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Climate Change videos: Part I

Filed under: — group @ 9 October 2012

The US National Research Council has been doing a lot recently to expand background knowledge of the climate system and of climate change. In tandem with a new report discussing strategies for advancing climate modeling, they have put up a an introductory web site on climate models (including some interviews with some actual climate modelers).

More comprehensively, they have helped put together a series of videos discussing everything from the definition of climate to attribution of climate changes and future projections. The series is in seven parts, viewable here. There are additional resources here.

We thought it would be interesting to have a separate post on each of the seven videos so that discussions on the videos themselves, or the topics covered (or not) could be more focused. So, with no further ado, here is part I: “What is Climate?”

96 Responses to “Climate Change videos: Part I”

  1. 1
    wili says:

    Good video. How you have it set up, it automatically goes on to the other videos in the series. Was that your intention?

  2. 2
    Chris Dudley says:

    The videos seem to play one after another. I noticed at the end of number five that the thought experiment of holding all forcing constant is conducted. They claim that emissions to date produce the delayed warming. But, in fact, to hold forcings constant, you need ongoing emissions and it is these that are responsible for achieving the “in the pipe” warming.

  3. 3
    Isotopious says:

    Question for Ch 2.
    Why is 1,000 years implied as a basis of comparison, and how does the behaviour of the climate system over last 1,000 years (to present time) compare to other 1,000 year periods. Are there any statistical anomalies (given that attribution of climate thousands of years ago is considerably weaker than present day attribution)?
    Implies Non- Condensing Greenhouse Gases are key to planetary temperature. Where is the evidence which suggests that if all the NCGG’s where removed from the atmosphere, the Earth would NOT revert to a permanent El Nino state? It’s coupled.
    Ch. 6
    There are many studies which show the recent warming could be attributed to a weakening in the coupled-system (eg. Proxy records). The video implies changes in solar activity are the most likely alternative hypothesis for recent warming. Isn’t this in stark contrast to the peer reviewed literature? Or is this just patronising the average joe?
    Ch. 7
    Why does it matter if the swings in temperature associated with El Nino and La Nina are not as large as the overall warming? The diurnal temperature range is far greater than global warming, so why worry? Both are non sequiturs. A bowling ball is silky, cool and smooth, so it won’t hurt if I drop it on my toe…..

    If it is implied that El Nino cannot be responsible for global warming, then this would be misleading, since El Nino represents only short term changes to the coupled system. As stated above, there is peer reviewed literature showing long term changes to the coupled system are very likely to of occurred in the past.

  4. 4
    flxible says:

    It’s a treat to see JPR’s name at the top of the credits, as well as those of the ‘group’. Please inform the NAS “climatemodeling” site folks that the text is impossible to read among the grid on the busy background.

  5. 5
    Russell says:

    Unfortunately, NRC TV has some stiff Congressional competition.

  6. 6
    Blair Dowden says:

    Are these people living in a bubble? The graphs and other visual information are at a level far beyond the simple verbal explanations. It seems these scientists are simply convincing themselves (they know what the graphs mean) rather than trying to understand the misconceptions of their target audience. Arguing from authority is not going to work [edit]

    I don’t think you can productively talk about science without addressing how it works. Time needs to be taken to explain how deep the science is, and how fraud on this scale is impossible. You might begin to earn trust by showing the difference between science, and its manipulation by both sides of the debate, those who exaggerate it as well as those who deny it.

    And don’t snow people with detail they cannot understand. The graph on 20th century climate change deserves a whole chapter, starting with how to read a graph. Explain where the data comes from, and mention it was confirmed by the skeptical BEST group.

    I looked at all the videos, and they get worse. In one they flash up a picture of isotopes of carbon when showing why we know the increase in carbon dioxide is anthropogenic. No explanation is given, just this looks impressive, take our word for it.

    This is a great example of what not to do. Now toss it out and start again.

  7. 7
    Jim Larsen says:

    4 Iso asks, “Implies Non- Condensing Greenhouse Gases are key to planetary temperature. Where is the evidence which suggests that if all the NCGG’s where removed from the atmosphere, the Earth would NOT revert to a permanent El Nino state?”

