AAAS, White House: Similar Goals — Boost Climate Understanding, Actions

The world’s largest science society and the Obama White House launch new phases in what each says will be ongoing efforts to improve Americans’ understandings of, and actions to manage, adverse climate change impacts.

Two new climate change information resources issued over the past week may provide communicators more — and more practical — arrows in their quivers as they continue the tough slog of informing and educating on the science of climate change and adverse impacts.

One is a newly released effort from the world’s largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, and the other comes from the Obama White House.

AAAS’s March 18 release of the “What We Know” report is what AAAS says is “the launch of a new initiative to expand the dialogue on the risks of climate change.” Chaired by three highly regarded climate scientists, including Nobel Laureate Mario Molina, the report highlights “three key messages for every American about climate change:

  • Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.
  • We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.
  • The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.”

Report co-chair James McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University, said in a statement that the report “is intended to state very clearly the exceptionally strong evidence that Earth’s climate is changing, and that future climate change can seriously impact natural and societal systems.”

McCarthy, a past AAAS president, said that even among people understanding the climate science evidence and the causes behind warming, “some do not know the degree to which many climate scientists are concerned about the risks of possibly rapid and abrupt climate change — that’s something we are dedicated to discussing with multiple audiences, from business leaders and financial experts to decision makers in all walks of life.”

One day later, March 19, the White House website included information on a new “Climate Data Initiative,” describing it as “an ambitious new effort” involving government and private and philanthropic interests to help provide communities “information and tools they need to plan for current and future climate impacts.” (The timing is unlikely to have been coincidental.)

As a new part of the existing data.gov website, a new climate.data.gov site will bring together key data from several federal agencies, initially focusing on coastal flooding and sea-level rise. NOAA and NASA are to soon announce plans urging researchers and developers to offer planning tools and ways the public can research their own communities’ vulnerabilities to sea-level rise and floods.

The White House said it is working in the campaign with ESRI, the California-based mapping software company which produces widely used ArcGIS software, and with Google, which is donating a petabyte (1,000 terabytes) of cloud storage for climate data and also providing 50 million hours of “high-performance computing” on its Google Earth Engine platform. The White House statement says Google is challenging innovators worldwide to build a “high-resolution global terrain model to help communities build resilience to anticipated climate impacts in decades to come.”

The World Bank, according to the White House statement, will work in more than 20 countries to map millions of buildings and urban infrastructure as part of the effort.

Some early reports and analyses on the new information initiatives, while generally supportive, have raised questions about how and whether they might succeed in substantially combating public misunderstandings of climate and efforts by some to create doubt and contribute to resulting confusion and inaction.

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