Saturday, 29 November 2014

WARNING: This might not work

San Francisco County are proposing putting this sign on petrol pumps, like warnings on cigarette packets or alcohol, it highlights the damage of fuel consumption. The idea of drawing attention to the damage of fuel is admirable but I think it's going to go the other way; first of all the idea is abstract, a quantifiable amount of carbon dioxide isn't something people can picture. It's summed up nicely at the end but I don't think it makes it any easier for the public to link actions and consequences. The other is that cars and freedom of mobility is an engrained value to the American Right. This could be viewed as an encroachment on their freedom and rights further shutting them off to the idea of environmental protection.

Whilst the transport sector is hugely problematic to mitigating climate change there are better ways to tackle it. Improving vehicle efficiency, making public transport more affordable or encouraging cycle routes will have a much better impact than demonising individual actions. People do not react well to being told off or to making personal sacrifices. There are certainly gains to be made on the individual level but they need to be encouraged as a way of improving lives not making the public the enemy of the planet.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The More the Merrier: A Move Towards Open Climate Science

Technology has, and always will, change the way the world works. In the context of climate change talk focuses on big technology like clean energy and geoengineering. But the more mundane, phones, emails etc. could have a huge impact on mitigation strategies.

Citizen science involves data collection, monitoring or analysis by amateurs and volunteers. The growth of the smartphone, open data and our ability to share and access information has revolutionized science. Whether it is stargazing for the Galaxy Zoo project or snapping backgarden animals for Project Noah citizen science offers an opportunity to engage a whole new audience with specific questions and issues.

There are issues with citizen science, research with these methods can find it difficult to be reviewed and published in mainstream journals, due to data quality concerns (Bonney et al 2014). It may though purely be a lexical issue, with long-term volunteer monitoring projects such as the Christmas Bird Count featuring in hundreds of papers without any mention of ‘citizen science’ (Silvertown 2009). Bonney et al also note two particularly successful projects, Zooniverse and eBird, have combined featured in over 140 peer-reviewed journals and book chapters. Whilst data-quality issues are often addressed through high quality computing of statistical or measurement error. Even the recent seminal paper by Cook et al (2013) highlighting the 97% consensus on climate change was conceived as a citizen science project. 

So with a rich history in other environmental sciences how can crowd research aid climate science. A major issue behind the Climate Change problem is the multiplicity of stakeholders and their lack or contrasting engagement. Increased channels to access or contribute can only be positive. It is more however the effects citizens are having on science than vice versa which have been in the news recently.

In tandem with the White House Climate Data initiative earlier this year ESRI hosted an app challenge. Using GIS data the competition was posed to any potential developer to build ways in which people better see, understand or prepare for future climate change. The top 3 included a site-suitability analysis for solar panels, a Flood forecasting and communication project and a rainwater saving tool. With a whole host of runners-up offer personal engagement with specifics of a vast topic.

Climate CoLab is a website allowing the public to put forward their idea to combat climate change. According to the website they now have a staggering 32,000 members from 120 countries. This community then offers feedback on other projects and can support or join proposals. The list of 34 winning proposals in numerous categories from adaption to youth action makes for fascinating reading.

The Harvard Clean Energy Project meanwhile opened up a huge database to citizen contributions leading to the discovering of 35,000 new photovoltaic materials that have the possibility to double solar efficiency. When you begin exploring Kickstarter or Indiegogo you see how much work is being done outside of traditional academia. IBM also offer free cloud space to any project tackling climate change, professional or otherwise. Even the UK government hopped on the bandwagon over the summer opening the draft version of their global calculator to the public for testing and to provide initial findings.

More and more I find these posts being drawn back to a singular argument; that the more people you involve in discussion the more options you present to find a solution. Academia provides a technical basis for understanding and framing climate change but by offering data, or the chance to contribute, to a wider audience you create whole new dimensions for dealing with a problem outside of traditional policy. 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Rewiring the Brain - George Marshall speaks to UCL

Last night the UCL school of Public Policy hosted a talk by George Marshall, author of Don’t even think about it: Are our brains wired to ignore climate change, and founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN). His role is not as a climate scientist but to explore the way Climate Change is communicated. He raised a number of interesting points all of which can be found in his book; whether climate change needs an enemy, the moral license of companies and individuals, and the social narratives through which climate change exists and should/will continue to prevail.

The section that most stood out for me was how the balance of our left and right brain, a deep survival instinct, plays against action to mitigate climate change. The left side of our brains is where we evaluate risk using rationale and analytic reasoning. The right draws on proximity, social values and past experience to then prioritize threats. This explains why when people are asked ‘are you concerned about climate change’ they answer predominantly yes (Leiserowitz et al 2014), but when asked ‘list your top 5 concerns’ climate change very rarely takes centre stage. The left side recognizes climate change as a risk but the right gives it low prioritization. Marshall explains this is why threats such as ISIS or Ebola are much more prominent, they are immediate, they play into cultural fears and are easily identifiable.

