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Communicating climate change at the Maths of Planet Earth conference

Posted on 3 June 2013 by John Cook

2013 is the international year of Mathematics of Planet Earth. The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute is running a conference to explore and extol the role of maths and stats in understanding the challenges of our world in a fun and accessible way. That's right, maths is fun, you heard it here! The conference will be held in Melbourne, July 8 to 12, as academics and scientists converge for a week of lectures, sessions and networking.

I was honoured to be invited to speak at the event, where I'll be talking about The challenges of communicating the reality of climate change. Here's an abstract of my talk:

Communicating the reality of climate change is a deceptively difficult proposition. The average layperson thinks of climate as the weather they experience in their daily lives. Public surveys find people more accepting of global warming on hotter days but more sceptical on cold days. However, climate change is understood through the analysis of long-term trends and regional weather patterns. Climate is in essence weather averaged over time and space. Consequently, simple questions require complex, nuanced answers. Did global warming cause a specific flood? Individual extreme weather events are difficult to blame on climate change but the probability of such events increase with global warming. Converting abstract statistics into concrete concepts that laypeople can understand and relate to is crucial to communicating the realities of climate change.

They've just posted an interview with me on their website where we discuss what I'll be talking about at the conference. The interview was conducted by Stéphanie Pradier (who incidentally is currently in her 4th year of a physics degree, something we have in common). We also delve into a number of other interesting topics such as the biasing influence of political ideology, the essential ingredient of an effective debunking and the humble beginnings of Skeptical Science. Here's the video:

For more details about the conference, check out the Mathematics of Planet Earth website.

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Comments 1 to 3:

  1. John, this should be an interesting conference.  I will be giving a plenary talk on Thursday on "Modelling variations in extreme weather and climate events and understanding their causes". Unfortunately, I can't be at the conference when you give your keynote on Monday, but I hope to catch up with you on Thursday.

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    [John Cook] Look forward to meeting and your talk, David.

  2. For an interesting insight into energy usage and what it could mean for climate change the website 'Our Finite World' run by Gail Tverberg, a highly regarded actuary, is well worth a visit. Her most recent post Oil Limits and Climate Change is, as you might guess, particularly relevant to sks followers.

    Her take on energy supply indicates that soon we will not be able to maintain BAU simply because oil is becoming ever more difficult - and thus ever more expensive - to extract, to the point where it will be simply unaffordable for many. Unfortunately, this also means that we will not be able to feed the population as it now stands, let alone in the near future when it hits nine/ten billion. Gruesome as the thought is, it does mean that energy use will decline significantly and with it CO2 production. I suppose we should be glad, but I find little of cheer in the implications of same.

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  3. "average layperson thinks of climate as the weather" is the obvious one but I think it's well overdue to also explain that warming is heat, not just the temperature of a miniscule scrap of what's being heated (the bit they see). They'll (I mean most regular bods) easily understand this if you simply explain it clearly.  Air is, what, 0.09% of the ecosystem's heat ? and land .085% is it ?  Fresh water ~2.5% ? And the top 3% of the oceans is, by definition, 3%.

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