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EGU2023 - Highlights from the last week of April

Posted on 28 April 2023 by BaerbelW

Note: this blog post was put together over the course of the week I spent in Vienna. In case of the Great Debates mentioned below, EGU plans to release the recordings sometime after the conference ends. Once they become available, I'll include links to the ones I watched live.

This year's General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) started on Monday April 24 both on premise in Vienna and online as a fully hybrid conference. As in previous years, I'm spending the whole week in Vienna, picking and chosing sessions I was interested in. This blog post will be an evolving compilation - a kind of personal diary - of the happenings from my perspective.

As this post is fairly large, you can jump to the different days, via these links (bolded days have been added already):

Monday - TuesdayWednesday - Thursday - Friday

I'll fill in sections as time allows during the week and after the conference.

Welcome to EGU23

The already published prolog blog post contains general explanations about the session formats as well as an outline of the presentations done by myself and John Mason on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Monday, April 24

EGU Today

Arriving at the Vienna International Center (VIC) on Monday morning shortly after 8a in the morning, I joined the „swarm“ of attendees making their way towards the entrance. Once there and after taking a quick tour around the center, I joined my first session for this year‘s conference:

EOS2.1 - Open session in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education

Convener: Elizabeth Petrie | Co-conveners: Michal Ben-Israel, Zoltán Erdös, Sarah Owen, Beth Pratt-Sitaula, Solmaz Mohadjer

From the abstract:

In this session we encourage contributions of general interest within the Higher Education community which are not covered by other sessions. The session is open to all areas involving the teaching of geoscience and related fields in higher education. Examples might include describing a new resource available to the community, presenting a solution to a teaching challenge, pros and cons of a new technique/technology, linking science content to societally relevant challenges/issues, developing critical thinking skills through the curriculum and effective strategies for online/remote instruction and/or hybrid/blended learning.

The session had two parts with 21 presentations all told. As sometimes happens during the first session at a large conference like the EGU‘s General Assembly, there were some technical glitches with the projector not quite coopeartive throughout the first part, but everybody was game and the session - while somewhat spilling into the break times - was able to conclude successfully. Unfortunately, I couldn‘t grab any images from the wide-ranging presentations because most of them didn‘t include a clear indicator that this was encouraged - and the default assumption is that taking pictures is not allowed.

EGU23 - Entrance Level

After the lunch break, I joined one of the Great Debates: GDB5 - Is social media outreach? 

Speakers for this session - convened by Jenny Turton, Simon Clark and Nazimul Islam - were Dr Bethan Duavies (Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Newcastle University), Dr Solmaz Mohadjer (Interdisciplinary Geoscientist, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems) and Prof Stuart Lane (Professor in Geomorphology, University of Lausanne).

From the abstract:

Is social media a worthwhile vector for communicating science and reaching non-expert audiences? Proponents of social media highlight its ability for bringing otherwise inaccessible research to a global network, spreading research to new audiences whilst cultivating a following. The public can be updated with discoveries in real-time, without the potentially modifying lens of traditional media. And with content under the control of individuals or small groups communicators can flex and nurture their creativity. But communicating through social media often requires sacrificing nuance and accuracy for the extremely short time-frames of attention and engagement. Critics also state that it requires a considerable time-investment and money, which may otherwise distract from core research activities. Amongst this is also the fear that social media exposes communicators to the possibility of derision and hateful conduct. In this Great Debate, our panellists will be asking if effective communication on social media is possible or whether scientists are better investing their efforts elsewhere.

The speakers were first invited to give their initial statements followed by a podium discussion moderated by Jenny Turton and finally opened up to questions from the audience, both on-premise and on Zoom. The discussion was fairly far-reaching, including examples about reaching people with regards to earthquake hazards or how to tackle climate discussions on Twitter and elsewhwere on social media.


After a short (coffee) break the next session drew a much larger crowd - not really surprising given its title: GDB2 - As climate change impacts accelerate, are we sleepwalking into the inferno…? 

Convener: Nick Everard | Co-conveners: Hayley Fowler, Rolf Hut

From the abstract:

The sheer number and ferocity of extreme weather events causing major impacts in recent years have shocked and surprised many, including those working in the earth science community. We are seeing temperature records smashed by large margins, unprecedented wildfires, and floods with huge destructive power and massive impacts.

Despite widespread media coverage of these devastating events, policy and public opinion still lag a long way behind what is required to address the climate crisis effectively and rapidly.

This Great Debate asks why this might be the case, and critically examines the role of the earth science community in driving public opinion and policy making. It will examine the messaging, the tone and the science that shapes how climate change is presented to the public and policymakers, and look at how our community can help to drive climate action before it is too late.

