Climate Adaptation


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I struggled deciding to post this video on Communicating climate science to the public. But I opted to post it anyway to show that it is totally OK to criticize experts in your own field.

The video is not dated, despite that Columbia University hosted this event back in 2010. The issues discussed really are relevant today.

Three distinguished scientists walk you through the issues and challenges of communicating climate science to the public:

  • Gavin Schmidt, climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, co-founder of the blog Real, and co-author of a popular science book Climate Change: Picturing the Science.
  • Ned Gardiner, Climate Visualization Project Manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Climate Program Office.
  • Sabine Marx, Managing Director at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University.

The first panelist, Gavin Schmidt, who is utterly brilliant on, is flat, rambling, and just plain boring. I learned nothing from him other than his contempt for politicians, which is both repulsive for a scientist and ironic to convey considering he’s advocating communicating with them.

Gardiner brings up the fact that most Americans are terrible at reading and understanding basic charts and graphs, for example, which makes communication really difficult for the scientist. Good point, but he doesn’t provide a solution.

And that’s basically how I felt throughout the entire hour+ while watching this - smart people discussing simplified themes with contempt for the public and the politicians they (we) voted to represent us.

True, the panelists are experts in their fields. They are revered, credentialed scientists with public personas. This brings much needed credibility to the conceptual problem of communicating science to the public. But they don’t do a great job of explaining the difficulties of communication, nor do they provide tested examples with any sort of stickiness. Gardiner dances around this issue of getting scientific concepts to stick, and he points to the media’s lack of scientific understanding. But he just misses his opportunity to nail his points home with any clarity.

My gut thinks this talk was rather generic and vague and overall does a disservice to the important concept of communicating science.

You might be asking: If Michael is so sour on this talk, why did he even post it? I think it’s to show that even experts in communications struggle with the issue of communicating science with the public. For example, their personal biases shade their overall points.On the one hand, they want their fellow scientists to make greater efforts to communicate with politicians. On the other, the panelists spent several minutes completely dismissing and condescending those very same politicians.

And maybe that’s my secondary point of posting this. That critical thinking is required when watching these talks. Just because someone is respected in their field doesn’t mean that they’re any good at advocating for change. In other words, it’s OK to be critical of the critics…

It’s Climate Science Communications Week at Climate Adaptation!  For the entire week of Feb. 18 - 23, I’ll cover how climate change is discussed by the media, scientists, researchers, academics, and politicians. If you have sources or ideas on communicating climate change, send to:

"Media Matters" is a non-profit that monitors, critiques, and helps correct the media’s coverage of today’s news. The above reactions are from climate scientists are to comments made by FOX News’s frequent climate denier/guest, Joe Bastardi. Bastardi is not a climate scientist or researcher, nor is he peer-reviewed published.

In the Shadows of the High Line - Jeremiah Moss via

Delicious morning city planning read of the day. Moss, a culture critic in NYC, criticizes the High Line’s economic effects while mourning the loss of Chelsea’s gritty “charm.”

It’s a great piece, my favorite in weeks. Moss forgets three things. First, the real-estate boom was not just located in his precious little piece of the world. It burned like wildfire, scorching economies around the world. Second, did Moss hang out there before the High Line was built? I severely doubt it. He shows that this section of town was once called gasoline alley, due to all the auto repair shops and other mechanical industries. Why is Moss, or anyone for that matter, nostalgic for that? Third, and important to me as thinker of city infrastructure, what about the nearly 20 years of community outreach done by the city’s non-profits, architects, students, PhD researchers, city planners, artists, economists, and econ-dev folks (among countless others)? Neighbors, developers, and business owners wanted revitalization. They wanted a large, effective redevelopment project. And they got the High Line. Chelsea got what it wanted.


Jeremiah Moss pans the Times Squarification of West Chelsea as the outgrowth of the High Line, and the loss of the neighborhood of working class residents and light industry.In his view it’s part of the quick march to Disneyland On The Hudson than Bloomberg and developers are interested in capitalizing on.

