This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in November 2015.
Three weeks ago I passed my general exams (aka comprehensive exams or preliminary exams). It’s something Ph.D. students must go through before advancing to becoming a Ph.D. candidate. It's a test of their knowledge, but passing requires more than just knowing stuff.
In my department at The University of Oklahoma, general exams are the transition point from classwork to doing research. The exam committee tests whether the candidate knows the state of the science in all areas related to their research, and it’s for the student to prove they are ready to conduct independent research. Like most generals, mine were divided into a written and an oral portion, although the particulars can vary depending on committee, discipline, and university. My generals consisted of five essay exams on five consecutive days. Each day, I had to answer three to six questions from each of my five committee members within 8 to 12 hours, followed by one, 2-hour session of follow-up Q&A and discussion with all of my committee members at once.
The key to making it through the generals is planning, persistence, and strong nerves – and a chunk of good luck. About 6 months ago, in early May, I presented my preliminary research idea to my committee and met with each member to sketch out topics to study for, things they thought would be good for me to know given my research focus. This gave me focus areas and goals to study for, which otherwise would have been hard given that my dissertation spans the fields of social sciences, meteorology, and agriculture.
So, how did it go?
The short answer is, it was a nightmare and mental torture beyond anything I had ever experienced before. But I passed, so I probably shouldn’t complain too much. But the task I faced each day of the exam was massive, and 8 (or 12) hours were over before I knew it. So good organization was key. Thankfully, my exam was “open book” (as opposed to closed book), so I could use all my handwritten notes from six months of studying along with other sources. However, handwritten notes were probably not the smartest choice, since text files are more easily searchable for keywords and topics. Luckily though, I use referencing software like EndNote, BibTex, or ProCite, to manage hundreds of journal papers, reports, book chapters, websites, and personal communication; each with entries containing abstracts, notes, cross-references, URLs, and of course the publication as a PDF file, catalogued in virtual folders and tagged with meaningful keywords. For a question about climate predictability or forecast skill assessments I had a folder of references. For a question on the economic value of seasonal climate forecasts, I had a folder for that too.
The written portion of my exam was a rollercoaster ride of joy and despair. I felt confident giving a good answer and even enjoyed some of the questions. But I was under massive time constrains, and at the end of every day, my brain was exhausted from the brutal workout and capable of handling no more than making dinner and preparing lunch for the next day. I might have looked calm, but inside I was under immense stress. But then I should be.
Generals are to test what you’re capable of.
You’re a rookie in a boxing match taking on five professionals at the same time. Your goal shouldn’t be to win or to impress anyone, but to not get knocked out. Knowing that, I’m sure no one on my committee expected me to ace the generals, and realizing that helped me keep my expectations realistic and stay positive. By the way, I tried to not see my committee as this group of people set out to give me an unnecessary hard time, but as a team of experts giving their time helping me to succeed with my research idea, advancing science – and, oh, maybe getting a job later on.
If, somehow, the written part of the exams doesn’t stress you out enough, the oral part sure will.
My committee was given one week to go over my written answers before the oral test. This meant I too, had one week to go over my five essays, to find weak spots, parts I explained poorly or was too vague on, or didn’t reference well. All of this was to try and anticipate what my committee would hone in on with more detailed questions. I identified plenty of weak spots, and quickly realized that whatever I did, I still had huge knowledge gaps, despite the five months of studying before the exams. From plant physiology and climate predictability factors, to map projections and the role of place in communicating and mediating information, to comparing single climate models and model ensembles. It’s easy to send someone out on thin ice with just one discipline, let alone multiple. I’m usually comfortable with public speaking, but during the oral exam I was so nervous that I could barely phrase a full sentence, or even remember the question. To my advantage, all questions were follow-ups from my written exam, so at least I didn’t fall over any new tripwires. Still, I was struggling not to stress out.
