does in the minds of some people (as it will, because people are diverse and because some people simply don’t WANT scientists getting in the way), that’s too bad: a fact of life. The point is, REAL credibility has to do with facts, honesty, and excellent reasoning. If, when someone acts on the basis of facts, honesty, and good reasoning, someone else sees them as being “less credible”, that’s a problem in the perceiver, not the do-er. If the do-er then backs off of doing what facts, honesty, and excellent reasoning would have him do, because of the accusation, then he becomes GENUINELY less credible in a real sense, because he is not doing what facts, honesty, and excellent reasoning would have him do. So, when it comes to credibility, you have to try to understand AND GO FOR the REAL thing. Indeed, by shying AWAY FROM the sorts of advocating I’ve identified in points 1-4, scientific organizations and scientists are LOSING credibility with me and with many others. Of course, “science itself” can’t lose credibility in this way: It’s a method, not a person. But scientific organizations can lose both credibility and respect, in several senses, if they DON’T perform responsibilities that should be part of their understanding of their own scope.

    On your second point (2), I agree slightly, but people need to be able to chew gum and walk at the same time, AND when the stakes are so high (as they are with climate change), then priorities may have to shift, relatively speaking, at times towards a communication and application of existing scientific understanding rather than the pursuit of additional primary scientific understanding, although of course these are matters of degree, and not “either/or” things. But this can be seen from the following example: If there were only one scientist in the world, and on a specific day she had to choose between using her existing scientific knowledge to save the only children in the world from perishing from some disease, OR (instead) continuing primary research to try to understand the Big Bang, she ought to do the former rather than the latter, for both ethical AND intellectual reasons. Indeed, if the scientist finally understands the Big Bang but all the children perish and the human species comes to an end, there will be nobody to have, or gain from, her understanding of the Big Bang. In the end, ultimately, knowledge and understanding are subservient to LIFE, not the other way around. Knowledge without life (as if there were a big encyclopedia sitting in a room, but all humans in the world had died) is of no use. Some scientists sometimes seems to lose track of this, and that itself is a problem. Of course, that wasn’t your point. Yours was a very good point that increasing our understanding (of climate change, for example) can ultimately be put to good use, and we mustn’t get distracted from that. And that’s correct. But that also, in line with my point, has to do with timing. If you have to distract yourself a bit from seeking information that may be of good use LATER, in order to begin to put information you already understand to good use NOW, then so be it. That’s part of basic wisdom. That’s why a scholar can’t be deemed to be very wise if he is so stuck to his book or his experiment that he forgets to have meals, and thus starves himself to death, without even completing the book or the experiment, or applying the knowledge gained. Such a person can be correctly called “curious”, and “inquisitive”, and “scholarly”, perhaps, but clearly is also foolish and unwise, at least in one or two important senses.



  68. I was originally going to give some advice here, but let’s face it: Can Joe Romm or anyone else at CAP assure us that this won’t simply be another blog comment which nobody is going to read? Is there anyone who will make sure that the scientists at AGU and other societies will be notified of the advice here? There’s been plenty of advice about various things given on this blog, but it looks like they end up as merely blog comments gathering cobwebs.


    [JR: I can assure you that if you don’t offer advice and no one’s going to read it. I think most readers know that I have some of the best commenters in the climate blogosphere — that’s a key reason they come here.]

  69. LP says:

    I agree that scientists need to learn the essentials of rhetoric, if anything to at least no longer underestimate it. But as far as talking points go – based on my experience dealing with “skeptics” – here’s what I would focus on:

    #1. People need to be reminded that global warming is not some crackpot theory invented after the fact by Al Gore. Seriously, that’s what a lot of them seem to think these days. They don’t need to be bored with the details, but they need to understand it is rooted in fundamental science and that it was predicted over a hundred years ago.

