It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Monday, June 9, 2008

Yale 2005 and Followups: Science to Action?

A current article in EOS by J Stevens of Clark U and A Graham of NIT points to this report from a 2005 meeting at Yale [large PDF] about getting better public involvement in the changes needed to cope with the climate change problem, especially in the US. It begins with a good description of the problem, which isn't so much about carbon as it is about the public misunderstanding of what is necessary:
a substantial political gulf persists between those advocating such actions and those opposed. Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the British government, wrote in Science in 2004 that “climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today – more serious even than the threat of terrorism.” He called for “early, well-planned action” leading to the developed economies cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and warned that “delaying action for decades, or even years, is not a serious option.”

But public and policy-maker commitment to action of this seriousness remains elusive indeed. The U.S. government, citing remaining scientific uncertainties, economic costs, and the unfairness of a global regulatory regime that excludes the developing world, has rejected the Kyoto Protocol and largely refrained from positive international engagement on the issue. Today there are signs everywhere that the climate issue is beginning to gain traction, but the gap between climate science and climate policy and action remains huge.

What explains this gap? Is climate change merely one instance of a larger problem, namely, the expanding gulf between the increasingly scientific and technical content of public policy issues on the one hand, and the declining public understanding of science and technology on the other? Good environmental science and forecasting are absolutely necessary but, it would appear, far from sufficient. If we want science to affect real-world decisions and events, how can we best address the barriers that lie between good science and effective policy and action?
There's a good deal more, but here are their top ten recommendations:
Recommendation #1: Create a new “bridging institution” to actively
seek out key business, religious, political, and civic leaders and the media
and deliver to them independent, reliable and credible scientific
information about climate change (including natural and economic

Recommendation #7: Educate the gatekeepers (i.e., editors). In order to
improve the communication of climate science in the news media, foster
a series of visits and conferences whereby respected journalists and
editors informed on climate change can speak to their peer editors. The
objective is to have those who can credibly talk about story ideas and
craft reach out to their peers about how to cover the climate change issue
with appropriate urgency, context, and journalistic integrity.

Recommendation #11: Religious leaders and communities must
recognize the scale, urgency and moral dimension of climate change,
and the ethical unacceptability of any action that damages the quality
and viability of life on Earth, particularly for the poor and most

Recommendation #20: Design and execute a “New Vision for Energy”
campaign to encourage a national market-based transition to alternative
energy sources. Harness multiple messages tailored to different
audiences that embed the climate change issue in a larger set of cobenefit
narratives, such as: reducing U.S. dependency on Middle East oil
(national security); penetrating global export markets with American
innovations (U.S. stature); boosting U.S. job growth (jobs); and cutting
local air pollution (health).

Recommendation #25: Create a new overarching communications
entity or project to design and execute a well-financed public education
campaign on climate change science and its implications. This multifaceted
campaign would leverage the latest social science findings
concerning attitude formation and change on climate change, and
would use all available media in an effort to disseminate rigorously
accurate information, and to counter disinformation in real time.

Recommendation #26: Undertake systematic and rigorous projects to
test the impact of environmental communications in all media (e.g.,
advertising, documentary, feature film) on civic engagement, public
opinion and persuasive outcomes. Use these to inform new creative
work on multi-media climate change communications.

Recommendation #28: Improve K-12 students’ understanding of
climate change by promoting it as a standards-based content area within
science curricula and incorporating it into other disciplinary curricula
and teacher certification standards. Use the occasion of the state reviews
of science standards for this purpose, which are being prompted by the
states’ need to comply with the Fall 2007 start of high-stakes science
testing under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Recommendation #29: Organize a grassroots educational campaign to
create local narratives around climate change impacts and solutions,
while mobilizing citizen engagement and action. Kick the campaign off
with a National Climate Week that would recur on an annual basis.

Recommendation #33: The Business & Finance working group at the
Conference composed an eight-principle framework, and proposed that
it be disseminated broadly to trade associations and individual business
leaders (especially at the CEO and board level) as a set of clear and
feasible actions that businesses can and should take on climate change.

Recommendation #36: Create a broad-based Climate Action
Leadership Council of 10-12 recognizable and senior eminent leaders
from all key national sectors and constituencies to serve as an integrating
mechanism for developing and delivering a cohesive message to society
about the seriousness of climate change and the imperative of taking
action. The Council would include leaders from business, labor,
academia, government, the NGO sector, the professions (medicine, law,
and public health) and community leaders. They would be chosen on
the basis of their credibility within their respective communities, but
also across society at large.
#7 seems to align with a conclusion I have been trying to promote around here. #28 is immensely problematic given the bizarre and pusillanimous state of public education in America these days. In my view there has been precious little progress on any of these fronts in the intervening years. I'd be happy to learn any facts to the contrary.

The complete list and some sadly limited discussion appears on a page on the Yale site.

The EOS report refers to a similar meeting at MIT, but makes no expression of pessimism. Indeed it refers with some pride to the "Focus the Nation" event in January. I use the word "event" generously, at least from the perspective of the U of Texas.

Also, there was similar conversation at an event last November in Hawai'i, commemorating (it seems to me one ought not to say 'celebrating') the 50th anniversary of the instrumental CO2 record.

It's nice to see people identifying the communication problem correctly. The gap between the scale of the problem and the scale of the attempts to resolve it is terrifying. The We Campaign has at least got a few bucks, but it is preaching to the choir and is so far from taking public education seriously that it would be laughable except for the detail that it is a harbinger of universal doom.

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