After some 90 minutes of mental drudgery, I was asked to wait outside for my committee to discuss the final result. A colleague had warned me that no matter how much I know, there will come a point at which I won’t know the answers anymore; admitting this isn’t failure, but more or less part of the process. Still, as I sat there waiting I felt awful, and I honestly didn’t expect them to let me pass. It was impossible to gauge whether my answers had been good enough. I reflected - in a search for words (and self-confidence) I had asked each committee member to repeat almost every question. Most of my answers had been stammered syllables, not sentences. While I waited outside I mentally prepared (or hoped?) for a final question that I could answer really well.
Seven or eight minutes later –– sooner than I expected –– the door opened I was asked back in. I expected a long explanation for their decision, followed by a final, deciding question, and the verdict. Something else happened. Before I fully scanned the room, my advisor stretched her arm out and congratulated me. The rest of my committee applauded! I was so baffled I actually asked her if this meant I passed. It did.
I did great, she told me. No one ever thinks their orals go well.
It took me a few days to appreciate and fully realize what had just happened. There was no sudden relief, exhaling, falling back into an armchair and enjoying the rest of the week. I had to finalize my research proposal, continue developing a survey, and start preparing for upcoming conferences. One job done, on to the next one – I feel like this will be the new normal from now on. But I successfully completed a huge career hurdle and that sure is something.
This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in September 2015.
Before doctoral students can embark on their research journey they have to pass a general exam, a one-week torture chamber to prove they know all about the methods and fields of science they will touch upon in their upcoming research. My research at the South Central Climate Science Center covers agriculture, climate modeling, statistics, GIS, and social science, so there’s lots to learn, and some of these fields don’t overlap a lot in their methods or language, to say the least. I’m developing tailored seasonal climate forecasts for agricultural producers in Oklahoma. Interdisciplinary research can be messy, stressful, confusing, and very time-consuming—maybe one reason why it is not for everyone. I find it fascinating, though, for exactly these reasons.
Conducting, facilitating and funding interdisciplinary research with scientists and stakeholders is one of the main purposes of the Climate Science Centers. One challenge with applied, interdisciplinary problems is actually solving them, providing solutions that people are happy with. Solving these sorts of problems involves getting diverse stakeholders to sit together at a table and understand each other’s perspectives, work together, learn from each other, and come out with practical solutions. This isn’t easy, as witnessed by the challenges involved in matching stakeholders’ needs with the sorts of products and insight researchers can provide, like the seasonal climate forecasts issued by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC). Many farmers and ranchers say these forecasts are unreliable, difficult to read, and don’t give them the information they need to make important decisions. They were developed in what some researchers call the “loading-dock approach”: putting information out on the loading dock, walking back inside, and waiting for people to pick it up and use it.
How do we improve on the loading-dock approach? One alternative is what social scientists call adaptive co-management, a combination of two techniques many people are already familiar with: co-management and adaptive management. Co-management describes the collaboration of different stakeholders whereas adaptive management describes flexible, adaptable procedures that incorporate feedback and can change over time through so-called dual-loop learning—basically learning by doing. Adaptive co-management, then, is decision-making among multiple stakeholders with trust, respect, and equal influence who acknowledge that any one result or solution is not the be-all and end-all to the problem but may need to change over time. Changes in farm management, new regulations, shifts in commodity prices, or advances in climate research (such as higher resolution climate models) can force all decision-makers to adapt to new conditions.
Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, various obstacles can prevent stakeholders from developing solutions, even when they use adaptive co-management strategies. Common stumbling blocks include preconceived attitudes about other stakeholders (often a result of unresolved conflicts from the past), unwillingness to share influence and power, inability to commit financial or human capital, or simply not understanding each others’ culture and language, literally and figuratively. This last one is a problem that often occurs when “western” scientists work with local experts in developing countries. Institutional mechanisms like meetings, translation, collaboration, and mediation can help develop solutions and products that all participants will eventually use, though none of these is a panacea.