So how do we change our narrative to combat this in the climate sphere. Firstly climate change impacts do exist here, rather than narratives of stranded polar bears western countries need to be shown evidence of flooding, storms, heatwaves and so on, which while not necessarily directly attributable to anthropogenic warming can elucidate on the impacts. Whilst impacts are hitting the developed world more power needs to be given to the voices of those worst hit in places such as the Pacific Isles. Recent contributions from to the Green Climate Fund by major nations is a great way to start this, I worry though about the rhetoric of people seeing this as protecting others ahead of themselves. The public (and even parliament) need to be shown that reducing emissions worldwide is self-preservation as well as aid. Prioritization makes the human race naturally cost averse, and from an economics point of view discounting prevents ever seeing climate change as worth paying for now. The idea of insurance, and insurance companies, need to get on board and get the message to the public of certainty. People insure their homes and cars for massively more uncertain odds and it’s this risk that needs to be demonstrated in clear numbers to the public.

Marshall presents climate change as the perfect problem from wherever you view it, be economics and market failure, cognitive and self-preservation or cultural and racial. He notes though that often we reframe climate change to make it the perfect problem, putting it in the distance and future to avoid it. The talk, and book, are truly fascinating and I’d urge all interested in how we communicate climate science to take heed.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Informing the Electorate

I introduced an empirical assessment from Brulle et al 2011 in my last post and thought the release of a study by MediaMatters last week was very apt. The authors point to both media coverage, and statements/voting from Republican and Democrat officials as drivers of change in public opinion on Climate Change. These factors form over 50% of the change in their Climate Threat Index, or how highly the public perceive climate change to be a problem. Research from Media Matters then shows us how little time Network News coverage spent on key issues including Climate Change. Despite environmental issues being the 3rd most mentioned in political advertisements 65% of coverage of the American Midterms didn’t discuss, introduce or educate on any of the key issues. The change to a Republican control in both Houses will have huge implications on environmental policy and the public need more sources of information on science and policy. Whilst I don’t advocate press regulation science institutions need to step up their efforts to ensure that we have an informed electorate who understand the rationale behind issues and thus how policy changes will affect them. With the 2015 UK general election coming up Climate change needs to be reestablished as the hotly debated issue it was in 2010/11.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Framing: Making science pretty, or at least understandable

Brulle et al (2011) conducted an empirical analysis on the fluctuations in climate perceptions. Finding that media presentation, climate statements and voting patterns by politicians, and business cycles all had a strong effect on the way people engage with science. Framing is a phenomenon from the social marketing being moved into climate science by academics such as Dan Kahan. It involves orientating an argument based on social factors such as the problems perception, the audience or the speaker. Framing is evident in the way media and politicians talk but is distinctly lacking from science.

Corner et al (2014) explore the idea of tailoring communications based on audience values. They argue that intrinsic values are stable across adult life and thus issues such as climate change should be tailored to reach individual values. Climate science has long been associated in terms of guilt, that the public are being told off for behaving badly. My very first post highlighted how arguing about animal welfare or social justice can exclude certain populations. The public should be targeted in distinct groups with the message of climate change tailored to each one. Kahan et al (2007) split the public along 2 lines individualistic-communitarian and egalitarian-hierarchical. This then evolved into the Yale Climate Groups 6 Americas project. An economic argument for climate adaption may be more suited to an individualist with hierarchical views, whilst morality and social justice may work better for a communitarian.

I’m currently reading Oreskes and Conway 2008 book on how individuals have used media influence and uncertainty to affect arguments and action in science. Science needs to take a leaf out of their book and see that objective presentation of an argument isn’t always effective. Oreskes has even argued in a recent interview with the New York Times, that now the science is settled the IPCC should be disbanded handing the problem to social scientists in order to better engage the public. I personally wouldn’t go this far, but it is true that the IPCC could repurpose a lot of its resources to tackling the biggest problem facing climate science.

Friday, 7 November 2014

It's all in the name

What should we call the climate problem? We have ‘Global Warming’, but does this ignore other climatological changes? You could say ‘Climate Change’, probably the most popular but the earths climate has always changed, does this neglect human influence? Human-driven or anthropogenic Climate Change starts to get a little wordy. Skeptical Science notes that both terms refer to different aspects in the scientific literature and can also have different impacts. With climate change a softer analogy than global warming. Although he concludes that the two are used interchangeably, polling in May suggests their impact may be more crucial than that. The Yale Climate Change Communication group (Leiserowitz et al 2014) found that not only are American’s more likely to have heard of global warming than climate change. Global warming is far more engaging a concept generating bad feelings among all groups. With climate change, often preferred by scientists, reducing issue engagement even amongst liberals who hold it close to their heart. This is backed up by Whitmarsh (2008), with the public showing more emotional but less accurate engagement with Global Warming instead of Climate Change. 

