This is the first in a series of guest blog posts by leading climate scientists, science writers, policy makers and others involved in the ongoing debate about climate policy. We’ll be hearing from these guests regularly leading up to COP15 in December.
Political action to address climate change is lagging far behind the scientific knowledge of the threat.
By Mike Shanahan
Climate change topped the agenda at the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists which took place this month in London. As temperatures outside soared in a mini-heat wave, delegates inside were brought up to date with the latest science and politics of climate change before plunging into intense discussion about how the media is telling the biggest story of our times.
Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum and former director of the British Antarctic Survey, and John Mitchell, head of climate science at the UK Met Office kicked off proceedings at a pre-conference workshop aimed at supporting journalists from some of the countries most at risk from climate change in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
The two climate scientists spoke about the need for scientists and journalists to come together to explain to the wider public just how serious the threat was, but stressed the difficulties of explaining risk and uncertainty when media outlets want hard news headlines.
The UNESCO funded workshop then heard from three speakers who were focusing on solutions. Liz Kalaugher, editor of environmentalresearchweb.org covered renewable energy and Gustavo Faleiros, a journalist with the Brazilian website O Eco, spoke about efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing deforestation.
Saleemul Huq from the International Institute for Environment and Development spoke about how societies can and must adapt to changes that are already inevitable. He pointed out that although the poorest nations were most vulnerable they had at least almost all carried out a detailed national plan to identify urgent adaptation needs, while the rich countries had yet to face up to the need to do so.
The workshop got everyone geared up for the conference itself. At the opening plenary Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, didn’t mince their words in warning that political action to address climate change was lagging far behind the scientific knowledge of the threat.
Rather than dwell on the negatives though, they both spoke about the benefits that society will gain from tackling climate change. Pachauri pointed out this would mean less air pollution and better health, as well as improved energy and food security. Together these efforts would make our world “a better place to live”.
King predicted fast rail networks in place of short-haul flights and improved building designs with features such as direct solar lighting instead of wasteful electrical lights. He warned though that a major challenge lies in changing attitudes, and that people must realise that “wellbeing is not served by massive consumerism”.
Two sessions later in the conference looked at how the media tells the climate change story. The first compared media coverage in settings as diverse as China, Norway and Uganda. In each case, what was most lacking was any detailed investigative journalism or coverage of adaptation to climate change.
The second looked at the “messy marriage of science, policy and politics“. Among other things, speakers focused on how journalists could keep telling the story of future climate change impacts during an economic crisis that is creating more immediate concerns among politicians and the public.
If there was a single message that emerged from the conference it was that journalists the world over are gearing up to report on climate change but need considerable support from their editors, first to see that climate change is a story worth telling, and second to keep on telling it in new and engaging ways. As Andy Revkin of the New York Times warned: “Editor fatigue becomes reader fatigue.”
Mike Shanahan is the press officer at the International Institute for Environment and Development. He was on the organising committee for the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists and co-produced the workshop and one of the sessions on climate change. He is a former science journalist and a founder member of the Climate Change Media Partnership, which trains journalists from developing nations to report on the UN climate change negotiations.
Project organizers are soliciting free and open technology projects designed by kids ages 17 and under in eight categories, ranging from the environment, media, and community, to the more traditional open source domains of software and hardware. The prizes for the Open include a laptop and an MP3 player, but the biggest reward for each category winner is that they (and their project) will be featured on Boing Boing Video. The Open’s panel of 23 judges includes Dale Dougherty (Publisher, MAKE), David-Michel Davies (Executive Director, Webby Awards), Graham Hill (Founder, Treehugger), Xeni Jardin (Boing Boing/NPR/Wired), and Lawrence Lessig (Stanford Law School/Creative Commons).
Although the project has generated online buzz (see their mentions on Planet Green and Boing Boing), organizers have found reaching their target age group to be a challenge. Because we see this effort to educate youth about open source, how it applies to their lives, and how they can contribute as a natural extension of our efforts to address critical societal issues, locally and globally, ASTC (through its IGLO and C3 networks) is working with Digital Open organizers to expand the scope of the project to include science center audiences.
Over the coming weeks, organizers of the Open hope to connect with as many science and technology summer programs as possible. If your center is running summer programs and would be interested in hearing more about how you can participate in Digital Open this year, you can contact Mathias Crawford, Research Manager at Institute for the Future, at email@example.com or by phone at 1-347-463-7800. Although we realize that, for many of you, this year’s project deadline (August 15) comes too soon for major programmatic involvement or partnerships, we hope that this will lay the groundwork for more extensive cooperation during Digital Open 2010.
POLES APART is a unique multimedia celebration of the broad spectrum of scientific and human endeavors associated with International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-08. Through compelling story, stunning photography and an original score, this 20-25min digital photo exhibition will profile the impressive science work completed through the IPY and the contributions of this work to global awareness and action on climate change. The artistic and engaging presentation includes a distinguishing emphasis on the bridge between science and society, on the essential contribution of science to citizen participation in global affairs, and on the array of citizen responses to what is the most globally significant issue of our generation.
The project was launched in Fall 2008, with contributions from 40+ organizations, and is now ready for full production. The aim is to produce the exhibition in Fall 2009, with a world premiere at COP15 climate negotiations in Copenhagen. The exhibition will then feature at science, cultural and educational institutions worldwide in 2010-12.
The POLES APART project team are inviting venue partners to join the project. Venue partners will contribute to the production budget and gain guaranteed access to this flexible, widely appealing, globally unique and low cost exhibition on polar science and citizenship. Importantly, collective contributions of venue partners will ensure that POLES APART is available for widespread dissemination in 2010, when climate change is high on the public agenda.
Please contact David Noble at noble@2degreesC.com or (519) 341-1720 for more information or to get involved. Visit www.2degreesc.com/page.php?id=91 to see a short POLES APART promotional video.
Climate Literacy: Essential Principles for Teachers is an online course that will serve educators who are seeking knowledge about scientific understandings of the Earth’s climate, historical climate change and recent climate change. Educators will explore pedagogical approaches to incorporating climate science and related topics into their classrooms and programs. The course will also explore the recently published guide, Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science by the US Climate Change Science Program, a well-vetted, authoritative overview of the basics of climate science.
Participants will engage in online discussions of readings, video lectures and other media as well as complete a final project applying their learning to their educational work. In the future, two additional one-credit courses will be offered which allow participants to delve more deeply into climate science and instructional opportunities.
On December 14 at 8:15AM EST, ASTC will partner with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to host an international web cast from the US Center in Copenhagen. Students at science centers from around the world will be joined by a panel of experts, including the Deputy Chair of the IPCC, the Communications Director of NOAA’s Climate Program office, and a scientific team from France.
Students will present their experiences with Clim’City, an interactive climate change game developed by Cap-Sciences, Bordeaux, France. Experts on the panel will comment on the students’ results and place them in the context of the COP15 negotiations.
This project was partially supported by the National Science Foundation, Arctic Science Section, Office of Polar Program, NOAA Education Office, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.