Despite these obstacles, adaptive co-management strategies are already being successfully applied. The collaboration between the South Central Climate Science Center and the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative in restoring native grasslands, which Jessica wrote about last week, is one good example. So are NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment (RISA) teams, such as GLISA around the Great Lakes, SCIPP in the south-central US, or CLIMAS in Arizona, New Mexico, and northwestern Mexico. While the Climate Science Centers are more involved in climate science integration into adaptation and protection of natural and cultural resources, RISA teams work with a range of sectors, including public health, on climate risk management. The USDA Regional Climate Hubs help farmers, ranchers, and forest owners to adapt to climate variability and change. Internationally, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), based at New York’s Columbia University, works with stakeholders in developing countries on strategies to transfer climate science into risk assessment and mitigation.
Cash et al. (2006): Countering the Loading-Dock Approach to Linking Science and Decision Making: Comparative Analysis of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Forecasting Systems. Science, Technology & Human Values 31, p. 465-494.
Plummer & Armitage (2007): Charting the New Territory of Adaptive Co-management: A Delphi Study. Ecology and Society 12, article 10.
This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in August 2015.
Wildlife habitats and wildlife migration are big issues when it comes to effects of climate change. While the planet continues to warm - 2014 was the warmest year on record according to NOAA – warm seasons become longer and cold seasons become shorter in many parts of the US. This allows some species to expand their geographic ranges while other species may experience unsuitable climatic conditions or have to cope with new predators and competitors for food. New research at New Mexico State University (NMSU) highlights how climate change affects ecosystems and species migration in the region, information that can be used to inform decision-making on the state level.
Virginia Seamster finished her Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences in 2010 at the University of Virginia. During her post-doc at NMSU she was part of a team of 6 researchers studying 20 terrestrial vertebrate species, which include mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. "Average annual temperatures are projected to increase across New Mexico and the rest of the south central region that we're focusing on for this project," Seamster says. The team used climate projections for the years 2050 and 2070 from models that were also used in the latest IPCC report. These projections were used as inputs for so-called species niche models, which can estimate a species’ range based on known occurrences of the species. In a reverse engineering kind of approach this allows the researchers to estimate how the distribution of suitable climatic conditions for certain species may change as the regional climate changes.
Virginia Seamster’s post-doc research was funded by the South Central Climate Science Center. The center is one of eight climate science centers (CSC) in the US and conducts applied research in the south-central US with the goal of supporting climate-related decision making in the region. The CSCs conduct a lot of outreach and education in their respective regions, but also fund and conduct scientific research. "This type of project could influence future revisions to New Mexico's State Wildlife Action Plan and work being done by wildlife managers in the state, including biologists at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish,” Seamster explains. "The study is designed to provide information to land managers and decision makers to assist in their respective efforts," says Ken Boykin, ecologist at NMSU and lead investigator of the project.
Virginia Seamster has recently transitioned from her wildlife-related post-doc position to a job at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. There she is involved with reviewing and helping to select research and other projects focused on non-game wildlife that the department funds annually through its Share with Wildlife Program. She also helps to maintain the Biota Information System of New Mexico, which provides information on the biology and ecology of thousands of species found in New Mexico. Finally, the Ecological and Environmental Planning Division that Seamster is now a part of is leading the process for revising New Mexico’s State Wildlife Action Plan.
Publications about this research are forthcoming.
Wildlife habitats and wildlife migration are big issues when it comes to effects of climate change. While the planet continues to warm - 2014 was the warmest year on record according to NOAA – warm seasons become longer and cold seasons become shorter in many parts of the US. This allows some species to expand their geographic ranges while other species may experience unsuitable climatic conditions or have to cope with new predators and competitors for food.
Virginia Seamster finished her Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences in 2010 at the University of Virginia. During her post-doc at New Mexico State University she was part of a team of 6 researchers studying 20 terrestrial vertebrate species, which include mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. "Average annual temperatures are projected to increase across New Mexico and the rest of the south central region that we're focusing on for this project," Seamster says. The team used climate projections for the years 2050 and 2070 from models that were also used in the latest IPCC report. These projections were used as inputs for so-called species niche models, which can estimate a species’ range based on known occurrences of the species. In a reverse engineering kind of approach this allows the researchers to estimate how the distribution of suitable climatic conditions for certain species may change as the regional climate changes.