    #2. With that in mind, people then need to be made to understand exactly why this isn’t just some ho-hum “natural cycle”. This seems to be the number one cop-out for anyone wanting to take no responsibility. The denialists know it and they have been exploiting that loophole by feeding the public easy-to-swallow answers instead. “Oh it’s probably just the Sun” or “climate’s always changing”. Our scientists need to not only learn the power of rhetoric, they need to understand that people’s brains love to take the path of least resistance. The truth alone doesn’t work so well when the truth kind of sucks.

    #3. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. Regular people need to really understand just how much they are being lied to by the oil-funded climate denial machine. Look at how well this worked in California. Everyone obviously hates being lied to, and right now how many have turned against climate science simply because of all the climategate propaganda, or stories of how “Al Gore got it wrong”?


    Obviously this isn’t really the scientists forte, so someone needs to bring in people who can communicate these points thoroughly and decisively, but also with a lot of tact. Because I have found with my own dealings with particularly hardened skeptics on this level, there’s a certain amount of “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” happening. So you might be able to convince them they’ve all been lied to, sort of twice (in their eyes at least) – but you have to be careful not to make them all meek and timid as a result. You need to really inspire them to take action against this injustice instead.

    Personally I think someone needs to make an “edgier” Inconvenient Truth type film – but someone a little removed from the more mainstream climate regime. I would nominate Peter Joseph of Zeitgeist fame, or heck – Peter Sinclair for that matter!

  70. Roger Wehage says:

    Concerned, concerned, concerned. I am concerned, we are concerned, scientists are concerned. Count the number of concerned‘s in the above article.

    Taking action, taking action, taking action. I am taking action, we are taking action, scientists are taking action. Count the number of taking action‘s in the above post. None.

    What good is concern if it doesn’t lead to taking action? Scientists, you are the most informed and concerned. You must be the first to take action. Now. Don’t wait for the media and the politicians and the public to take action. You have to lead the way. Reducing CO2 emissions to 20% of 1990 levels will require unprecedented changes in everyones lifestyle, and the longer we wait the more difficult that will be and the more dangerous the world situation will become. Everyone is concerned about climate change and mitigation, even deniers, but no one is willing to take action. We don’t take action because it’s too damned hard. Real action will require moving to lifestyles and existences we have never known. Using great prose and rhetoric to describe the perils of climate change is not taking action. Taking action is first doing and then using great prose and rhetoric to detail the positive steps you have taken to mitigate climate change. Then hopefully the media and the politicians and the public will follow.

  71. Jeff T says:

    Failure to communicate is NOT the primary problem. The primary problem IS that many, many people just DO NOT WANT TO HEAR that fossil fuels have hidden costs. If you do not recognize this problem, better rhetoric will not help. (Maybe nothing will help until the Arctic is ice free.)

  72. Jeff Huggins says:

    “Murdoch Triumphant: How we could have stopped him — twice”

    Joe and others, check out the cover article in the current Harper’s, with the title listed above. It’s quite interesting and worrisome, but helpful as context, I think. It also has a great deal of interesting background about the Supreme Court, on some matters, and also about the (as we know, yuck) legislative process.

    It also talks about the Communications Act of 1934 in very interesting ways. I’ve mentioned that recently, in a couple comments, and I think that people should pursue that avenue A LOT. Perhaps someone at CAP can become an expert on that Act, relevant Supreme Court interpretations of it (all of them wimpy, no doubt), and what the FCC is up to these days? The problem has gotten SO big that someone should bring a suit against Fox for violating the law, and another suit against the FCC demanding that the law be enforced, and then push and push to take it up through the courts. Re-open the matter until it’s resolved sensibly and right, in a way that will allow democracy to be sustainable. Indeed, enforcement of sensible laws having to do with the media is probably just as important as, and also related to, the problem of corporate money in politics.

    In any case, check out the article (if your time and interest allow).



