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Connecting climate change to everyday life: Guest blogger Christine Shearer

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 1:30 AM GMT on December 31, 2010

I regularly meet new people through this blog. Recently Christine Shearer contacted me to look over some paragraphs in her forthcoming book. Christine is a sociologist working on climate change. As my readers know, I believe that perspectives from many different fields are what we need to move our addressing climate change forward. I asked, and she agreed to write a guest blog.

Connecting climate change to everyday life by Christine Shearer

One of the interesting things, sociologically, about climate change science is just how political it has become. It is not, however, that people merely fall on different sides on the issue, depending upon their views concerning government regulation. In many ways this divide was socially engineered. In their research, sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap track how those opposed to climate change regulations helped transform growing national understanding and concern over global warming into a “nonproblem”, creating a political climate conducive toward the US Congress rejecting the binding greenhouse gas limits of the Kyoto Protocol. Regulation opponents did this by borrowing tactics from Big Tobacco: demanding certainty as the only acceptable standard for action, while simultaneously funding research to deliberately create uncertainty. Historian Naomi Oreskes has traced how many of the same scientists that questioned the science on smoking also went on to question acid rain, ozone depletion, and climate change. These efforts are aided by the media, which too often confuse balanced journalism with presenting various views on an issue, ignoring the weight of scientific consensus.

After Kyoto, public perception of global warming as a problem shrank among U.S. Republicans, marking the beginning of a growing partisan divide concerning global warming and the need for action. Conservatives are arguably exposed to more media sources that question climate change, such as the recently leaked memo of a Fox News editor ordering its journalists to always state that climate change data has been called into question when discussing the topic. Gallup surveys also suggest there has been a measurable decrease since Kyoto in just how severe a problem much of the U.S. public – Republicans and Democrats – regard climate change.

This has been the brilliance of the climate change “doubt” campaign – to tame down the urgency with which people wanted action on climate change, and to create pockets of the US population that are absolutely convinced the entire issue is a hoax.

More concerning is that this is happening while the information on climate change is growing more alarming, with glaciers melting more rapidly than many models had predicted, with new studies suggesting carbon dioxide may stay in the atmosphere for longer than had been previously estimated, and with increasing signs that many of the world’s carbon sinks are growing stressed. The disconnect between scientific research and mainstream public opinion is huge, with many scientists quietly acquiescing that we should be performing small-scale experiments of geoengineering, since the social dynamics concerning climate change look so unlikely to change anytime soon.

That is why many organizations like 350.org have been calling for a social movement on this issue, to create the large-scale response needed to push social change. Activists have been trying to argue that action on climate change is a win-win-win: we clean up our environment, stimulate the economy with new technologies and jobs, and remove our dependence on unstable fuels.

What this movement needs, however, is some urgency. Research on climate change and risk perception show people think of climate change as a distant concern, not immediate to them, and not as pressing as other issues like the economic crisis. This is a problem, because the history of social movements and social change show that people often do not get active and involved in an issue until they can connect it to their daily lives, until it touches them personally. The economic crisis is touching people personally. Climate change, in the public mind - not so much.

This is where climate scientists could have a very important role to play: to begin shattering the taboo between weather and climate.

Right now, the conventional wisdom is that no specific weather event can be attributed to climate change. This is of course “true.” But it is the wrong question, and its persistence is having disastrous effects. First, it reinforces the public view that climate change is a remote, long-term concern not immediately affecting them. Second, it falls into the “uncertainty” argument - since you can't say that climate change “caused” a weather event, it ends up being an argument of doubt (and inaction) that plays into climate deniers' hands.

Again, the problem is it’s the wrong question, and we need to reframe the issue. Luckily, some are already doing this. In his paper “How Warm Was This Summer?” NASA scientist James Hansen suggests climate scientists reframe the question to: “Would these events have occurred if atmospheric carbon dioxide had remained at its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm?” To which he says: “An appropriate answer in that case is ‘almost certainly not.’”

Other scientists, for example, Ben Santer are using climate models as a “control experiment” for pre-industrial greenhouse gas levels, to determine how many times an extreme event of a given magnitude should have been observed in the absence of human interference, and compare that to present conditions, called “fractional attributable risk.

These are much needed advances, for both scientific and public understanding. The more people connect daily occurrences to increasing greenhouse gases, the more they’ll want to do something about it. Now.

The next step, of course, is getting the media and meteorologists to pay attention. But the more scientists discuss daily events, the more social scientists, activists, and other concerned people will demand attention be paid to it. And that will help raise the broader attention and concern we need around climate change. Because the best option, of course, is mitigation. And sadly it is an option we have yet to try.

Christine Shearer
Christine Shearer is a researcher for CoalSwarm, part of SourceWatch, and a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at UC Santa Barbara. She is managing editor of Conducive, and author of the forthcoming book, "Kivalina: A Climate Change Story" (Haymarket Books, 2011).