Virginia Seamster’s post-doc research was funded by the South Central Climate Science Center. The center is one of eight climate science centers in the US and conducts applied research in the south-central US with the goal of supporting climate-related decision making in the region. "This type of project could influence future revisions to New Mexico's State Wildlife Action Plan and work being done by wildlife managers in the state, including biologists at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish,” Seamster explains. "The study is designed to provide information to land managers and decision makers to assist in their respective efforts," says Ken Boykin, ecologist at NMSU and lead investigator of the project.
Virginia Seamster has recently transitioned from her wildlife-related post-doc position to a job at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. There she is involved with reviewing and helping to select research and other projects focused on non-game wildlife that the department funds annually though its Share with Wildlife Program. She also helps to maintain the Biota Information System of New Mexico, which provides information on the biology and ecology of thousands of species found in New Mexico. Finally, the Ecological and Environmental Planning Division that Seamster is now a part of is leading the process for revising New Mexico’s State Wildlife Action Plan.
This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in June 2015.
The Early Career Climate Forum (ECCF) was started about two and a half years ago, in December 2012. After a small group of students and post-docs attended a great early career training hosted by the Northwest Climate Science Center.The ECCF was a means to stay connected, to expand our network, and to share research ideas and experiences in graduate school or in our professional careers. Soon we learned that there was an actual need for an online forum like ECCF and won support from USGS and the Climate Science Center (CSC) network. With all the support came no shortage of pressure to succeed, though. It seemed everyone was waiting for our great vision to become reality. We had plenty of ideas, but no clue what to start with.
So we asked our readers, followers, and subscribers: “What do you want?” and “Who are you, anyway?” We conducted a survey to find out what they wanted to see on the ECCF. The answers included just about everything, from advertising job openings and upcoming conferences, to hosting webinars and actual workshops. We ranked the survey responses based on consensus among survey responders and what we thought we could realistically achieve. The new ECCF website, the discussion forum, and listserv reflect this ongoing process. We are now one of eight priorities identified by the National Education and Training Work Group for the CSCs. In January 2015, we received funding to support the development of the revamped ECCF website, manage content and additional initiatives, and in May 2015 we teamed up with the Northwest Knowledge Network who hosts our new website.
Most of us found the ECCF because we knew someone who knew someone. We learned to build an organization, coordinate efforts, set agendas, and determine priorities. Building a platform like ECCF from scratch was a lot of fun and a tremendous learning experience for all of us. It’s been a lot of work, and we are looking forward to many more discussions and projects.
Are you interested in getting involved with ECCF? If you want to become part of the Early Career Climate Forum, please email us at email@example.com and tell us about your background, what you do, where you work, and the ways you would like to contribute to ECCF. We look forward to hearing from you!
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This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in November 2014.
AGU comes in December, AMS in January, AAG in April – the next big conference is always around the corner – and so might your poster presentation. Here are a few tips for a killer poster that will rock the place.
Figure this. Your poster is not a whole journal article printed on a large piece of paper. Avoid large pieces of text and use figures, tables, charts, diagrams, and captions – sort of a journal article but without the text. Use these visuals as aids when you’re explaining your research to someone. Also, check that colors go well together (pie charts, flow charts, bar graphs, illustrations, schema). They might look good on screen, but may be hard to read on print.
Less is more. Don’t try to fit every aspect of your research onto the poster. Don’t state every little detail of you research, but focus on the main stuff, one major finding. Keep text short, maybe as bullet-pointed lists. Give people insights into your research hooks to ask follow-up questions.
Proportions. Make sure your poster size meets the conference requirements and is not bigger than your allowed space. Test that your figures etc. look good from four or five feet away, that they’re not too small and not too big. Make a test print if necessary. Normal text should be in font sizes between 36 to 44 points, titles about twice that.