    Of course there would be no El Ninos without NCGGs, as the planet would freeze over. Besides, what difference does the occurrence, or lack thereof, of El Ninos make? A permanent El Nino reduces natural variability, but you’d have to do some serious work to show that such a thing would make any difference to the concept of climate change.

  8. 8
    tamino says:

    For the most part I’ll agree with Blair Dowden (#6).

    The graphics are beautiful. But the script reads like a high school textbook. Those who most need to know about climate will quickly be put to sleep.

    And — the narrator is terrible. Bueller? Bueller?

    It seems to me that a video series on this subject could be of immense value. But this misses the mark, by a country mile.

  9. 9
    Edward Greisch says:

    Try this:
    “Diss Information: Is There a Way to Stop Popular Falsehoods from Morphing into “Facts”?”

  10. 10
    Marcus says:

    ” As stated above, there is peer reviewed literature showing long term changes to the coupled system are very likely to of occurred in the past.”

    Stated by You, but not cited… what exactly are You talking about?

  11. 11
    SecularAnimist says:

    Who is the intended audience for this video series, and what is the intended effect on that audience?

    Tamino commented that “the script reads like a high school textbook” — well, that’s entirely appropriate if the intended audience is high school science classes, and the intended effect is to augment a course on climate science for general educational purposes, which may be the case.

    If so, the videos are certainly a lot better than films that I watched in high school science classes 40-45 years ago!

    However, it is probably less appropriate and less effective if the intended audience is the general public and the intended effect is to inspire public awareness and concern about the very serious problem we are facing.

  12. 12
    jacob says:

    Why is ocean acidification never mentioned in this series? Is global warming considered to be so much more consequential, or is this about disciplinary silos, or focussed messaging, or some other reason?

  13. 13
    David Wilson says:

    sorry, but my reaction is about equivalent to Blair Dowden’s

  14. 14
    Peter Griffith says:

    So sad to see so many smart people making the same dumb mistakes in communication. It’s boring. It mashes simplified narration on top of advanced graphs and animations, without explanation. And there’s no story. Come on folks, this is one of the most exciting things happening on the planet today! Jeez.

  15. 15
    Rakesh Malik says:

    These videos have interesting content, but are marred by terrible writing, editing, and directing.

    For one thing, only the worst writers use passive voice, and this one uses it almost exclusively.

    The narrator is about as engaging as a stodgy professor that manages to make interesting subjects sound dull because he sounds like he has nearly no emotion himself. Climate scientists love their work, and would do so whether they found evidence for climate change or not.

    I think these videos will only succeed at engaging people who are already interested in climate science, who already I understand the basics of how climate works and have taken the time to learn enough to realize that our climate is changing.

    This is why I’m studying film making… And why I want to produce videos about climate that are more like the ones Brian Greene has been making with NOVA.

    Film is a powerful medium for educating the public, and unfortunately there’s a lot more money in denying it than in explaining it. There is however talent interested in helping the scientists tell their story… Like me. The only catch is that I’m new at visual storytelling…

  16. 16
    Steve Fish says:

    We all here should remember that we are not the targeted audience of the videos. They are not intended to teach science, but to convince the lowest common denominator viewer (read biggest voting block). This is the group who are manipulated by empty but glitzy product and political TV ads. I would like to see a study of how this group is affected by the videos before suggesting changes. Steve

  17. 17
    SecularAnimist says:

    jacob wrote: “Why is ocean acidification never mentioned in this series?”

    That’s a good general question for the moderators.

    Where does ocean acidification fit into climate science? Not at all? Does it “fall through the cracks”? Is it considered part of some other scientific discipline?

  18. 18
    Mal Adapted says:

    Edward Greisch #9: From the comments following that article, it appears that the answer to the question in the title is no.