  73. Prokaryotes says:

    Mike Roddy, here is a good example how to communicate with a so called “skeptic”

    Stephen Schneider vs skeptics

    Climate Expert faces a roomful of ‘Skeptics’ 1/4

  74. Jeff Huggins says:

    This This That & Therefore

    GIVEN that we can’t rely on the media to carry the day, and especially not by itself or without giving them some big noteworthy events to draw attention;

    And GIVEN that scientists are key in all this — and also that the scientific community is a very big one;

    And GIVEN that there is a very great deal of confusion in the public, and even among many scientists, regarding the relationships of science, scientific organizations, and scientists themselves to so-called “advocacy” of different sorts;

    And GIVEN that we have to get smart quick!;

    Here is an idea and suggestion: In my view, it might be very, very helpful — and timely — to have a post (going out to everyone, as posts do) along the lines of my Comment 57, “Advocacy”. There is so much muddiness and confusion and hesitation around so-called “advocacy”, and the role of science and scientists, that it’s one of those issues that we should, and can, address and clarify head-on. On this matter, fog and ambiguity and confusion are the enemy, and not helpful.

    So, perhaps a slightly refined version of my Comment 57 could become a post? Or better yet, it would be great if perhaps three people co-authored such a post, for CP: Ideally, one of the co-authors would be an excellent ethicist and, if possible, even an excellent ethicist involved in science and climate change and so forth. Perhaps Donald Brown or someone like him? Ideally, a second co-author should be someone from one of the most respected scientific organizations (NAS, AAAS, ?), and ideally that person too would have some knowledge of the bona fide and necessary roles of scientific organizations and scientists. And finally, if Joe and CP think that my initial framing of the matter, in my Comment 57, provides a helpful, analytic, and clear way to understand the matter, and if my Comment 57 seems a suitable framework or beginning point to the other two co-authors, when we could use that Comment as an approach, and I’d be happy to be the third co-author.

    Either way, it seems to me that we, working with the scientific community, should clarify — or at least offer a clarifying perspective on — the matter of different types of “advocacy” and the relationships of the roles of science to those different sorts of advocacy. In short, right now the subject seems like mush, and there is far too much misunderstanding, and because of that misunderstanding scientists and scientific organizations have tied their own hands so much, and needlessly so, that they seem to be shy doing anything more than providing a service that will allow journalists to send e-mails if and when they have questions. Great, so journalists can send e-mails if they have questions!? Now our fates are back in the hands of journalists again?

    (To be clear, sometimes I sound a bit critical. I do think the question-answering initiative is a good idea, and will be helpful. My main point, of course, is that it won’t be nearly enough.)

    If anyone (Joe and CP, Donald, someone from one of the main scientific organizations, or someone with a billion bucks who can run full-page advertorials in The New York Times) thinks this is a good idea, and would like to try to help clarify these matters (along the lines of my Comment 57), please do let me know.



  75. Prokaryotes says:

    Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan on the Greenhouse Effect

  76. Prokaryotes says:

    Wendell Wiggins, #64 you should get in touch with

  77. David Smith says:

    Jeff @ 68 – I didn’t speek up in opposition to you “Advocacy” comments, only to add my two cents. An aspect of the #2 response rings true to me, personally. In my day job I am working towards the goal of super-sustainable building construction. I have decided professionally as an Architect, to no longer participate in building projects that are business as usual relative to energy consumption and sustainability. Work in this area is very slow and I felt I needed to do something would have more timely impact on AGW and thus my participation in this blog leading to the SupportCott project. Thanks for the comments.

  78. Mike Roddy says:

    Jeff, thanks for the heads up about the Harpers Murdoch piece. Six media companies dictate most of the newspaper and TV content in this country. We won’t solve this without a free press, and I’m glad you’re on it.

    Reporters do fake balance and talk about cognitive problems with the public, giving them an excuse to neglect their responsibilities. Problem is, independent investigative reporters tend to get fired, so it’s up to the internet or an occasional piece in something like Rolling Stone to get the truth out there.

    Prokaryote, thanks for the Schneider clip. He was one of my heroes, but even he overlooked media consolidation a bit too much.

