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AGU Chapman Conference on Climate Science Communication

Filed under: — gavin @ 8 July 2013

A couple of weeks ago, there was a small conference on Climate Science communication run by the AGU. Both Mike and I attended, but it was very notable that it wasn’t just scientists attending – there were also entertainers, psychologists, film-makers and historians. There were a lot of quite diverse perspectives and many discussions about the what’s, why’s and how’s of climate science communication.

There were a couple of notable features: the conference had a lively twitter hashtag (#climatechapman), and almost the entire proceedings were webcast live (schedule). The video from this has now been posted on YouTube in more bite-sized chunks.

While our own presentations (Mike here and Gavin here) are available, it is worth watching the presentations from people you might not have heard of, as well as a few from more established people. We’ll embed a few here, but please point out some of the other ones of interest in the comments.

Richard Alley: “State of the Climate System”

Karen Raucher: “Applying the Science of Risk Communication to Climate Science Communication”

Bob Henson: “Doping the Atmosphere, and Other Metaphors That Stick”

Lynda Williams: “Science eXposition”

127 Responses to “AGU Chapman Conference on Climate Science Communication”

  1. 101
    David B. Benson says:

    Kevin McKinney @96 — In the countryside around here, used to remove stumps by drilling vertical holes and packing those with saltpeter. Wait until the fall rains have put the stuff basically everywhere and then burn during winter when everything is cold and snowy. Big bonfire and then all gone.

  2. 102
    Matthew R Marler says:

    93 Secular Animist: And yet, scientists keep right on arguing with the deniers, as though the deniers were other scientists arguing in good faith about what the evidence shows — rather than the deliberately dishonest propagandists they are.

    Also 95, Mal Adapted

    An important purpose of the debate is to win over the people who are not yet committed to one thing or another.

  3. 103
    patrick says:

    Stumps: I’ve made peat out of stumps–and big ones– with guess what, a sharp narrow shovel. Drilling holes and using drying agents may help. The time of the “big bonfire” is over, sorry. After stump dries out, culture it with sticks,leaves, roots, rocks, and mown grass, or equivalent. You could seed it with spores. What you actually want is fungi. If you see mushrooms, you’ve done something right. Eventually you can stand on it and push it down and it makes a fungal puff. It has turned to peat. It’s the mycellium round up. Live with it.

  4. 104

    #97-99, 101–

    Thanks, guys! Suddenly seeing those sweetgum stumps as experimental subjects. Much more fun perspective!

  5. 105
    patrick says:

    “The point that I try to communicate is that this isn’t controversial science–this is nearly two-century-old physics and chemistry, irrefutable measurements of how we’re changing the composition of the atmosphere–and the fact that, as we expect, the globe is indeed warming up. …

    “It wouldn’t matter if there were no hockey stick…we would still know that humans are warming the planet, changing the climate, and that it represents a threat if we don’t do something about it.” –Michael Mann

    “And I think that’s an important take-home…that this is a predictive science in the sense that…if we actually…knew what humans were going to do, the climate scientists can now turn that into a future with pretty high confidence. …

    “If you put a huge amount of hot water in the middle of the Pacific, the atmosphere can’t heat it up very easily. If you put a huge amount of cold water in the middle of the Pacific, the atmosphere can heat it up very easily. And so whether the heat is going mostly into the atmosphere or mostly in the ocean for the short term is fairly strongly influenced by El Nino and La Nina. …

    “Ultimately the ocean and the atmosphere have to be coupled…and it’s simply a question of how much of the warming has already been realized in the atmosphere and how much is still to come.” –Richard Alley

  6. 106
    Russell says:


    The tried, true and traditional New Hampshire method, allowing same season agricutural access, is to auger a hole and insert a stick or two of dynamite.

  7. 107
    patrick says:

    @106 Is that over my head or on your shoe?

  8. 108

    The debate over communication strategies frequently seems to miss a key issue: who is the audience. I think audience can be divided into three parts: the converted, the confused and the pseudo-skeptics. The confused are the key audience, and it is up to the converted to use the clearest and simplest arguments possible to dispel the doubt and confusion generated by the pseudo-skeptics.

    One strategy is to take one point at a time – don’t try to prove 3 or 4 things at once!