  19. 19
    vukcevic says:

    I would comment if permitted, on the part dealing with the solar variability.
    The solar factor appears to be limited to the TSI, only a partial source of natural change (0.1C).
    Couple of additional factors to consider:
    – There is a strong ‘correspondence’ of the Earth’s magnetic change (which permeates both the hydrosphere and the atmosphere) to the solar output:
    – The stronger solar output does not always cause warming (eg. SC19) as graphically shown here:
    Calculations of the extra ‘solar contributions’ are relatively simple, show good correlation for the period of the ‘reliable instrumental record’ 1880-2011. The assumptions based on the available sunspot records, are in line with the related reconstructions going back to 1700s
    Destination of this comment is not certain, thus it will end.

  20. 20
    tamino says:

    Tamino commented that “the script reads like a high school textbook” — well, that’s entirely appropriate if the intended audience is high school science classes …

    IF high school textbooks were well-written, then that would be true. But in my experience, the style and engagement of a typical high-school textbook is abysmal. Just like the script for this video.

  21. 21
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Chris Dudley
    opinions on what produces “delayed” or “in the pipe” warming
    — citations needed, uncertainties abound; short or long term matters.
    The sea will keep rising and ocean pH changing; consequences follow.

  22. 22

    Speaking perhaps as someone closer to “the target audience” and having watched the first two videos, I found some of the comments here a bit harsh. Sure, there are a few aspects I might wish were different, but my overall impression is that the first two videos help to build a strong case that there IS warming, and that it is having significant effects.

    reCaptcha: Co(II) rtslinks

  23. 23
    Chris Colose says:

    Hank (21)

    Chris Dudley is right here, and it’s a point that wasn’t really appreciated by a lot of climate scientists up until a few years ago.

    When talking about “committed climate warming,” the natural way to do so is to only count the emissions to date, but most discussions of warming in the pipeline operate under the assumption that the forcing is held fixed (e.g., at CO2 = 395 ppm). From an emissions standpoint this is arbitrary, and still requires some future CO2 emissions to sustain. At zero future emissions however, CO2 could decline enough to eliminate future warming in the pipeline. It’s an academic point since no one expects CO2 emissions to go to zero, or even to the levels required to stabilize concentration, but it’s a useful fact to recognize from the standpoint of both ocean chemistry and the top-of-atmosphere energy budget.

    Back to the topic of video 1, I generally agree with most commentators that there needs to be more effort to explain the graphs, in addition to finding a more engaging speaker. The topics covered are good but the presentation is not relatable to the non-initiated reader. I do like the starting point of explaining what climate is before you try to explain anything else. It seems climate is a concept most people can relate to but don’t know it until it’s pointed out.

  24. 24
    Jay Dee Are says:

    The videos are too superficial. The videos might be OK if they were trailers for longer videos that had real scientific content describing, for example, how the isotpopic content of atmospheric CO2 is a marker showing where the CO2 comes from.

  25. 25
    Richard says:

    This from an October 4, 2012 Scientific American article by Carrie Arnold.
    Combating misinformation has proved to be especially difficult in certain scientific areas such as climate science. Despite countless findings to the contrary, a large portion of the population doesn’t believe that scientists agree on the existence of human-caused climate change, which affects their willingness to seek a solution to the problem, according to a 2011 study in Nature Climate Change. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

    Although virtually all climate scientists agree that human actions are changing the climate and that immediate action must be taken, roughly 60 percent of Americans believe that no scientific consensus on climate change exists. This is not a random event, it is the result of a concerted effort by a small number of politicians and industry leaders to instill doubt in the public. They repeat the message that climate scientists don’t agree that global warming is real, is caused by people or is harmful. Thus, the message concludes, it would be premature for the government to take action and increase regulations.

    To counter this effort, Maibach and others are using the same strategies employed by climate change deniers. They are gathering a group of trusted experts on climate and encouraging them to repeat simple, basic messages. It’s difficult for many scientists, who feel that such simple explanations are dumbing down the science or portraying it inaccurately. And researchers have been trained to focus on the newest research, Maibach notes, which can make it difficult to get them to restate older information. Another way to combat misinformation is to create a compelling narrative that incorporates the correct information, and focuses on the facts rather than dispelling myths—a technique called “de-biasing.”

