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The National Climate Assessment. What It Will, and Won't, Accomplish
The National Climate Assessment released today by the White House is a masterful piece of science and risk communication Susan Joy Hassol, Senior Science Writer, who turned massive contributions from hundreds of scientists into an accessible, persuasive report that will play an important role in getting the U.S. to act on climate change. deserves great credit.
Will the report raise public concern about climate change enough to produce the political mandate for action that so many think is necessary? Probably not. But will it help leaders take some of the actions they need to take even without that mandate? Absolutely.
The language of the report is clear, accessible to the average reader. Facts are well-explained. The supporting evidence behind those facts is provided, simplified for the average reader but not overly ‘dumbed down’. Graphics summarize and reinforce the impact of the information. Basic questions about the workings of climate change and it’s impacts, so far and in the future, are answered. What science is still unsure about, is honestly acknowledged.
But beyond those science communication basics, the National Climate Assessment intelligently applies social science insights into how to communicate about risk in order to maximize the impact the communication has not just on how well the reader understands the issue, but how they feel about it. It applies research on the psychology of risk perception to the challenge of communicating not just so people get the facts, but so they care.
Most climate change communication has framed the issue as a future threat. Future risks don’t worry us as much as threats that are imminent, or current. The basic message of the NCA, offered first and repeatedly through the entire report, is that climate change is not just something we don’t need to worry about until tomorrow. It’s something to worry about NOW.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”
Graphics support case that climate change is happening NOW. Note the time frame in this chart.
Most climate change communication has framed the issue as a threat to polar bears, or melting glaciers or acidification of the oceans, or to people somewhere else. Abstract threats to others don’t concern us as much as those that put us personally at risk. The NCA makes climate change LOCAL, and describes the threat in terms that people can relate to.
Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.
Other changes are even more dramatic. Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage.
A clickable graphic lets you read the details about the region where you live.
Climate change has described as, well, about the climate. But who wakes up and checks the global climate report? We check the local weather...will it rain/snow, what will the temperature be...and the NCA provides that too, at least on a regional scale.
Climate change has been made a polarized issue, largely by those who ideologically oppose the kind of big government intervention that solutions to climate change will require. The NCA addresses the questions the skeptics raise.
But, following the research on science communication that says the most effective way to address such ideologically based skepticism is to avoid sounding confrontational, the NCA’s Frequently Asked Questions answer the skeptics in a respectful neutral voice. Throughout the report, the tone is direct, evidence-based and credible, at times dramatic but never strident. That builds trust, and makes the communication more persuasive.
Nonetheless, it is unlikely this single body of work, as informationally rich and shrewdly framed as it is, will prompt much of a change in public opinion, at least not enough, fast enough, to give leaders the public mandate that would make action politically easier. First, despite all the attention the report will get (as part of the roll out the President did interviews with prominent TV weathercasters who polls show have high public recognition and trust), most people probably won’t hear anything about it, and a tiny minority will read any of it. Second, even those who do read some part of the report will probably not suddenly feel personally threatened by climate change enough to shift how much they care about the issue. Psychologically, climate change just doesn’t scare people that much. This report can’t change that.
But the report will play a role in getting the U.S. to take action on climate change. It will almost surely provide a solid basis on which President Obama will claim, as he has in the past, that “the debate is over and it’s time to act.” He will use the report to minimize the impact of the deniers and skeptics on the majority of Americans. This is a classic communication strategy; Don’t try to change the minds and hearts of the most vociferous and ideologically motivated stakeholders. Just minimize their impact by making your case with the larger audience. The convincing case the report lays out will help the President do that.
“Podesta…said the White House will (use) executive actions to address the problem as most Republicans in Congress reject the scientific consensus. The president, under existing law, has the authority to take action,” Podesta said at a briefing today. Congress “is challenging right now, but hopefully this will change some minds” and “climate deniers will recede,” he said.
Presidential executive actions to be announced in coming days may include regulations on the greenhouse gas emissions of existing power plants, allocation of funds to adaptation programs, Energy Department investment in clean energy to replace fossil fuels, and more. The National Climate Assessment provides the foundation for these actions, and makes them politically more acceptable.
The climate skeptics whose ideological and group identities are tied to the fight against action will not be swayed. They are already picking the report apart. But the NCA makes the case that for action on climate change so credibly and persuasively, that history is likely to look back on it as an important step that finally pushed America to take the threat of climate change as seriously as the danger demands.
(This essay was originally posted as a Guest Blog at Scientific American)
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.