The aid industry has just been Biebered. Invisible Children’s hundreds of thousands of donor / activist – they were invisible to us. Kids. That’s the target and that’s the message. If you think the aid world depends on gray haired HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals, aka rich folk), wait and see what IC does with its pubescent legions.

My advice to the aid industry? First, get over it. Then, get on the boat. Invisible Children has more than an audience, more than loyal donors. They’ve built a repository of faithusiasm that will make change happen.

—    “New Kids on the Block" - Humanicontrarian, on why the Kony 2012 viral video naysayers need to step-up or die of obsolescence.

Jay Rosen is the reason why I dropped out of J-School and went towards a career in environmentalism. He’s a master media critic and I envy his quick instincts. Here he takes NPR to task for wimpy coverage of the Solyndra witch-hunt.

“We have no idea who’s right” journalism… is routine practice at NPR.  

Heard today on Morning Edition.

After gathering some quarter of a million pages of evidence, Republicans have said the White House tried to rush through Solyndra’s loan for its political benefit. They said the Energy Department restructured the company’s loan to benefit a big Obama fundraiser, and have suggested the agency even tried to postpone layoffs at Solyndra until after the 2010 midterm elections.

Democrats shot back, saying Republicans ignored evidence showing the administration did not try to influence the Energy Department. California Democrat Henry Waxman said, in fact, Republicans were using Solyndra as a platform to advance their own agenda.

Thanks, NPR. That’s really helpful.

When you know enough about this story to say who’s right—or let’s say who’s lying more—then get back to us, okay? 

My post on this tendency at NPR from Sep. 15.  

(Photo by Mr T in DC. Creative Commons license: Attribution NoDerivs 2.0 )

Derrick and I decided to create this book after discussing Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. We agreed that the film presented the problem of global warming in a compelling, appropriately urgent way. But when it came time to guide people to action, it was worse than inadequate—it was misleading. Gore’s list of “10 Things You Can Do” (and countless other lists like it) directs the audience’s attention away from the source of the problem, industrialization, and it attempts to convince us to blame ourselves instead. It asserts that if we modify our behavior as “consumers” (change our light bulbs, adjust our thermostats), then we can save the planet. This is a lie.

What this list didn’t show was the math. We did. If every person in the United States did everything that Al Gore recommends at the end of the film, there would be a one-time reduction of CO2 emissions of 21%. Obviously that’s not going to put much of a dent in the problem. More importantly, it leaves the worst polluters, big corporations, off the hook. Exxon-Mobil alone is responsible for 5% of all global CO2 emissions. The US military consumes 395,000 barrels of oil a day. Do you think dismantling that might be more effective than obsessing about not leaving our refrigerator doors open? Yet the latter is what we are told to focus on. We are told, over and over, that the only power we have is over our own lifestyles, and specifically as “consumers”—how very conveeeeenient for those who profit from the murder of our planet and then profit again from selling us “green” products.

The Economist Shreds America’s Infrastructure

America, despite its wealth and strength, often seems to be falling apart.” The Economist nails it, showing that a major drag on the US economic outlook is poor condition of our infrastructure, placing blame on the politicians who are an, “embarrassment” “puzzling” “stingy” “calamitous” “inadequate.” 

American cities have suffered a rash of recent infrastructure calamities, from the failure of the New Orleans levees to the collapse of a highway bridge in Minneapolis, to a fatal crash on Washington, DC’s (generally impressive) metro system. But just as striking are the common shortcomings. America’s civil engineers routinely give its transport structures poor marks, rating roads, rails and bridges as deficient or functionally obsolete. And according to a World Economic Forum study America’s infrastructure has got worse, by comparison with other countries, over the past decade. In the WEF 2010 league table America now ranks 23rd for overall infrastructure quality, between Spain and Chile. Its roads, railways, ports and air-transport infrastructure are all judged mediocre against networks in northern Europe.

Read the rest, here.