    As an example, here is my idea of the clearest way to show that human CO2 emissions are the reason for the increase in atmospheric CO2. I have found a pretty good graphic at It goes from 1960 to 2010, and would be better if it went from 1850 to 2010 and used ppm units instead of petagrams. However, it shows quite clearly that for every 100 ppm emitted we have an increase of approximately 40 ppm in atmospheric CO2. Hank might prefer tabular data with statistical analysis, so here is an excerpt of tabular data 1850 to the present. The comparison is measured atmospheric CO2 level (NASA data used for modeling) versus the NASA level in 1850 plus 42% of cumulative CO2 emissions (data from CDIAC){sorry for wretched format} :
    ______Atmospheric____________1850 CO2
    Year __ CO2(NASA) ___________+ 42% Cum. Emissions
    1850 __ 285.2 _________________285.2
    1875 __ 288.6_________________288.5
    1900 __ 295.7_________________293.5
    1925 __ 305.3_________________301.7
    1950 __ 311.3_________________312.2
    1975 __ 331.4 _________________333.8
    2000 __ 369.6 _________________369.9
    2009 __ 387 __________________385.6
    So 42% of emissions give the 100 ppm rise from 1850 to 2009.

    If you want statistics then you can get the R-squared for the yearly data from 1850 to 2009: it is 0.994; so given that we have an obvious mechanism for the rise in CO2, then the usual interpretation would be that 99.4% of the atmospheric CO2 rise is due to human emissions.

    To my mind this argument is simple, straightforward and conclusive. Needless to say, the pseudo-skeptics keep very clear of this kind of evidence. The C12/C13 argument is a little more complicated, and the pseudo-skeptics have a good time confusing it, see for example Of course, arguing with Spencer would be an exercise in futility. But if you are talking to the confused then I’d go with my argument.

    A little goodie for Gavin. According to the NYT – July 23rd, the Mendenhall glacier has started gushing water in a worrisome fashion- “Starting in July 2011, and each year since, sudden torrents of water shooting out from beneath the glacier have become a new facet of Juneau’s brief, shimmering high summer season. In that first, and so far biggest, measured flood burst, an estimated 10 billion gallons gushed out in three days, threatening homes and property along the Mendenhall River that winds through part of the city. There have been at least two smaller bursts this year.” Maybe a video could spice up communication!

  9. 109
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 99.4% of the atmospheric CO2 rise

    But we know more than 100 percent of the atmospheric CO2 increase has been due to fossil fuel use. Why ignore what’s known to give a wrong low number?

  10. 110
    patrick says:

    “The 8-Minute Epoch.” Put it in the syllabus.

    What’s good about this video is that it provides a unified insight into the record and the fundamentals.

    “We can…answer these kinds of questions. I think it is very useful to look at long time periods when climate was very different.” –James Hansen

    This excerpt is a sample case of how various reputable websites may differ in response to basic questions about communication like those put by Gavin Schmidt at the beginning of his talk.

    The website in this case compiles video, among other things.

  11. 111
    Russell says:

    Sorry to see you stumped

  12. 112
    Hank Roberts says:

    If anyone cares, National Geographic bases their story on the uncorrected statement originally published in Hansen’s book, missing the correction that he published as a followup:

    (I can’t get the Nat Geo new blog registration to work; seems it uses cookies and other tracking tricks that my browser is set not to recognize).

    Here’s one story on the correction that NatGeo missed:
    “Hansen made the retraction in a paper released Tuesday night. He’s released several similar papers for general public consumption, although they tend to be a bit heavy into the science – even though he tries not to be. The rest of this latest paper, titled “Making Things Clearer: Exaggeration, Jumping the Gun, and The Venus Syndrome” is exceptionally frank and lays out the key uncertainties and unknowns about climate change.

    “Besides clarifying the point about boiled oceans, Hansen explains the significance of runaway feedbacks….”

  13. 113

    #111–What, back to stumps again?

  14. 114
    patrick says:

    @111 You are doing what dogs do to bushes and trees and things, but you have the impression of thought. So it’s on your shoe. If you have something to contribute, contribute. I think you’re just marking territory.

  15. 115
    Martin Vermeer says:

    If you want statistics then you can get the R-squared for the yearly data from 1850 to 2009: it is 0.994; so given that we have an obvious mechanism for the rise in CO2, then the usual interpretation would be that 99.4% of the atmospheric CO2 rise is due to human emissions.

    Eh no, that’s not what Pearson’s correlation tells you. It tells you how cleanly linear a function of cumulative emissions atmospheric concentrations are, i.e., (assuming the relationship is a causal one, and linear) it’s a metric for the strength of causation.

  16. 116
    Chris Colose says:

    Hank 112-

    There’s a new article by Colin Goldblatt in Nat. Geoscience that argues Earth could be thrown into a runaway at modern day solar luminosity, but it calls for a pretty low albedo to work out right, and clouds probably make it harder to runaway, since only clouds up near the the top of the atmosphere have a sufficient greenhouse effect in the optically thick, steam atmosphere limit.

