Flawed communications in U.S. Climate Change Science Program


Two major federal climate science reports – one on climate change-induced extreme weather, the other on increasing difficulties in dealing with climate impacts on federal lands — were released last week with two nearly opposite communication strategies.    The ad hoc manner in which communication with the media and the public is currently handled in the Climate Change Science Program and its 13 participating agencies is highly dysfunctional and in need of a complete overhaul to meet the informational needs of society in addressing and preparing for global climatic disruption.

Here is an existential question for our readers:    If a climate change report falls out of the forest (onto paper or a website) and no one hears it, does it still make a decision-support sound?  

Overdue by months, the two CCSP reports released last week are members of a set of   21 so-called “Synthesis and Assessment Products” that comprise the bulk of the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) work product under the Bush administration, a work product Bush claims will meet the legal requirements for climate assessments under the Global Change Research Act of 1990.   Each report was the culmination of the good work of many highly credentialed scientists representing many federal agencies and private institutions over several years.   The first, with NOAA acting as lead agency, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate (SAP 3.3) , received fairly extensive media coverage, was transmitted to Congress as required by law, and is the topic of ongoing briefings to the media and decisionmakers offered by Tom Karl of   NOAA and other lead authors.    

The second, Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources (SAP 4.4), is a 900+ page report with a whole host of useful suggestions for addressing climate change threats to our national parks and forests and a between-the-lines cry for help among dedicated federal land managers.   In near stealth fashion, lead agency EPA posted a “press release” on its website around noon last Friday (graveyard day in press lingo) — a cinch to find, if you knew precisely which six (yes, 6) links to click.   Unlike the NOAA rollout, there were no calls to key Congressional staff (as of Friday afternoon), no briefings offered, and no media interviews given.   But for one lonely article in “ClimateWire” (subscription required), press coverage was nil, and key decisionmakers were left in the dark.    

This disparity in outreach speaks to fatal flaws in the communications apparatus of one of the world’s leading climate science programs, and demands a swift and effective remedy if we are to tackle the growing climate crisis.    

A practical question for our readers:   How should we fix this?     Please address all comments and suggestions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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  — all identified and anonymous input will be carefully considered and incorporated into our recommendations for the next President and Congress as part of our National Climate Change Preparednesss Initiative.   (Thank you one and all for your interest in making climate science useful, relevant, and, more importantly, no longer a state secret!)

This post was developed by CSW Senior Associate Anne Polansky.

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