The National Climate Assessment
You probably know that the White House issued the massive National Climate Assessment early this week. I’ll get to details and more links to comments in a moment, but if you need a quick overview, let John Timmer be your guide at Ars Technica. The report not only describes what’s going on with climate change right now, he says, but also deals with some of the arguments made by skeptics. What’s particularly useful is its regional approach, making clear how vastly different, for example, changes in precipitation have been in various parts of the country.
How to change American attitudes?
“What will it take to get the American people to understand the dangers of climate change?” Knight Science Journalism Tracker Paul Raeburn wants to know. “Is there anything that can awaken them?”
I have a modest proposal to encourage the Awakening. I learned at my adman father’s knee that the key to persuasion is simple and easy: Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
So here’s my plan: Learn from the Koch brothers. Learn from the Supreme Court rulings on unlimited and anonymous political funding. And then take action. Get rich guys to bankroll a foundation that will underwrite torrential ad campaigns in places where electing candidates committed to new climate-change policies can make a difference.
Bill and Melinda Gates surely understand that warming is going to make their admirable attempts to eliminate endemic diseases in the developing world much harder. Hell, maybe even casino mogul Sheldon Adelson can grasp that the coming water shortages will be bad for his Las Vegas enterprises–not to mention his beloved Israel.
The Gates-Adelson Foundation should target in particular elections for the US House of Representatives, because until we get a very different kind of Congress there will be little progress on dealing with climate change or any other pressing policy matters–despite the President’s vow to do what he can with executive orders.
Local races are probably even more important. Unless state legislatures change dramatically before the next census in 2020, there is no hope of ungerrymandering all those congressional districts that the politically savvy made safe for the servants of fossil fuels and other antediluvian interests after the 2010 census.
Speaking of floods, perhaps there is hope for scientists being able to link at least some extreme weather events to warming. The new report argues that drought will continue in the Southwest and rain will increase in the Midwest and, especially, the Northeast. The report also forecasts more violent storms. It will be easier to make an impact on American climate consciousness if people see the evidence outside their kitchen windows.
At Swampland, Michael Grunwald is gloomy about getting attitudes to change, despite unusual warming-related events. “It’s annoying that Biscayne Bay now floods the Whole Foods parking lot near my house once a month, but it’s not the end of the world,” he says. True, especially if there’s a Trader Joe’s with drier parking not far away. Cheaper, too.
Still, it’s hard to believe that Miamians aren’t worried, at least in their secret hearts. They have heard more than once that their major American city is destined to be swept away. Maybe continued and frequent repetition will do the trick. One episode of hand-wringing at Whole Foods might not have much impact, but what if it was repeated regularly during this monthly flooding?
The Gates-Adelson Foundation could give grants for regular coverage of the Whole Foods parking lot, perhaps featuring monthly measurements of how much higher the flooding gets each time. How long would complacency persist if local media kept harping on local flooding? If TV commercials kept making the point?
I suppose social scientists might argue that people would adapt and grow deaf and blind to this repetition. But the ad industry and its clients have made zillions by begging to differ. Attitudes might not change fast, but I bet they would change.
And what about job possibilities as a tool for persuasion? Some Republicans have decried the White House report as a distraction from attempts to increase jobs, neglecting to note that dealing with warming would be that thing they say they value above all: a job creator. Grunwald says the wind and solar industries now employ more Americans than the coal industry. I can hardly believe something so wonderful is true, but even if it is, there’s nothing wrong with growing even more renewables.
Even the appalling delay in instituting policies for dealing with climate change has a bright side for boosting employment: the many job possibilities in what will soon, inevitably, be an adaptation/preparation/mitigation industry. I hear that my native Chicago is dealing with the increase in Midwestern heat and snow and rain by resurfacing its alleys with light-colored permeable material. Lots of work there; Chicago has thousands of alleys. In Miami and Charleston and Norfolk and other imperiled coastal enclaves, filling sandbags is work nearly anybody can do.
I’m not being entirely facetious here.
National Climate Assessment bloggery
No way can I cover the extensive comment on the National Climate Assessment report adequately. Here are a few links to get you started.
At Wonkblog, Puneet Kollipara summarizes and links to several analyses and commentaries on the report. Kollipara points out that this is only the most recent of a series of pessimistic reports on climate change, but none has made much of a difference in public attitudes. Polls show that a majority of Americans accept that climate is changing, but dealing with it is a low priority for most.
Charlie Petit summarizes the report briefly and analyzes lots of media coverage at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker. The Carbon Brief has done a number of posts on the report, of course. This one, by Roz Pidcock, is about local approaches to adapting.
From the explainer sites: not much
Maybe the sparse attention the new explainer sites bestowed on the report makes sense, given the flood from other sources. Still, my idea of the explainer sites is that their function is, well, to explain. I was hoping for more. They’re all newborns, so I suppose we should cut them some slack.
At the new explainer site Vox, Brad Plumer did the most. But it was a kind of making-do, with nine maps taken from the report that show how climate change is already affecting the US.
At the even newer explainer site TheUpshot, from the New York Times, David Leonhardt didn’t deal directly with the report at all. He divided attitudes toward climate change by political party and showed that the views of Democrats and Independents are similar to those in several other countries: Chile, Spain, Italy, Japan. The outliers are Republicans. But you knew that.
At 538, Nate Silver’s new enterprise, silence. Nothing at all on the report. Having gotten so much flack from the site’s first foray into climate change commentary, maybe Silver is keeping his head down.
Deniers and skeptics
Judith Curry’s analysis is (predictably) mostly negative, although there are some things about the report she liked. She is also concerned that the emphasis on weather events due to CO2 will mean unpleasant surprises ahead when we are blindsided by extreme events from other causes.
Watts Up With That features its traditional all-denial posts, like this one under the hed “Alarmists offer untrue, unrelenting gloom and doom.” It’s a reprint of the Marlo Lewis piece from Fox News.
The National Climate Assessment as a science communication tool
Whatever your opinion of its content, the National Climate Assessment report is a remarkable document. Huge, yes. 800-plus pages. But also a magnificent, and magnificently accessible, Web site.
David Ropeik describes it all in a guest blog post at Scientific American, explaining how and why the report is a model of scientific communication. For one thing, the emphasis is on climate change as a current threat, not a distant future one, an attempt to bring the need for present action home to readers. The report’s language is clear, and there are lots of simple graphics that keep this immense document from being completely technically intimidating.
The amount of work involved in putting this thing together is staggering. All hail the senior writer, Susan Joy Hassol. I’m guessing she had helpers, and all hail to them, too.
Ropeik is not hopeful that the report will have an immediate impact, but he seems to think it will affect policy eventually. He notes also that it does lay the groundwork for executive actions that President Obama is believed to be about to announce.