Retired astrophysicist and AAAS member Ray Weymann used to spend his days teaching and conducting research at the University of Arizona in Tucson or directing the Carnegie Observatories. Now he is an expert at communicating the science of climate change to the public. Weymann shares his top tips for teaching about climate change with AAAS MemberCentral blogger Summer Allen.
AAAS Member Central blogger Summer Allen: Which audiences do you think most benefit from hearing from scientists directly about climate change?
Ray Weymann, Central Coast Climate Science Education: Editors of papers, print and TV journalists, elected officials and teachers.
Use metaphors and analogies. The videos with climate scientists on AAAS's What We Know website are very good in this regard, especially the one with American Meteorological Society past president Marshall Shepherd. His video serves as a model for all of us.
Other comments that are slightly less frequent:
- Last week the weather guy said it would rain today and it didn't; how can we trust what scientists say about the next 50 years if you can't even tell us about what happens next week.
- 40 years ago all the scientists said we were headed for an ice age, now they talk about global warming.
- It will ruin our economy if we try to get off fossil fuels.
- Why should "we" (California, the U.S.) cut our emissions when (the rest of the world; China) is producing far more emissions than are we.
- I don't trust those scientists; they are just in it for the easy money from grant proposals.
Weymann: I give a brief description of the science, elaborating on the 3 S's above. I then say, "For an easy-to-read and up-to-the moment summary by the world's leading climate scientists, the 'What We Know' booklet is excellent." I hand out hard copies to those who say they will really read the material. If I run out of hard copies to hand out, I direct them to the What We Know website.
Weymann: Write letters to newspapers, especially correcting misperceptions like those above, and offer to appear on media broadcasts and answer questions from journalists. Contact local TV weather broadcasters and ask to meet with them to explain how climate change impacts weather. Offer to meet with editors of papers.
A wonderful example for getting involved was set by Jeff Chanton et al. [pdf] by asking to meet with Governor Scott of Florida to explain the science when the Governor said, "How should I know, I'm not a climate scientist." No politician should be allowed to get away with this! Testify at public hearings. Offer your expertise to citizen action groups like Citizens' Climate Lobby. Offer to make your expertise available to candidates for public office who want to have the facts; this need not involve endorsement of that candidate.
Finally, I would point out to climate scientists that, if my experience in astrophysics is any guide, even though they are experts in a particular field, having to explain things to a lay audience will sharpen their own understanding and force them to closely examine some assumptions they took for granted.