Fonts. Don’t give your poster fancy fonts to stand out. It’s about the content, not (just) the looks. The rule of thumb is 2 to 3 different fonts, not more. Pick a serif font (e.g., Cambria, Georgia, Garamond, Times) for normal text and a sans-serif font (Arial, Helvetica, Impact, Gill Sans, Futura) for poster title, axes titles, captions etc. Serif fonts are better for flow text because their small “feet” form an imaginary line, making it easier for your eyes to follow the line of text. Sans serifs (sans is French for “without”) meanwhile are best for titles, subtitles, captions, and other shorter pieces of text.
Bring business cards. This is a no-brainer, right? People might want to stay in contact with you, so business cards are a must-have. Also, sometimes posters can be left hanging after the poster sessions ended (and without you there). For those cases bring a little pouch (seek your inner Bastelkönig to make one) for your business cards and pin them next to your poster. Alternatively, put your contact info on the poster, or create a QR code with your contact details. QR codes are free to make online (links below), and there are plenty of free reader apps for smartphones.
Say something. “What are you working on?” “What’s your research about?” If you hear this, your poster caught someone’s attention. Well done! Now you need a short yet compelling elevator speech. Give yourself 30 seconds to tell the beef of your research, but tell it in a way an 8-year-old child would understand it. Keep it simple and free of jargon or weird acronyms. Advanced level: Ask the person about his or her background and tailor your speech on the fly. A marine biologist might need a different explanation than a volcanologist.
Electronic posters. It’s not very common, but every so often poster sessions use electronic posters (they’ll tell you ahead of times). This means you’ll have a big-screen TV to present on. This might sound odd but it’s actually great news for you. Use the screen to present a short (2 to 3 minutes) powerpoint presentation instead of just showing a static “poster”. Find out about the screen size, which ratio (4:3, 16:10, 16:9) and resolution (full-HD, HD) and format your slides accordingly to use the space in the best way possible. Bring monitor cable adapters and save your presentation in PDF format or the slides as JPEG files (Powerpoint and Keynote both let you do this), in case you have to use a computer provided by the conference host. Don’t assume your powerpoint slides will look the same on another computer.
More advice on poster design:
http://betterposters.blogspot.com (weekly critique of a sample poster)
Colin Purrington: Designing Conference Posters
Discussions on Poster’s Graphic Design Elements
This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in September 2014.
The policy arena is not a place many scientists are familiar with and even fewer are trained to work in. To help scientists learn how the political process works, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) runs the AMS Policy Program. It is divided into the Summer Policy Colloquium, a ten-day workshop every summer in Washington, D.C., and the Congressional Science Fellowship Program, a one-year paid appointment to work as science advisor for a member of congress, also in Washington.
The application deadline for both programs approaching fast, so we talked to Dr. Bill Hooke about the Summer Policy Colloquium and the Science Fellowship Program. He is an atmospheric scientist, author, avid blogger, current associate executive director of the AMS, and he directed the AMS Policy Program from 2000 to 2013.
Who should apply for the Summer Policy Colloquium?
Not everyone should apply. But if you’re planning on being a leader, a department chair, a dean, or a business manager, you will quickly realize how important it is to understand how national policy works and affects your company, your university, or your agency.
What can people take away from the colloquium?
One thing they can learn is how the federal budget for science works. Where does the research money for a university come from? Why do some departments get more than others? How do you increase those budgets? What poses risks to those budgets? Every scientist should know the answers to these questions, but very few actually do. Also, it is an affirming experience. It happens that scientists who are interested in the political process sometimes feel that their universities don’t appreciate them. When they come to the colloquium and meet other scientists with similar interests, it is affirming. It verifies that leadership in science is a reasonable career and aspirational goal.
What do applicants need to bring to the table?
We look for people with an interest or background in policy-making, or worked in journalism or blogging, anything that dealt with politics or societal impacts, something a little broader than just their science itself. But you also have to be a good scientist. If you’re not a good scientist, you’re not going to be a good leader of scientists. But on the other hand, just being a good scientist doesn’t make you a good leader of scientists, too. You have to be a little broader than your science itself to be respected among the policy-makers in your own university or company.
Is the Science Fellowship Program the next step up from the Summer Policy Colloquium?