  26. 26

    I agree, to a point, with most of the comments above. That is, I think that the narrator could be more engaging, the passive voice is a real drawback, the graphs are ‘pitched’ somewhat differently than the verbal explanations, and so on.

    But I also agree with Wili, who simply said, “good video.” That sounds contradictory, I know–but I don’t think that the various criticisms, valid though they may be, should be ‘weighted’ quite as heavily as they evidently were for those who made them. These videos are, IMO, a triumph of balancing concision with comprehensiveness. They cover the basics of how we know what we know inside, what, about 15 minutes, and they do so quite understandably and watchably, IMO. I’ll be linking to them in contexts that seem appropriate.

    By all means, let’s see some which delve more deeply into the nitty-gritty of how those ice cores are processed, or how the isotopic analysis is carried out. Let’s have some that are more poetic. Let’s have some with sexy, celebrity narrators. Let’s… well, you get the picture. “Let a million flowers blossom,” and “A thousand points of light” shine. (That should cover both ends of the political spectrum!) Maybe we should look at the funding issues…

    Meanwhile, we’ve got a useful tool in these videos.

  27. 27
    Brian Foster says:

    As a layman and Farmer in South Australia I found the videos very useful! sure there is always room for improvement, but this resource is a great start in laymans terms. Many of us struggle to have useful conversations in a political climate of denial, this series will help me and a metric “Aussie” version would be great! A link to my “Climate Change and you” video for my community use.

  28. 28
    Dan H. says:

    While most climate scientist would agree that human actions are changing the climate, they disagree on the extent of those changes. You seem to be combining the two into one. This is a basic falsehood in logic; extended the premise that climate changes exists to the damaging consequences thereof. In all fairness, there are those who acknowlege the different opinions of scientists on the extent of the consequences, and assume they disagree on the basic premise.

  29. 29
    Blair Dowden says:

    Richard at #25: Surely “using the same strategies employed by climate change deniers” is the ultimate surrender to the irrational. No wonder it’s difficult for many scientists to swallow the notion they reduce themselves to crude propagandists, at the expense of their credibility. Deliberate (de-)biasing will only create two solitudes.

    The models are wrong, global warming has stopped. Climate changes naturally, people have nothing to do with it. And didn’t Climategate prove there was some sort of fraud going on?

    For whatever reason, these ideas are in the public mind. Unchallenged, they will prevent people from believing a disconnected alternate narrative. I agree that climate information should not be presented from a defensive position, and maybe we should not literally repeat these words, as I have done here. (I assume that we are all grownups here.) A positive, compelling narrative must also dispel these myths, and do it as soon as possible before it gets tuned out.

    These videos completely ignore the notion of uncertainty, which is at the core of any science. Are we supposed to shut up about that, because people are too dumb to handle it? They are going to find out about it from the other side, who get to frame it to their advantage. I say tackle it head on, it is not so difficult, uncertainty is a part of our everyday lives. Make the effort to explain it in terms ordinary people can understand.

    The “trust us, we are the experts” approach of these videos may have worked in the 1950’s, but does not cut it today. We need to do better than this, without handing the whole enterprise over to the propaganda theorists.

  30. 30
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hold up little cards on popsicle sticks with footnote numbers on them as something is said that can be cited; flash-cards for the videos — and a URL to read the footnotes.

  31. 31
    R. Gates says:

    Watched all the videos. They are decent basic overviews. One glaring omission is the discussion of ocean heat content. When saying the “Earth” is getting warmer, or conversely, as fake skeptics are apt to do, “no warming for the past decade” this over emphasis on the low thermal inertia troposphere misses the bigger energy reservoir of the ocean, which is where of course the majority of the energy from anthropogenic greenhouse warming has gone. Ocean heart content is so glaringly missing from such much discussion of greenhouse warming and so integral to Earth’s non-tectonic energy system, that it seem like a highly teachable moment is lost by its omission in these videos.