    And Joe, I agree that it’s better to avoid getting trapped into a “debate” with a denier than calling them liars when the situation comes up. The mindset in my opinion should be to communicate to the American public that Watts, McIntyre, Lindzen, Beck etc. are illegitimate, and very mistaken about the scientific evidence on the subject. They do not deserve respect, because they have been purchased by corporations that have a lot to lose by cutting use of fossil fuels.
    Most members of the public are not aware of this, and think that weathermen and statisticians are experts too.

  79. Lew Johns says:

    Global Warming is Happening, we Caused it, and it will Hurt us. Anyone saying otherwise is either a Fool or a Liar.

    Whatever is to be said regarding Climate Change that statement will summarize it. It is the constant Message. Americans need to hear those words repeated as a preface every time a Climate question is asked.

  80. ToddInNorway says:

    Trying to change the hearts and minds of the masses of stubborn, ignorant denialists is a non-starter. We need to start by making large holes in the walls of the denialists, not by trying to make their whole fortress fall like the walls of Jerico. The EPA is quietly attacking the coal industry with their powers given by Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the mining safety laws, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the recent decision by the Supreme Court that empowered the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions. The sum application of these by the EPA could very well shut down the coal industry for good if successful. The Science and environmental communities should engange and focus on this battle, adding to the science-based case of the EPA and if necessary following the example of James Hansen in civil disobedience. This is the first big hole in he denialist wall, and it is here the process leading to the final defeat of denialists begins. The next battle will be to promote the portfolio of very effective energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions on the merits of their business cases and their superior compliance with above regulations and laws. And when the battle against the EPA breaks out in the US congress, then get the best PR consultants money can buy and watch the denialists squirm.

  81. peter whitehead says:

    Scientists mainly talk/write to each other and so do not know how to talk/write to the public.

    I was a school science teacher for over 30 years, and wrote some earth science texts for schools (including one for Oxford University Press) so I pass on these thoughts.

    1. Most people have low resding ages. eg the most popular daily paper in the UK ‘The Sun’ has a reading age of 9. It’s readers are, I hope, mostly older (the pictures of scantily-clad ladies on Page 3 are legendary).

    2. Write out what you want to say. Then edit to reduce the reading age:

    a)Replace every long word with the shortest possible (use a good thesaurus).

    3. Break up the text into very short sentences. Get rid of – commas, AND, BUT – make each thought a single item.

    4. Have very few sentences in each paragraph.

    5. Use pictures WITH PEOPLE IN. There must be lots of young attractive researchers in your field. Photo them, give their names and qualifications, and their institutions.

    6.Ideally lay the text out as a conversation, with a question, and then a picture of your expert who answers it.

    As Alice said, ‘What’s the good of a book without pictures or conversation.’ Graphs, though, must be CLEAR and SIMPLE – not just from a research publication.

    I wrote a couple of short books on Earth Science for 11-12 years old pupils in which the questions were asked by my assistant, Rocky Rex, a timewarped tyrannosaur. He also appeared in a lot of the pictures, drawn by a colleague. He gave a scale to the sketches, as he was introduced as a young TR exactly 2 metres high. Anyone want Rocky to help, let me know. I seem to remember he wasn’t keen on extinction – and you really should not mention asteroids near him.

    Like most teachers, you are not addressing a knowledgable, interested, literate audience. You need to make them care, by getting under their defences.

    Here’s another angle. I heard a radio documentary on the early days of MOtown. Mr Gordy said to his recording artists “On Saturday morning, teenagers walk down mainstreet with enough to buy a burger OR your record. You’ve got to make them buy your record instead of a burger”.

  82. Chris Winter says:

    I remember hearing, long years ago, occasional broadcasts of something called “science court.” A little Googling found this reference: . It reminds me that Professor Arthur Kantrowitz first proposed the science court, and got it organized during the Ford administration. Back then, the issues that motivated its creation were Love Canal and the Strategic Defense Initiative.