The colloquium is like a 10-day policy boot camp. The Science Fellowship Program is more of a time commitment. It’s like having a Post-Doc. You get an in-depth understanding of the policy process as a participant of the process rather than a spectator.
Is the Summer Policy Colloquium a necessary first step for the Science Fellowship Program?
No, it is not a necessary first step. We’ve had people do the Science Fellowship Program who haven’t done the Summer Policy Colloquium. Neither is the colloquium a necessary step to take on a leadership position. There are many more leadership programs out there.
Are jobs in politics the main reason why people do the Science Fellowship Program?
Of the people who become congressional science fellows, about a third of them stay on Capitol Hill, a third stay in Washington in jobs related to politics, and a third return to the university environment. So, only about two third of all participants actually stay in politics-related jobs in D.C.
To learn more about or to apply for the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium or the AMS Congressional Science Fellowship Program, visit http://www2.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/policy/summer-policy-colloquium/ and http://www2.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/policy/congressional-science-fellowship/.
This year's Policy Colloquium will take place from May 31 to June 9, 2015. Applications will open soon. The Science Fellowship Program will start on September 1, 2015. Applications for this close on March 15, 2015.
This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in March 2014.
This Sunday, Years of Living Dangerously will premiere on the cable network Showtime. Cinematic stars like James Cameron (director, Titanic, Avatar), Jerry Weintraub (producer, Ocean’s 11/12/13) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor, Terminator 1/2/3) take on the challenge of raising public awareness about the causes and impacts of climate change and global warming.
From wildfires in California and illegal logging for palm oil plantations in Indonesia to the Syrian civil war — Pulitzer Prize winning journalists like Tom Friedman and Hollywood stars like Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba, and Don Cheadle play the main characters in this real-life drama about human-made climate change. They take the audience around the world to places where causes and impacts of rising temperatures, declining rainfall, receding glaciers, and shifting ecosystems become visible. “This is exciting television”, says co-producer Joel Bach (60 Minutes), ”featuring some of the biggest stars on the planet doing something they've never done before.”
But it’s not just bold pictures and big drama. To explain what is going on behind the scenes, the “correspondents” (this is what Ford & Co. are called in the series) meet renowned climate scientists like Katharine Hayhoe, Michael E. Mann, and James Hansen or forest entomologist like Diane Six, talk to government officials, interview people in Syria where drought and famine pushed a volatile political situation over the edge into civil war, join activists in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and speak with jobless factory workers in Plainview, Texas, who are leaving the town in masses because of a three-year agricultural drought that led to the closing of a giant meatpacking plant, laying off more than 2,000 people at once.
Actors, activists, and scientists walk the audience through each episode, revealing piece by piece this complex interconnection of climate, ecosystems and society, getting viewers thinking what he or she can do to act. How are everyday shopping decisions connected to illegal logging in Indonesia? How are forest fires in California leading to bark beetles migrating from the US far into Canada, devastating entire landscapes? Narrated by the actors themselves, the viewer learns about the science, while breathtaking images of pale-grey Montana forests and lake-covered polar ice masses go along with close-up, news-like interviews with people in civil-war-beaten Syria.
Telling Stories, reaching people
“This is 100 percent a people’s story” says co-producer James Cameron. Years of Living Dangerously is not a documentary about climate change, it’s a documentary about people who do something about climate change, co-producer David Gelber (producer, 60 Minutes) points out. Because “these personal stories of people today will become everyone’s stories in the coming decades.”
The series does not try to move the “die hard” skeptics, but hopes to get those thinking and moving who are “sort of in the middle” called the concerned, the cautious, the disengaged, and the doubtful, according to the Six Americas study done by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which the producers used to study their target audience. The series will interview both democrats and republicans, climate action supporters as well as deniers. “We do not want to be perceived as the liberal-democratic drum beater.” Showcasing celebrities like Ian Somerholder (“The Vampire Diaries”, “Lost”) the series hopes to reach people at both ends of the political spectrum who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in climate issues.