  32. 32
    Chris Dudley says:

    Chris (#23),

    Actually, it is a bit more than academic. Responses to step functions are used to interpolate model results because they are considered as a sort of basis set. But, I am beginning to suspect, based on rather unphysical behavior with regard to a step down in emissions following the Green’s function formalism adopted by Hansen et al. (2011), that models need to be run over a range of angular conditions. A climate response function derived from a Heaviside doubling of carbon dioxide concentration may not be straightforwardly applied to other changes in forcing and yield reliable results. It may be that a series of model runs must be carried out to look at steps below a doubling, and response to a sudden drop in forcing needs to be separately investigated.

    Carrying out such a program may also turn up weaknesses in the model physical assumptions if the results turn out to be counter-intuitive (the usual reason for strange model results).

    I would thus strengthen Hansen et al.’s call for models to derive a climate response function to a call to produce a matrix of such functions that cover intermediate steps up and also steps down.

  33. 33
    Radge Havers says:

    What is climate? There’s an answer in there but it doesn’t exactly pop out. Since the difference between climate and weather is a source of confusion, it should probably be better developed. Instead the video jumped into climate change with hardly a breath.

    Some of the visuals seemed a little gratuitous. One example, contrast the handling of maps in this News Hour segment. They even take pains to point out the use of red and yellow for heat (cartographically correct in each view) that could otherwise be a confusing distraction for viewers.


    P.S. In the great scheme of things are physiologists funnier than climatologists? Humans vs. Dogs

    P.P.S. The point of the Scientific American article is communicating correct information NOT propaganda. Yes, they used the word ‘propaganda.’ It was nuanced.

    reCAPTCHA: niftly use

  34. 34
    Edward Greisch says:

    28 Dan H.: We don’t have to agree on the extent of those changes. We only have to prevent the worst case, which is an agriculture crash in the 2050s.

    29 Blair Dowden: Yes, people are too dumb to handle uncertainty. Very few people could pass the physics department’s undergrad probability and statistics course, and even fewer have tried. We do have to hire and work with Madison Avenue.

    Another thing we have to do is to say explicitly and clearly that the opposition is being funded by the coal, petroleum and natural gas industry, and that they have spent x$ to cause confusion and make false allegations. Never ever assume that the average person is going to infer anything. There are people out there who don’t know what a fossil fuel is.

  35. 35
    Dan H. says:

    What agricultural crash?

  36. 36
    Aaron Lewis says:

    But, What is “climate”, when each year is warmer than the last year? (Look at global heat content, and not just air temps.) In this case, future weather patterns will differ from all past weather patterns, or any statistical average of past weather patterns considering seasonality.

    The term “climate change” implies moving from one stable pattern of weather to another stable pattern of weather. At this point, weather patterns are not stable, and are not likely to become stable in the foreseeable future.

  37. 37
    SecularAnimist says:

    Edward Greisch wrote: “We only have to prevent the worst case, which is an agriculture crash in the 2050s.”

    Unfortunately, I think that is no longer the worst case. We are seeing something of an “agriculture crash” right now, not only the huge crop losses due to the ongoing North American drought, but all over the world.

    The worst case is that the current drought simply doesn’t end, but continues to worsen and expand indefinitely. I don’t think there is a climate scientist in the world who can confidently say that won’t happen.

  38. 38
    SecularAnimist says:

    Aaron Lewis wrote: “What is ‘climate’, when each year is warmer than the last year?”

    I have thought about that same question. As I understand it, the more-or-less accepted definition of “climate” is the average behavior of weather over approximately 30 years, so it takes about 30 years of weather data to be able to say whether “climate change” is occurring.

    But this seems to assume a relatively stable climate system, and relatively slow gradual change that requires several decades to distinguish from the much larger year-to-year natural variations in weather.

    What does “climate” mean when the Earth system is rapidly warming, and being driven into ever-more-rapid change, so that the changes that occur within just years far exceed anything we have previously seen occur over multiple decades, and exceeds even the most extreme year-to-year natural variations of the past — and then that is followed by even more rapid change?

  39. 39
    Hank Roberts says:

    > the worst case, which is an agriculture crash in the 2050s.

