Understanding bathtubs and climate change

October 31, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Posted in Climate understanding | Leave a comment
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Photo by Bombardier, Creative Commons.

Photo by Bombardier, Creative Commons.

It’s been common to blame the media and global-warming “deniers” for the public’s confusion about climate change.  

The media, it has been said, feel they must always represent opposite sides of opinion. It’s a laudable goal, but not if it results in a distorted picture of scientific consensus.

I.e. two “experts” presented as equals, one whose statements represent a position a hypothetical 90 percent of the scientific community would agree with, and another whose statements represent the thoughts of a spare 5 percent.   

In such cases, media efforts to produce balance lead to accidental misrepresentations. The “denialists,” on the other hand, are accused of deliberate distortions. 

A new article in the most recent issue of Science, however, suggests there may be more to blame for public confusion about climate change than inaccurate portrayals of scientific opinion. 

The article – “Risk Communication on Climate: Mental Models and Mass Balance” – links a failure to perceive the urgency of reducing carbon emissions to a poor understanding of stocks and flows.

Stocks and flows, as the author John D. Sterman points out, are all about the concept of accumulation, which is a common everyday experience:

“Our bathtubs accumulate the inflow of water through the faucet less the outflow through the drain, our bank accounts accumulate deposits less withdrawals … Yet, despite their ubiquity, research shows that people have difficulty relating into and out of a stock to the level of a stock …,” Sterman writes.

Sterman, along with colleague Booth Sweeney, tested a group of highly educated MIT students’ understanding of stocks and flows as it relates to climate change. 

Continue Reading Understanding bathtubs and climate change…

Artists tackle climate change

October 26, 2008 at 4:26 am | Posted in Climate and art, Climate understanding | Leave a comment
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If art is a medium through which a culture communicates with itself about topics it is struggling to understand, then the meaning of climate change is now on a lot of people’s minds. 

In the last few weeks alone, news has surfaced about a number of climate-themed art projects and exhibits.

Perhaps coolest of all – no pun intended – is Cape Farewell, an organization that sponsors expeditions of scientists and artists into the Arctic to promote a cultural understanding of climate change.  The latest expedition came to an end on October 6, after bringing some big name stars face to face with the first front of climate change. 

Musicians KT Tunstall, Jarvis Cocker, Feist, Laurie Anderson and Martha Wainwright, among others, were on the crew list.  Check out Jarvis Cocker of Pulp describing his experience:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Jarvis Cocker“, posted with vodpod

Huge institutional efforts that look to art and artifacts to educate about climate change are also underway.
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A survey of climate literacy

October 10, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Posted in Climate understanding | Leave a comment
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According to the blog RealClimate, a new survey about the state of climate science is making the rounds.  The survey – the third of its kind – is being sent to scientists in an effort to assess the state of climate science.

Obviously, its relevance will depend on how widely it’s distributed, as well as on the validity of its questions and multiple-choice answers.  If done well, it could point out areas where more research needs to be done and more funding needs to be provided.

Looking over some of the questions, though, got me thinking less about how the scientists will respond to the questions, and more about the state of climate literacy in general. 

Continue Reading A survey of climate literacy…

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