Figure 1: Conceptual framework showing (in the shaded area) the steps involved in planned adaptation to climate variability and change from Application of environmentally sound technologies for adaptation to climate change; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, Bonn, Germany, Technical Paper FCCC/TP/2006/2, 107 p

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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Michael, Me thinks thou doth protest too much.
it's getting colder, a lot colder.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Getting Colder

Gosh, what ya gonna say when February numbers show the Earth colder than average?Yeah, whatcha gonna do when your baby leaves you, whatcha gonna do when she says goodbye?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
№ 64
Quoting LoveStormsatNight:
OMG! Watts was right! Surface station reports are unreliable ;) Courtesy of failblog.org

LOL...I wonder if that is a GISS station!
All kidding aside, that is pretty funny.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting LoveStormsatNight:
Why change from a 20 year baseline to a 30 year baseline sirmaelstrom?

I don't know. This is an excerpt of what Dr.Spencer says about it at the link:

Sorry for yelling like that, but if you have been following our global tropospheric temperature updates every month, you will have to re-calibrate your brains because we have just switched from a 20 year base period (1979 – 1998) to a more traditional 30 year base period (1981-2010) like that NOAA uses for climate “normals”.

This change from a 20 to a 30 year base period has 2 main impacts:

1) because the most recent decade averaged somewhat warmer than the previous two decades, the anomaly values will be about 0.1 deg. C lower than they used to be. This does NOT affect the long-term trend of the data…it only reflects a change in the zero-level, which is somewhat arbitrary.

2) the 30-year average annual cycle shape will be somewhat different, and more representative of “normal” of the satellite record than with 20 years; as a result, the month-to-month changes in the anomalies might be slightly less “erratic” in appearance. (Some enterprising person should check into that with the old versus new anomaly datasets).
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
№ 55

Quoting MichaelSTL: After all, he just "readjusted" his UAH dataset again, such that last year appears much cooler, for example, September went from +0.60°C to +0.47°C).

The baseline is what was changed. The old baseline was 1979-1998; the new one, starting this month, is 1981-2010. It's explained in the link below.

Dec. 2010 UAH Global Temperature Update: +0.18 deg. C

Dr. Spencer also mentions the malfunctioning NOAA-15 satellite as well.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Cyclone and Michael, you remind me of the a little wooden statue I had when I was a kid. It had three monkeys on it with each one covering it eyes ears or mouth. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
You refuse to directly respond to posts that suggest a cooling as though the post doesn't exist.
You only post what supports your position as though your position is the gospel. What those who are skeptical post is heresy, right?
How pathetic you become posting the same graphs over and over when the world around you is freezing over.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

Since the 1680's, interesting what the buildup
of Bovine belching can produce!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting cyclonebuster:

Wrong Martini see what NOAA says? You are incorrect in every case.

Jeez, with all the trouble they have down under you'd never think this would make the news, but here it is.


If the oceans are so warm why is the ice breaker stuck?
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Quoting LoveStormsatNight:
Interesting. There doesn't seem to be a real Steven Goddard meteorologist or climatologist. Who is he? Where did he graduate? What papers did he write? Where does he work?

Try the following link:


Just goes to show don't believe everything you read on the internet...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Mart have you EVER posted related to clime here? And how is ENSO related to AGW specifically if you must defend that post.

Florida, the oceans are colder than they are supposed to be. The ground surface temperatures are colder than they are supposed to be. There is more snow than there is supposed to be. The Earth's climate has not warmed as fast as it is supposed to do. supposed to according to models put forth by IPCC and those climatologists that you believe are so correct.

Hell, I hardly know anything about climatology. I have said that many time before, but I think I have a decent head for numbers and logic.

When someone such as Simon, or whatever alias he chooses to use, gets on here and perpetually tries to assassinate the messenger as opposed to debating the message, my logic says, something is amiss.

Now, you can say as often as you like that I don't post the science you accept as science and I really don't give a rat's butt. I have posted many things here that go unanswered far too often to not believe that some of it has stymied you and others here.

The science of AGW, Climate Change, Global Warming or Climate Disruption or any other term you want to call it is not settled science. You actually know this. If it was, you wouldn't be wasting your time here debating it.
Tell me whether or not cloud feedback is as settled as basic chemistry or physics. You know it isn't. So, I say quit BSing all of us and yourself.

Sorry I haven't quoted or sourced any peer reviewed papers tonight.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting LoveStormsatNight:
Excuse me? Just seems that Steven Goddard doesn't exist. And no telling if he altered or faked the graphs--they don't come from an official or scientific source. Just something he put (or faked) on his page.

Martinitony, can you tell me who Steven Goddard is? Where he got his degree? Whether he is a meteorologist or climatologist? What papers he's published? Where he works?

Gosh. You sound so familiar. Addressing me by my moniker. That constant pursuit to get someone to answer your question. The character assassination style. Who do you sound like?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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