    Let Me Google That For You, Scholar

  40. 40
    Richard Whiteford says:

    Question: Why does Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick show a sudden upward bend in CO2 levels when NOAA’s chart looks more like a steady 45 degree upward angle?

  41. 41
    Jay Dee Are says:

    Re comments 33 and 36: There ought to be a more precise definition of climate than “average weather.” I see the global climate as the average thermodynamic state of the atmosphere, especially the troposphere, over at least a year, the natural cycle time for climate and weather. Below the global and annual scales is a cascade of smaller spatial and temporal scales characterizing regional climates and weather.

  42. 42
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Richard Whiteford — 11 Oct 2012 @ 4:18 PM:

    Please provide a reference or link to the Mann CO2 hockey stick graph that you are concerned about.


  43. 43
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard Whiteford,
    Michael Mann’s “Hockey Stick” doesn’t graph CO2, but rather temperature. Also, look at the scale on the x-axis.

  44. 44
    Susan Anderson says:

    People outside the specialized audience interested in science, and accustomed to current infotainment, will tune out this flat didactic approach. I found almost nothing I didn’t already know. The speaker sounds like an unfavorite teacher, and the integration of information and speech is poor as stated above.

    I was startled to see no follow-up on ocean acidification when it came up, and little on ocean heat. I have come to believe that what is happening to the world’s water, both on land and at sea, is rapidly approaching disaster. That’s too wide a category, but as the planet heats, clean water is becoming rarer and at the biggest scale, ocean acidification has the potential to poison us all, both our food source and our atmosphere. Ocean species such as microbes and jellyfish will dominate (yes, I know, that’s too broad and not all microbes are unbeneficial). Just as insects are the most likely survivors in a toxifying environment on land, predators in the ocean will simplify the biota to the brink of, or beyond, the extinction of our fascinating and complex interconnected.

  45. 45
    Susan Anderson says:

    oh sigh, left out word world at end.

    For backup information about our ocean’s health, Jeremy Jackson did the depressingly thorough on this:

  46. 46
    Edward Greisch says:

    35 Dan H. & 37 SecularAnimist: see 39 Hank Roberts and “Drought Under Global Warming: a Review” by Aiguo Dai
    T”he current drought simply doesn’t end, but continues to worsen and expand indefinitely.”
    The drought this year has done quite a number on this year’s harvest. Farmers are buying a lot of irrigation systems, but irrigation systems don’t work if there is no source of water. We have to pump de-salted ocean water all the way to Dakota.

  47. 47
    Hank Roberts says:

    For Richard Whiteford. You’re thinking of the Mauna Loa CO2 chart, which is the yellow line on this image:

  48. 48
    Chris Dudley says:

    I think that the idea of having a person in the video some of the time is a good one. In the “Shattered Sky” documentary, which compares world response to ozone depletion and global warming, the then and now video of Susan Solomon really keeps the viewer’s interest. Don’t even need Brian Greene video magic, just people seen to be speaking with intensity. “Shattered Sky” is worth watching. It is getting some play on PBS stations.

  49. 49

    Keep in mind that the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council are not in the business of advocacy but rather providing objective scientific information. Thus, the narration is intentionally evenly toned.

    The videos provide an overview of how we know what we know based mainly on Advancing the Science of Climate Change (NRC 2011), which is part of the America’s Climate Choices series of reports. It was cut into chapters so the public and educators can learn about some of the major lines of evidence that show climate change is human caused.

    We hope that people can use this objective information to advance their own understanding and to address skeptics concerns. An accompanying booklet has additional text and figures for those who are looking for a bit more in-depth information.

    Climate Change Lines Of Evidence Booklet

    [Response: John, thanks. I think that it is important that we acknowledge that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ communication strategy – and as we discussed ages ago, we need to have a better way of scaffolding the different levels. – gavin]

  50. 50
    prokaryotes says:

    Very informative and educational and good to have this video freely available on the internet. The 7 parts make it perfect for television broadcasting too. Though imho, images should appear fullscreen and equal sizes/designs.