More than TV
Much like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006) had its online counterpart www.climatecrisis.net, “Years of Living Dangerously” will not happen solely on TV, says Heidi Cullen of Climate Central, one of the series’ science advisors. Called the Years Project, series and website will highlight environmental movements and organizations like Conservation International which is active in Indonesia, or the Climate Corps, a graduate student program of the Environmental Defense Fund to help businesses, cities and universities reduce their carbon footprint while also reducing costs. As part of the series, the producers announced an action campaign to raise the level of public engagement. In collaboration with Vulcan, a Seattle-based company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the series wants to reach out to public leaders, from journalists through religious leaders and teachers to the public and private sector “to try and get people engaged and take a position on climate change”.
First successes seem already to be coming. In Indonesia, the producers claim, their investigations have already proven successful. “Shining a light on things that people may not have known before is one direct way that we are trying to make a difference.” More ways to will be published on the program’s website.
Years of Living Dangerously is certainly the boldest step so far towards raising a much needed public awareness for the eminent risks of climate change. The coming eight weeks and the months and years after that will show if the Years Project can accomplish what many have failed to achieve before.
This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in March 2014.
Years of Living Dangerously, a big-budget, 9-episode Showtime TV documentary by Showtime, tries to communicate the seriousness of climate change through personal stories and first-hand experiences of people across the globe. To make sure they get the science right, the producers collaborate with a panel of distinguished experts. We interviewed one of them: Dr. Katherine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
Dr. Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and professor at Texas Tech with over 100 peer-reviewed publications. While having served as a reviewer for the 2007 IPCC report and lead author for the 2013 US National Climate Assessment, Dr. Hayhoe is a book author and renowned public speaker on topics of climate change. Her work as climate evangelist has been featured in the PBS documentary series “The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers“.
Why is it so difficult to communicate the seriousness of climate change and the scientific consensus to people outside of science? What are your experiences?
Many of us believe that climate change threatens things we hold dear: our personal liberties, our ideology, our job security, and even our faith. When we are that worried and even afraid of losing something so important to us, trying to convince us just using facts is fruitless. The information will just go in one ear and out the other.
This problem is compounded by the fact that, until just recently, most people living in the United States (except for those in Alaska!) were not seeing any actual impacts of climate change with their own eyes.
So the problem has been perceived as a distant, far-off threat, while the solutions are perceived as an imminent, real-time threat. That’s a tough hurdle to overcome.
How do you deal with climate skeptics?
With people who have genuine questions and concerns, it’s important to spend time understanding where they are coming from and what they are concerned about. These concerns are real, and they’re important. By demonstrating how climate change — and climate solutions — are not incompatible with conservative, or faith-based, values we can often overcome many of the objections to the reality of the problem.
On the other hand, about 15% of the U.S. falls into “category #6” of the Six Americas of Global Warming, a category called “Dismissive". For many of the people in this category, there is really no way to talk to them that would ever make a difference. Even if God (or Rush Limbaugh?) appeared right in front of them with flaming tablets of stone saying “Climate Change is Real and Dangerous” that wouldn’t change their minds.
As scientists, we often fall into the trap of focusing on people in the Dismissive category because they are the most obviously and often the most vocally opposed to what we have to say. However, we have to remember that they represent only a small segment of the population and — most likely — one that we cannot hope to change.
Years of Living Dangerously is not so much about climate change as about storytelling, about people who are affected by and people who do something about climate change. Producer Joel Bach said this personal component makes for a far more compelling story than just "something about climate change”. Do you think there is a message in here for climate scientists who want to engage with the public?
Yes, I think there definitely is. Why do we care about climate change? Let’s be honest: the Earth will survive. We care about it because of people and the environment in which we live. Our society is built on the assumption that climate is relatively stable. We build our cities within a few feet of sea level; we have entire neighborhoods with almost no air conditioning because it didn’t used to get hot enough to need it; we have all kinds of infrastructure that assumes a given risk of flood, freeze, drought, or heat. Today, that assumption is no longer valid. And because climate is no longer stationary, that means our infrastructure and human society in general is no longer perfectly adapted to its local environment. The more climate changes, the worse the problem becomes. And this problem is already affecting real people in the places where we live today. It’s no longer about the polar bear - it’s about us.