  17. 117

    Based on Hank’s comment (109 ) I see that my communication skills are deficient. So I’ll try a different approach to comunicating a simple point.

    For the period 1850 to 2009 we have the following data:
    Atmospheric CO2 level in 1850:____________________________ 285.2 ppm
    CO2 emitted into the atmosphere (1850-2009):________________236 ppm
    Increase in atmospheric CO2 (1850-2009):___________________ 102 ppm
    Increase in atmospheric CO2 as % of emitted:________________43.2%

    So between 1850 and 2009 humans emitted more than twice the atmospheric increase in CO2. Also the increase of CO2 in the ocean was approximately equal to 50% of the emitted CO2. There are no other sources of CO2 which are anywhere near large enough to account for the increases of CO2 in the atmosphere or ocean. This evidence amounts to an overwhelming proof that the increase in atmospheric and oceanic CO2 is due to human emissions.

    If we plot a graph of the increase in atmospheric CO2 versus the cumulative emitted CO2 we find an extremely strong correlation. The statisticians use a quantity called R-squared to quantify the correlation. The maximum value is 1. In this case R-squared = .994. This means that increase in atmospheric CO2 due to emitted CO2 has been very nearly constant for the time period 1850-2009.

  18. 118
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Dave Griffiths — 30 Jul 2013 @ 8:41 PM

    You greatly overestimate the ability (willingness) of the denialists to recognize reasoned argument.


  19. 119
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Russell — 30 Jul 2013 @ 9:04 AM, and previous

    Russell, I am also stumped. Where I am it is hot out, but here on this forum, at least in part, it is dour out. For those with more than three neurons (not held together by a spirochete), finding the humor in this mess is imperative. Thanks to you.


  20. 120
    Hank Roberts says:

    > CO2 emitted into the atmosphere (1850-2009):________________236 ppm

    Um, no. Circular reasoning there, at best.

    CO2 _emitted_ isn’t measured in parts per million.
    Coal and petroleum are measured in tons and barrels — millions of tons and barrels per year. CO2 from burning fossil fuel is measured in tons, millions of tons per year.

    The CO2 from burning that carbon, which was long buried, is identifiable.

    Spencer Weart has a good book on this, written at grade school level.

    See if you can rewrite what Weart has explained in simpler words:

    “… scientists could now track the movements of carbon with a new tool: the radioactive isotope carbon-14. This radioactive isotope was produced abundantly in the fallout from nuclear weapon tests during the 1950s. Sensitive instruments could detect even a tiny amount ….
    “The carbon in ancient coal and oil is so old that it entirely lacks the radioactive isotope. Therefore emissions from burning fossil fuels would add only plain carbon to the atmosphere. In 1955, the chemist Hans Suess reported an analysis of wood from trees grown over the past century, finding that the newer the wood, the higher its ratio of plain carbon to carbon-14. He had detected an increase of fossil carbon in the atmosphere.”

  21. 121
    patrick says:

    # 112 Thank you, starting with the July 29 link to National Geographic Daily News: “Will Earth’s Ocean Boil Away?”

    The simple desire to be helpful makes James Hansen straightforward I think. “Storms of My Grandchildren” is a good image because it puts time and weather side by side. Whatever serves to situate current time in larger timescales is helpful I think, if it’s done right.

    “The 8-Minute Epoch” video (Hansen, as excerpted) is paleoclimatology, but not only. The sense it brings to climate science is like the light that developmental-evolutionary understanding brings to biology, I think.

    Hansen’s new job is to make sense of climatology on multiple levels for multiple audiences in as few words as possible in a valid way. For most people this way is narrative.

    Robert Kunzig is a good writer, but he needs to hold himself to a higher standard. He’s missing the boat this time. Maybe “The 8-Minute Epoch”(#110) is what he needs.

    Whatever the reason, what Kunzig writes seems oblivious to Hansen’s perspective on “56 million years ago.” Maybe it’s the editing. It seems that to Kunzig or National Geographic “56 million years ago” is a disconnected factoid they utilize because they rate it sticky.

    With it they imply disagreement between Hansen and Raymond Pierrehumbert,as if it were some kind of wedge issue. Then they switch to Colin Goldblatt.

    Goldblatt touches on basics that Pierrehumbert might well explain and ends on a note reminiscent of Hansen: “As a species we are technologically adolescent at the moment. If we get through adolescence, if we get through the next couple of hundred years alive, as a mature species that is not screwing up the planet that we live on…”

    Kunzig/National Geographic have used Hansen and his book for a lead. They don’t clarify much. They confuse somewhat, and they distract a lot.