This Great Debate followed the same format as GDB5, so the following speakers were first invited to give short introductory statements: Dr. Philippe Tulkens (Head of Unit, European Commission, DG Research & Innovation, Healthy Planet Directorate – Climate and Planetary Boundaries Unit), Prof. Ed Hawkins (Climate scientist, National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading and Creator of the Warming Stripes), Dr. Noel Baker (Project Manager at the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Climate Scientist, and Activist), Prof. Dr. Maartin van Aalst (Director-General and Chief Science Officer of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute), Dr. Elena López Gunn (Founder and Director of ICATALIST).

Afterwards, the panelists discussed the topics in more details amongst themselves, touching on the effectiveness of Ed Hawkins‘ Climate Stripes as a communication opener, but also about economists not overly interested in working on IPCC-reports or whether or not the climate crisis can actually be tackled within capitalism. An answer to the last one was, that we just won‘t have time to come up with another economics system in the time we have available. What we however can and should do, is to make the mechanics of the capitalist system work in favor of climate mitigation via pricing in externalities and getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies. Our political systems are also too much geared towards short election cycles. Ed Hawkins pointed out the we should perhaps stress the negatives (what we are supposedly losing) a lot less but instead stress the positives like cleaner air we‘ll get from meaningful climate mitigation. 

For audience questions, the challenge was to keep them to 20 seconds max in order to give as many people as possible a chance to ask one. Here are a few of them (paraphrased and somewhat shortened):

Q: "Are we doing climate communications right or are there better ways?"
A: We have the means to do it faster, to communicate as simple as possible and leverage existing communications networks.

Q: "Who is the "we" in the title of the session?“
A: "We" means "humanity". Regardless of who is listening, we are all in this together. If "we" are not acting, than "we" is everybody. The Paris agreement has this as wel: there is a global responsibility.

Q: "Should there be more activity to reach older people as they often lean conservative and hold most of the resources?"
A: We can all make a difference, regardless of the generation we belong to.

Q: "Should scientists get invovled with activism?"
A: Yes, if they have the time and energy to do so. But some might also need or prefer to stick with "doing science".

Q: "Could there be sessions for people from outside science to get them to participate in conferences like EGU?"
A: We should mix more with other groups and EGU already has many policy-relevant sessions.

Q: "Should people from other groups like insurance be included in conferences?"
A: Instead of expecting these groups to come to conferences like the EGU meeting, scientists should also go to them and meet them where they are.

Q: "How to deal with people who don't want windmills in their backyards?"
A: Involve people in the decision making in the form of assemblies and (informal) contracts.

A sample of final words from the panelists: "Thanks for being here, thanks for caring." / "Don‘t try to shoulder everything on your own." / "We need more and bigger action." / "We need to be even louder through all these communciations channels." / "Keep communicating, give space and encourage those who want to go out and do the more activist work." / "Help in whichever way you can and what makes you comfortable." / "Turn science into action!". / "Everybody is part of the solution." / "Keep doing what we doing - and do more."

This session really was worth to be called a „Great Debate“ and it made for a thought-provoking end of Day 1 of EGU23 for me.

Tuesday, April 25

EGU Today

Tuesday started with an almost clear blue sky, so looked decidely nicer - even if cold - than the previous evening. Arriving at the Vienna International Center shortly after 8 in the morning, I headed straight up the stairs to room N1 in which session EOS1.1 - Science and Society: Science Communication Practice, Research, and Reflection was scheduled to start at 8:30am. As an aside and in case you are interested in the "general lay of the land" in the meeting center, check out this map showing the different levels and where each room is located (click for a larger image):

Floor plan

This all-day long session was convened by Solmaz Mohadjer with co-conveners Francesco Avanzi, Roberta Bellini, Roberta Wilkinson, and Usha Harris.

From the abstract:

Science communication includes the efforts of natural, physical and social scientists, communications professionals, and teams that communicate the process and values of science and scientific findings to non-specialist audiences outside of formal educational settings. The goals of science communication can include enhanced dialogue, understanding, awareness, enthusiasm, improving decision making, or influencing behaviors. Channels can include in-person interaction, online, social media, mass media, or other methods.

This session had lots of submissions and the conveners had divided them into three orals, roughly by topics as well as posters. I joined the first oral part to get an idea of how the session would be run in order to know this for my own presentation in the 3rd block later in the day. The presentations covered a lot of ground and one abstract was especially of interest to John Mason (who had joined virtually via Zoom) and myself as we could see some immediate collaboration possibility between and Skeptical Science: EGU23-10129 - Ongoing experiences in establishing and maintaining a grass-roots science outreach initiative; the graphics repository  presented by Grace E. Shepard and co-authored by Fabio Crameri, and Eivind O. Straume.