    Today, climate change is the unresolved issue of paramount importance. I use “unresolved” in the sense of “unresolved in the public’s opinion.” In the scientific sense, of course, the basic issues of climate change were resolved twenty years ago. While many details are not yet understood, scientists agree that current trends present a grave risk for the future.

    Much more recently (March 2007), Intelligence Squared U.S. held a debate on the subject of climate change. ( ) This shows quite clearly the danger of debating a scientific issue. If such issues are to be resolved fairly, in a way that puts the facts and evidence foremost, we need something like the old science court.

    I’d like to see it revived, and made a means of resolving the public dispute over climate change. Now that two separate groups of scientists are organizing to counter the climate-change “skeptics,” that may actually happen.

  83. Edward says:

    “we haven’t been effective communicators” YES you have. The problems are:
    1. The fossil fuel industry has billions of times as much money to advertise
    2. 4% of all people are psychopaths. They tend to become very rich. Reference book: “The sociopath next door : the ruthless versus the rest of us” by Martha Stout.
    3. The average IQ is only 100. Half of the population has an IQ even less than 100. There is no IQ test for voting. There is no math or reading test for voting.
    4. Most people have conflicting beliefs that they are not going to give up regardless of the evidence. Many would rather die than give up their beliefs.
    5. Very few people know enough math or science to get the idea.

    In other words, the problem lies with your “students.” Another million years’ worth of evolution is needed before most people will be able to get it right.

  84. Bruce Hodge says:

    I’d ask for more robust push back on articles like the one posted today by the New York Times: (, which describes the annual World Energy Outlook, from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

    A selected quote:
    “Even though renewable energy sources are set to increase in importance, oil, coal and natural gas would remain the main sources in 2035, according to the intergovernmental agency, which is based in Paris and advises industrialized countries.”

    I can’t see how this can be the case without totally trashing our climate. Yet this kind of report is undoubtedly used by governments and the economic orthodoxy to give credence to “business as usual”.

  85. Peter M says:

    The Scientists thus far have been far too passive and meek to confront the far right and their legions.

    Dr. James Hansen has taken on a very activist role- perhaps the other scientists should follow his example.

  86. Jeff Huggins says:

    The World’s Wealthiest Science Teacher

    The world’s wealthiest science teacher — ExxonMobil — is at it again in The New York Times. Today’s lesson is on the front page:

    “How much of a gallon of gas is lost to heat, friction and other factors in a vehicle instead of actually being used to power the wheels?

    d. 80% ”

    … and the implication of the message, or the call to action, according to ExxonMobil, is that the reader should “Join the discussion on how ExxonMobil is working to improve auto efficiency” on their website.

    Of course, the self-branding of this teacher of ours is “ExxonMobil: Taking on the world’s toughest energy challenges.” Don’t we all love the nice pictures of the nice molecules too?

    We have a society that, in essence, defers to ExxonMobil, the API, Fox News, and so forth when it comes to much of the public’s “understanding” of what those organizations want us to know about science. It is downright scary. Look on the front page of The New York Times today, to see for yourself.

    So what are we going to DO??


  87. Frank Zaski says:

    1. Scientists, make a preemptive strike by sending global warming articles to all media in the country. Issue articles every week so the media has something to regularly fill their columns. (Remember, repeat, repeat, repeat) Add versions of articles by state or region for local appeal and more personal impact. Some articles should also address the denier’s favorite claims, one by one and collectively.

    2. Scientists, please create a library of easy to find paragraphs on specific global warming points and each denial issue. It is better that you (AGU?) create and maintain it rather than environmental groups. If a message comes from an environmental group, many conservatives automatically reject it.

    3. Scientists, make the articles and talking points widely available so that we citizens (environmentalists!) can easily send an article or one, two, or more talking points to anyone who is furthering lies – such as a relative, writer, editor, announcer, station manager, politicians, etc.

    4. Environmentalists, list as soon as possible on a web site potential targets so that many of use can take 5 minutes and respond by flooding them with real facts specific to their lies.