    That’s a hard trick when–taken on his own terms–each climate scientist represents the science perfectly well.

    “So humans are now in charge of future climate change. …And now future climate is going to be determined by humans not by natural changes.” (James Hansen, min 7:30 of “The 8-Minute Epoch”)

    Kunzig/National Geographic obscure the point I think.

    Kunzig should find out what time it is and tell it. That would mean listening more, not less, to James Hansen on climate science and James Hansen on communication.

  22. 122
    patrick says:

    The inertia of the climate system is not our friend. Because climate responds slowly, we have felt so far only about half of the effect of gases already in the air. This limited response makes it easier for people to believe that we are exaggerating the climate threat.

    Climate system inertia means that it will take several centuries for the eventual extreme global warming mentioned above to occur, if we are so foolish as to burn all of the fossil fuel resources. Unfortunately, despite the ocean’s thermal inertia, the transient climate phase this century, if we continue business-as-usual fossil fuel burning, is likely to cause an extended phase of extreme climate chaos. …

    The science of climate change, especially because of the unprecedented human-made climate forcing, includes many complex aspects. This complexity conspires with the nature of reporting and the scientific method itself, with its inherent emphasis of caveats and continual reassessment of conclusions, to make communications with the public difficult, even when the overall picture is reasonably clear.

    My principal objective in “retiring,” i.e., in leaving government service, is to create more time that will allow me to try to contribute more effectively to this communications effort. …

    …I believe all the individual actions occurring at many places are very important and the sum of them may help turn the tide to clean energies. But I must keep up with and contribute to climate science or I cannot be effective, so I hope to be doing more science rather than less–and science requires more than 40 hours a week–so it is not practical for me to respond to all the requests that I am receiving. I also want to support two or three people working with me, so I need to spend time in fund raising–and I am finding that it is not easy to get foundation support.

    –James Hansen, Summary Discussion, “Making Things Clearer…” linked by Hank Roberts #112.

  23. 123


    > CO2 emitted into the atmosphere (1850-2009):________________236 ppm

    Um, no. Circular reasoning there, at best.

    I didn’t read it that way–my presumption is that the ‘236 ppm’ is essentially shorthand for “x gT CO2, which, unsinked, would raise the atmospheric concentration 236 ppm.” Should be a relatively straightforward calculation, I’d think, OTTMH. (And having a solid personal talent to screw up even straightforward calculations…)

    Of course, Dave can speak for himself here! Just my 2c.

  24. 124

    Kevin is correct, I used the conversion factor of 2.15 GT carbon is equivalent to 1 ppm CO2, ppm being relative to the atmosphere. I applied this to CDIAC’s published data on emitted carbon/CO2.

    Like Kevin I worry that my arithmetic may not be too great, so I googled “gtc carbon vs. ppm co2” and quickly found an answer on the CDIAC site CDIAC’s response to the 6th frequently asked question is 2.14 GT carbon is equivalent to 1 ppm CO2. The 0.5% difference with my factor is probably because I took carbon to have atomic weight 12, while CDIAC included the effect of C13 on the average atomic weight. I’ll fix that problem later.

    I used ppm rather than GT carbon because it makes comparison with other data, such as the Keeling curve, much easier. The CDIAC site illustrates the communication gap generated by multiple units (millions of metric tons, GTC, petagrams, ppmv (ppm)……………..).

    Once upon a time, in the UK, there were school exams, called the GCE, which included forcing students to make ridiculous unit conversions. As an example (and this is the truth, I’m not joking):”A man bought a young pig weighing 7 lb. for £5. While he kept it the pig ate 3¾ cwt. of food which cost 36s. 0d. per cwt. When it weighed 10 st. 10 lb it was sold at 32s 0d. per 20 lb. Calculate (i) the total spent by the man on the pig, (ii)………” In those days 1s=12d, 20s=£1, 1cwt=8st, 1st=14lb. This has left me with the ardent belief that units should be kept as simple and uniform as possible.

  25. 125
    patrick says:

    She gets it:

    “We’re actually lucky to have survived this far.”

    –Cynthia Hopkins

  26. 126

    [i]RealClimate[/i] has a set of videos from the 2013 AGU Chapman Conference on Communicating Climate Science available at Richard Alley heads up the talks with “State of the Climate”.

  27. 127
    Steve Fish says:

    Jan Galkowski is eager to advertise his curriculum vitae by providing an informational link to the very thread he is posting in. This is not somebody I would hire.