The last presentation in this 1st part of the session was actually a treat: the Katia and Maurice Krafft Award Lecture From Dissemination to Participation – A Creative Approach to Geoscience Communication by Sam Illingworth.

From the abstract:

Science communication exists on a spectrum: from dissemination to dialogue. While participation is likely to be the most effective way of helping to truly diversify science, there is still a need for geoscience communication initiatives that exist across this spectrum. In this Katia and Maurice Krafft Award lecture I will present an overview of my research into using poetry and games as facilitatory media to help disseminate knowledge, develop dialogue between scientists and non-scientists, and engender participation amongst diverse publics, including those audiences that have previously been marginalised by the geosciences.

By presenting a series of case studies, published works, and works in progress, I aim to demonstrate how this creative approach can help to address a lack of diversity in the geosciences. This lack of diversity should be paramount to anyone who is involved in either the geosciences or geoscience communication, not only because it is ethically the ‘right thing’ to do, but because ultimately greater diversity results in better science.

In addition to my own research, I will also explore how the work that we are doing with the EGU journal Geoscience Communication is supporting others in developing innovative and effective research and practice in this space, and how this in turn is helping to provide greater recognition for science communication in the geosciences.

Sam Illingworth's presentation contained lots of food for thought as he not just turns scientific research into poems but also helps create games which hopefully will help people to better grasp sometimes abstract issues like climate change.

I skipped the 2nd part of EOS1.1 to join the Greate Debate GDB3 - The Science activist: should science get Political? which promised to be just as interesting as GDB2 on Monday, given that Prof. Katharine Hayhoe was among the speakers (who, btw, joined virtually at 3:30am her time in Texas!). Given how much was discussed in this session in the packed E1 hall it would require its own and separate write-up to do it justice. Instead, I'll link to the video once that is made available on the EGU Youtube channel sometime after the conferences ends. So, please be patient! As a teaser, here is one of Katharine Hayhoe's slides, summarizing the issue neatly:

GDB3 - Hayhoe slide

In case it's too small to read the slide, here is the text:

As philosopher David Hume first articulated so clearly,

  • Science can explain what the current state of the world is
  • Policy states what we ought to do about it
  • The logical gap between "is" and "ought" can't be bridged without a priori values
  • So no matter how much date we have, values still stand in the way of effective policy making

After a short break which I used to finish and post Monday's write-up (see above), I rejoined EOS1.1 where I was on the list as the 2nd speaker to talk about our recently launched Rebuttal Update Project, which made for a good example of trying to improve how we debunk climate myths. I have to admit, that I don't much like having to talk "against a countdown" even if I know that I should be able to stay within the alloted 8 minutes! The presentation - co-authored by John Mason - is available here and you can read the abstract on the EGU website.

There were several other interesting presentations in this session, like Karsten Haustein with Are we past the point where it is acceptable to err on the side of least drama? or David A. Stainforth with A proposal for engaging amateur scientists in climate forecasting to name just two of them. This 3rd part of EOS1.1 ended like the first, namely with an award lecture, in this instance the Angela Croome Award Lecture titled From carbon copy paper to AI: 36 years as a reporter for the BBC and presented by awardee (is that a word?) Jonathan Charles David Amos from BBC News. This was another inspiring talk and it sparked quite a few questions afterwards so tha the session was running way over the alloted time - but nobody really seemed to mind much!

As an evening session between 7 and 8pm, David Crookall had organized a townhall meeting for which he had "roped me in" as co-convener: TM14 - Climate change communication: What policy, education, research, geoethics and action are realistic?

From the abstract:

The state of the planet, especially climate and ocean, is moving towards catastrophe almost by the day. Just two, from among many 2022 quotes illustrate the enormity of the problem.

  • "Our world is suffering from the impact of unprecedented emergencies caused by the climate crisis, pollution, desertification and biodiversity loss." UN Secr-General, Guterres.
  • "Multiple climate tipping points could be triggered if global temperature rises beyond 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This will be disastrous for people across the world." & Rockström.

This town hall meeting provides a panel for speakers and participants to discuss these quotes. The aim will be to move forward in our climate change and ocean realism, even if it is tentative. The aim is to develop some kind of consensus on the idea; still expressed by some, that it is still possible – realistically – to move the needle back. If not, then what?