  88. Prokaryotes says:

    US researchers fight to reclaim climate science message

    Two initiatives will provide information for journalists as elections bring strong sceptic presence to new Congress

    • Scientists have a duty to engage with the public on climate change
    • Monckton takes scientist to brink of madness at climate talk

  89. Dean says:

    A bit off-topic, but this recent news story gave me a good chuckle.

    James Inhofe, (R-OIL), global warming denier-in-chief and thorn in the side of many a climate scientist, is also a private pilot. He recently landed on a closed runway at an airport in Texas, because he neglected to read the published notices to airmen, or NOTAMs, as any pilot worth his salt does diligently before every flight:

    Seems the Federal Aviation Regulations don’t apply to good ol’ boy Jim…

    Now if I or any other pilot had done this, the FAA would pull my certificate in a heartbeat. I’m sure that Sen. Inhofe, being a powerful politician with lots of friends on Capitol Hill will probably walk away unscathed.

  90. Steven Hult says:

    First off, the scientists will eventually win out, because:

    Number one, they’re right, and,
    Number two, deep down, people know it.

    Besides that, no one, not even the staunchest skeptics, are actually anti-environment.

    ExxonMobil may make gazillions off of carbon use.

    Others may not trust the government to regulate anything fairly.

    But even the Koch brothers want the corner office view, and would rather vacation on a beautiful beach somewhere than say … Chernobyl. In other words, connect to nature, corny as it may sound.


    We’re only in this position because we are so resourceful and successful as a species.

    If it wasn’t for Guttenberg, Watts, Edison, Orville and Wilbur, and the like, we wouldn’t have 7 billion people on the planet, probably half of whom enjoy standards of living and health that would have been unimaginable a few centuries ago.

    It wasn’t until about 12,000 years ago that we even learned how to plant a crop, raise livestock, settle into permanent villages, much less develop written languages and specialized societal roles.

    (Now our roles are so specialized that scientists can’t communicate with economists who speak a different language than “environmentalists” who loathe manufacturers who don’t get artists. Rather than putting the burden solely on the scientists, maybe we need a cross-disciplinary front to be really effective. Although I’m not sure what that looks like.)

    But the main point is that, if those wacky scientists are actually right about AGW, isn’t it a case of us just being the collective victims of our own success? And maybe if we’re smart enough to create these unintended consequences, we’re also smart enough to look ahead and find solutions?

    That context frames our condition a little differently than the “staticky” good guy/bad guy debate we seem to be trapped in.

  91. Andrew says:

    This battle is no longer about the climate science. The extensive decades-long research has clearly shown us the problem at hand. The battle is between those who selfishly profit beyond all reasonable measure from the pollution and destruction of our planet and those who fight them. Who will win? This conflict will reveal the deepest and most elemental parts of who we are. Those who fight the polluters are the courageous and the beautiful, the gems around us. We will waste our precious little time, however, arguing about the science. It’s about greed and power. They have the money, but we have the numbers, and more importantly, the truth. We absolutely must take away the ability to profit from the climate’s destruction. There are many proposals out there to do this effectively. The message must be clear – we have to stop extracting oil, coal, and gas from the earth and buring them. Unless this happens, we will die.

  92. adelady says:

    Messaging? One dream of mine is to have TV news with a science and technology report about the same length, and depth of analysis, as the finance news. Make science information as routine as the weather, sport and finance segments. Each week a few cute/ ugly critters or plants, a graph or two about agriculture / climate / transport. So the science reporter does the same things as the finance report – remember that graph last month about bank shares see how things have changed has a parallel in, see this updated graph on loss of coral reefs.

    Repetition. Choose a form of words and use it over and over and over again. The advertising industry (at least here in Oz) used to say that no-one even sees or hears your message until they’ve been exposed to it at least 23 times. 23 times! just to ‘hear’ or ‘see’ it for the first time, let alone absorb it and act on it.