Maslin (2013) in an excellent paper on communicating uncertainty notes that of the top 10 Amazon books on Global warming 6 are by skeptics, whereas for climate change only 2 are. You can see this yourself by googling both terms and looking at the disparity in news headlines.
Milton Glaser's #itsnotwarmingitsdying logo. Aimed to draw attention to the ecological costs of climate change, but scientists have argued it is not accurate. The earth will not die but will certainly tip into a new system. This approach also neglects the human aspects of Climate Change and the potential social, economic and environmental benefits of mitigation. Image Courtesy of [7.11.14]

The debate on what to call the future of our climate has taking an even sharper turn recently with Milton Glaser, inventor of the ‘I love New York logo’, driving a rebrand. His #ItsNotWarmingItsDying campaign has been criticized by numerous activists and scientists for taking away credibility of the science debate. But as Whitmarsh notes, there is a trade-off between scientific accuracy and public engagement. Schuldt et al (2011) found using climate change led to less political polarisation than Global Warming, if using a particular term moves us closer to a solution isn't it worth sacrificing a modicum of accuracy. Scientists must strive to make their work more understandable to the masses, and whilst a small change the selection of either Global Warming or Climate change can greatly influence political and public engagement. Settling on one term would help reduce confusion and take power away from dangerous campaigns such as Milton Glaser's. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Re-blog from Scientific American - the Reverse Popularizer

Fantastic blog from Scientific American yesterday about Scientists accepting popular communications as part of their role.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The evolution of Climate Science

The scientific method and science in general has always been constructed to be both objective and unbiased, but increasingly science and scientists are being used to inform or justify policy. Indeed if science is purely objective then there would be no debate over climate change. If climate science is destined to end up informing policy or published in mainstream media, how does the role of the climate scientist change?

Rapley & Mayer (2014) argue that a gap exists between the needs of society and the current role of the climate science community. This is echoed by Corner and Groves (2014) who find that climate scientists are trapped between scientific norms and the need to engage the public. Climate science no longer remains purely in the realm of science and thus needs to be adapted in preparation for a wider world. This may be because climate science has a profound affect on the way we live our lives of the world we live in (Northcott 2013). As we’ve discussed before there are many reasons the public lack engagement with climate science, and I’ve argued that scientists need to do more. Rapley and Meyer conceptualize the idea much better, identifying the 5 roles of a climate scientist from ‘pure scientist’ to ‘issue advocate’. They put the reluctance of scientists to engage with the public down to two reasons, the lack of formal training and pressure of research responsibilities. The ‘publish or perish’ paradigm leaves very little time for scientists to take on roles in other areas. As I’ve suggested they support the idea of an professional body to help climate scientists engage with the public. As well as directly informing policy and individuals, this institution would also help train scientists in the their growing roles. Having recently finished an undergraduate degree, the lack of education on any form policy work is startling and is certainly far behind other disciplines within the social science who explore their impacts to a much deeper level.

Chris Rapley a climate scientist at UCL has actually taken climate communication one step further, his play 2071 opens at the royal court this week. Set in the near future following a business-as-usual climate scenario it examines climate impacts through an intriguing new lens. Image courtesy of REX via The Guardian [Accessed 4.11.14]

Despite a number of climate related programs, skepticism cannot be explain be a knowledge deficit alone (Brulle et al 2012), extensive research e.g. Corner et al (2014), Kahan et al (2012) tells us that values and political ideology are far more important, and that higher levels of scientific literacy can even amplify polarization. I think a great deal has to be said for general public distrust in science, with findings often hidden away in inaccessible journals results are mediated by politics, media or others. Again we return to the idea of stakeholder involvement, Prof. Roberts argued this a great deal in her Greeness talk, and Rapley and Meyer also see it benefiting climate science. By involving the public at every step, whether this is citizen science (I'll talk about this next week), in separate institutions or in delivery of policy recommendations.

We are at the stage were the majority of the science is settled. Alright there are still specifics to be argued but we know that our climate is warming, caused by CO2 and other GHGs and this could have catastrophic effects for civilization. Scientists, for the most part, however are happy to remain in the role of ‘pure scientist’. Climate science findings have too much of an impact on the future of public life and thus greater attention needs to be paid to the expanding scientific role. Whilst an independent institution might be outside possibility, increasing responsibility for existing institutions can help educate climate scientists on how better to assess the implication of their work and help positively affect public engagement.