One way for scientists to learn to communicate and perhaps to use a more figurative language can be to read fiction literature. Another way might be to take a course in English or in communication. What is your personal secret recipe to make sure people “get" your message? What were your biggest helpers in becoming a more successful public speaker and writer?
There are many different ways for us to improve our communication skills. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend several media training workshops early in my career that helped me to distill my information down into manageable, digestible messages. A lot of it was also trial and error: asking people whose opinions I valued to give me their honest opinion of my slides, my presentation, and my messages. (Have to leave the ego at the door for that one!) A third important step was to spend a lot of time understanding who I was talking to. Our communication can only be effective if it meets existing needs; and how will we know what those needs are unless we spend time talking to people about them? And the fourth is just to get out and do it. There’s nothing like feeling as if your presentation was a complete flop to motivate you to get it together for the next time!
Years of Living Dangerously Website (http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/)
Years of Living Dangerously - Episode 1 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brvhCnYvxQQ)
Global Warming’s Six Americas (Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 2012) (http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/article/Six-Americas-March-2012)
Cultural Theory and Individual Perceptions of Environmental Risks (Linda Steg & Inge Sievers, 2000) (http://eab.sagepub.com/content/32/2/250.short)
Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States (Aaron McCright & Riley Dunlap, 2011) (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095937801100104X)
New York Times article on “Cool Dudes” (2011) (http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2011/10/05/05climatewire-why-conservative-white-males-are-more-likely-11613.html?pagewanted=all)
5 Tips on Communicating Climate Science (AGU, 2013) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT0iTmTTpF4)
The Debunking Handbook (John Cook & Stephan Lewandowsky, (2012) (http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/Debunking_Handbook.pdf)
The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism (John Cook, 2010) (www.skepticalscience.com/docs/Guide_to_Skepticism.pdf)
This post was originally written for the Early Career Climate Forum and posted in November 2013.
Global temperature increases have been stalled since 2000. Meanwhile, the extreme summer droughts of 2011 and 2012 left many US farmers in ruins. Most climate models failed to project these phenomena correctly. US researchers now took a new attempt on finding a solution.
The hiatus in global warming since the year 2000 gives climate skeptics and climate deniers tail wind for making the case against human-caused global warming. At the same time, the extreme summer droughts of 2011 and 2012 left many US farmers in ruins. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates, more than 40 % of all US farms and almost 60 % of all US crop land were affected by severe or extreme drought, causing a record-breaking $17.3 billion in crop losses, according to the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP).
Most climate models failed to predict this hiatus in global temperature rise that occurred from 2000 to 2012, despite increasing CO2 levels. Instead of a flat temperature curve, models projected an unaltered increase. Scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, CA, now present a new attempt to model this recent hiatus – with success. Yu Kosaka and Shang-Ping Xie used the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Climate Model 2.1 (GFDL CM2.1), but in addition to prescribing radiative forcing, they also used recorded instead of modeled sea surface temperatures from the eastern tropical Pacific. This resulted in a remarkably accurate projection of the past temperatures, especially after 2000. Their model “reproduces the annual-mean global temperature remarkably well with correlation coefficient r = 0.97 for 1970–2012. Their findings suggest the current hiatus is based on a “La Niña-like decadal cooling”, natural climate variability. Their model configuration also projected the current hiatus and a number of seasonal and regional anomalies, such as the recent prolonged drought across the US. Although similar conditions can occur again, the authors say, the long-term warming trend is “very likely” to continue.
Their results are published online at nature.com (subscription required for full view).
Edit (July 10, 2015):
Researchers found the extra heat content has been stored in the oceans. Veronica Nieves, Josh Willis, and Bill Patzert, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) found that most of the additional heat content is stored in depth between 100 and 300 meters (300 – 1,000 ft). Their results are published in yesterday’s issue of Science Magazine (subscription required for full text).
Open Access summary: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=86184&src=twitter-iotd