    Language. Stop talking about fossil fuel. It’s geological carbon.
    We might need to spend more on some renewable energy infrastructure – but all infrastructure needs replacement at some time anyway. We can just do it sooner rather than later. Why burn, burn!, stuff that costs us money to dig up when we have free tides, wind and sun to run newer, better technology?

    Water. Use the astonishing numbers on water used, wasted, diverted, polluted to mine materials and to run power stations. Very few people realise just how much water is unavailable for agriculture, industry and domestic use because it is ‘needed’ to support the current power infrastructure.

  93. Tom Gibbons says:

    Quick verbal shots are great, so congratulations to Dean (#91) for “James Inhofe (R-OIL)”. Also Joe S (#40) is right that names such as global warming, greenhouse gas, and fossil fuel do have a benign sound. So I suggest “global heating” or “climate heating”. Maybe “overheating” sometimes. Whatever is used should be close enough to the old terms so that people do not get confused, and the terms should not sound too contrived. We sometimes use the better “heat trapping gas” instead of “greenhouse gas”, and we could talk about the atmosphere as becoming a stronger heat trap. About the names of the fuels, “oil” and “coal” are fine. They conjure up thoughts of “Oil Company” and “Coal Company”. To talk about them together, how about using “oil/coal”?

  94. In our heart of hearts, we all know that the pollution from fossil fuels is dangerous and dirty: an image of the hose pipe leading from the exhaust to the passenger compartment leaves no-one in doubt about what will happen to the occupants and we know that because science is very good at working out cause and effect. What we are not so good at is forecasting the future: if the engine in this example is turned on at 11am, what time do the occupants die?

    That is one issue. The other is that we have built our civilisation on energy and fossil fuel is a very convenient and transportable method of delivering energy to where we want to use it. People tend to think of the future as being much like the present except with the obvious mistakes corrected. It is difficult for people to accept that using something as useful and convenient as oil and gas could have been an error, so it is easier to imagine that the Earth’s systems must be able to cope with whatever we throw at them. All of the data over the past years has been increasingly pointing to the (obvious) conclusion that they cannot.

    This status quo is also encouraged by the way we account for our economic activity. People want to “make money” and are happy to destroy rain-forests (and empty oceans and pollute the atmosphere) to do so because it appears “cheaper” to do so than to preserve them. That method of accounting not only drives ordinary people making ordinary every day decisions to destroy the future but assures them that it is “rational behaviour”. Maybe it was when the system was invented and the world population was a few hundred million but it clearly is not fit for purpose as we approach 7 billion. If people could make as much, or more, money out of restoring forest, replenishing seas and taking pollution out of the air, things would start to improve quickly, but we are a long way off that situation.

    The biggest problem, though, is the paradox of being human. We have on one side our tendencies of greed, selfishness and envy while on the other our consciousness, the capacity for love and co-operation: we can almost always achieve more when we work together than we could ever achieve by working alone. To solve the climate problem, not only do we have to put aside our competitive instincts, we need to find a way to collaborate on a scale never before imagined, never mind attempted. But, if we cannot find that way to collaborate there will be, literally, nothing left to compete for.

    This is not just about “winning an argument”, it is about provoking a fundamental reflection on what it is to be human. If we decide to fight for the status quo, then, sadly, we will probably fight to the bitter end. If we decide we want to have a future, we need to change the way we grow things, build things, makes things and move around: thankfully, we have the ingenuity to do that. All we need is the will. And the more of us who join in the desire for change, the more likely we can achieve it.

  95. Prokaryotes says:

    Some Things to consider

    – Focus on the content and correct information.
    – If someone says something wrong, tell him that he is wrong.
    – Try not to let your feelings interfere – focus on the message.
    – It might be useful for heating debates to have written content and web links handy.
    – The situation is similar to a med telling a drug abuser to quit.

    Oil firm chiefs which supported fraudulent denial, should be put on trial for crimes against humanity.