AGU 2012 - Solving the Climate Problem
Posted on 11 December 2012 by dana1981
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) 2012 fall meeting was held last week, and several Skeptical Science (SkS) team members attended. We will have several blog posts from our attendees detailing their experiences at the conference.
Being a climate blogger, I mainly attended sessions dealing with climate communications, in addition to a few on various climate science subjects. There were several very good communications sessions, many of which referenced SkS, particularly The Escalator and The Debunking Handbook. We learned that the most effective communication combines myth debunking and replacing previously held misconceptions with facts, while keeping the message simple to avoid the overkill backfire effect. John Cook also chaired a session on social media science communication, which included talks from Zeke Hausfather, Peter Sinclair, Michael Tobis, and Michael Mann. It was a very interesting session primarily about climate blogging, Twittering, and Facebooking.
In another session, Scott Mandia discussed the success of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team. The team has responded to the inquiries of an impressive list of media outlets. Mandia also discussed that after Climategate, climate scientists and communicators have become much more organized in effectively responding to misinformation coming from climate denialists. For example, in large part due to the well-coordinated communications to immediately put the "Climategate 2.0" emails in proper context, they had virtually no misinformative impact on the public, unlike the first set of stolen emails. This improved climate communication is very encouraging.
There were two common themes among the climate communications talks, both of which I have recently written about: the importance of communicating the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, and putting climate uncertainty in the proper context (i.e. focus on the many climate aspects we do understand, while trying to resolve the remaining uncertainties). It is also important to emphasize that uncertainty is not our friend — larger uncertainty means that we cannot rule out the most catastrophic climate scenarios.
Weathercaster Climate Beliefs
Another interesting talk discussed the results of a survey of the climate opinions of American Meteorological Society weathercasters. Of those surveyed, just 54% believed that humans are causing global warming, while 29% believed the warming is natural, and 9% did not even believe the planet is warming (a further 8% expressed uncertainty about the causes). Those who believe the cause is natural tended to focus on climate uncertainties, meaning the denialists have been successful in their uncertainty exaggeration strategy. However, the weathercasters with bachelors of science degrees were much more likely to correctly respond that humans are causing global warming. Unfortunately most TV weathercasters in the USA do not have bachelors of science degrees.
AGU Science Policy Alerts
AGU has set up a system for science policy alerts, which readers may be interested in signing up for:
AGU Science Policy Alerts is an email alert service that keeps you updated on legislative developments that affect the Earth and space science community. Science Policy Alerts are timely and cogent reports to keep you informed and help you share your expertise and views with your elected representatives in a meaningful manner.
Scientific Talks and Climate Scientist Conservatism
Richard Alley gave a good talk in which he discussed the many features of Earth the Operators Manual (book, TV, website, social media, etc.). He also strongly emphasized that climate scientists cannot allow the denialists to portray them as extreme alarmists. In reality the denialists are on one extreme, doomsayers are the other extreme, and climate scientists are in the middle. If anything climate scientists are too conservative.
Naomi Oreskes gave a talk on this subject, discussing her recent paper in which the authors conclude that climate scientists tend to be too conservative because this is equivalent to Erring on the Side of Least Drama (ESLD). However, in reality erring too low is no better than erring too high. We will have a blog post on this paper in the near future.
Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University also had a very interesting talk on her work in making regional climate projections, which is a difficult but critical task for localities to plan for future climate impacts. In short, she found that relatively simple regional climate projection methods are fairly accurate in terms of temperature changes, but introduce biases in precipitation projections, and also have difficulty with the most extreme changes. Hayhoe also had an interesting session discussing barriers to solving the climate problem, and how we can overcome some of those barriers.
Michael Mann gave a talk on a submitted paper which finds that when radiative forcings are removed from various temperature reconstructions, the remaining trends suggest a Medieval Warm Period (MWP) cool bias in tree ring-only reconstructions, and a warm bias in multi-proxy reconstructions like Mann et al. (2008). This suggests the truth about the MWP actually lies somewhere between the tree-ring and multi-proxy millennial temperature reconstructions. We have invited Mann to do an SkS guest post on this paper once it is published.
SkS Working to Solve the Climate Problem
SkS had a significant presence at the conference. We also came away with several ideas how to expand our reach and effectiveness in solving the climate problem, which we hope to implement in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned. And if you have the opportunity to attend next year's conference, we highly recommend it.