TM14 intro

David Crookall started the session with a short presentation to set the stage and then each of the panelists was invited to give a short statement related to their work and the townhall's  topic. Panelists included

  • Chloe Hill - Policy, European Geosciences Union, Bavaria
  • Dean Page - ECS, Human Geography, Climate-Smart and Transboundary MSP, Hull
  • Giuseppe Di Capua - Istituto Nazionale Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Rome, International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG) & International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS))
  • Kateryna Terletska - Ukraine National Academy of Science, Kiev
  • Noel Baker - Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB), Brussels
  • Odin Marc - Environment, National Centre for Scientific Research, Toulouse

In addition Svitlana Krakovska (National Antarctic Scientific Center, Kiev, & Applied Climatology Laboratory, Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute, Kiev) sent a short video statement as she unfortunately couldn't make it to Vienna which panelists and attendees watched with great interest.


Guiseppe di Capua opened the round of statements with an analogy that climate scientists trying to get through to politicians can be compared to machinists (IIRC) on a sinking ship trying to make the captain aware of a critical issue but he doesn't want to know about it. Noel Baker pointed out that while scientists are good at sharing information about their field of expertise, they will need to do a better job of gearing the message towards the intended recipients. Kateryna Terletska explained that even though Ukraine is currently in a war, they are already working on a new curriculum for students which will specifically include climate education. Odin Marc made the point that communication needs to go directly to policy makers and that people need to be aware of the "merchants of doubt".

Audience members had been given index cards when they came into the room, so that they could jot down short questions for the panelists which I then tried to somewhat sort into topics and posed to the panelists after their initial statements. Questions ranged from who to concentrate on - politicians or the public, what scientists should do regarding misinformation and how to deal with people who fear that climate policies make life more expensive for them (to name just some of the questions discussed). The alloted hour for this town hall meeting flew past and came to a close with short final comments from the panelists at 8pm.

And with that, my most likely longest day at EGU23 came to an end and I could make the short train ride back to the hotel!

Wednesday April 26

EGU Today

Not having picked a session starting at 8:30am on Wednesday morning, I took things more slowly but was at the convention center just as sessions started nonetheless. Most tables scattered around in the hallway were empty, so I picked a quiet spot and finished up the drafted write-up for Tuesday's happenings. Once that was "in the can" I got a quick bite to eat and then headed down to the basement level to find PICO Spot 3a where session EOS1.3 - Games for Geosciences was scheduled to start at 10:45am.

PICO Spot 3a

From the abstract:

Games have the power to ignite imaginations and place you in someone else’s shoes or situation, often forcing you into making decisions from perspectives other than your own. This makes them powerful tools for communication, through use in outreach, disseminating research, in education and teaching at all levels, and as a method to train the public, practitioners and decision makers in order to build environmental resilience.

Games can also inspire innovative and fun approaches to learning. Gamification and game-based approaches add an extra spark of engagement and interaction with a topic. Gaming technology (e.g. virtual reality) can transport and immerse people into new worlds providing fascinating and otherwise impossible experiences for learners.

In this session we welcome contributions from anyone who has used games, gaming technology, and/or game-based approaches in their research, their teaching, or public engagement activities.

Rolf Hut chaired the session which had been convened by Christopher Skinner with Elizabeth Lewis, Lisa Gallagher, Maria Elena Orduna Alegria as co-conveners. PICO-sessions are fun and start off with the 2-minute-madness where authors have exactly 2 minutes to pitch their abstract and to pique attendees' interest. Once the pitches are done, authors move to their assigned touchscreens where they can go into much greater details with an interactive presentation. There were both on-premise and virtual pitches, covering theoretical aspects of serious games as well as games like "Save the glaciers! An educational escape kit" or "QUARTETnary - The card game about the geological time scale" or "Dirty Matters: The Soil Game". And I had the pleasure to pitch Cranky Uncle - a critical thinking game to build resilience against climate misinformation in multiple languages! What was already a good sign during my 2-minutes elevator pitch, was that attendees laughed at the right moments and seemed to enjoy the cranky cartoons. You can download the detailed presentation here. My pitch was the 2nd to last one, so shortly afterwards we all moved to our screens and much to my delight a fairly large group had already formed next to screen 3a.12 and I spent the next hour talking with people about the Cranky game. Chris Skinner published a nice summary of the session here.

PICOSpot3a (Rolf Hut)

Image: Rolf Hut

After a quick lunch-break I went to room 0.15 near the center's entrance on the ground floor where session EOS2.3 - Climate and ocean education: Geoethics, emergency, fossil fuels, war and more started at 2pm. This session was convened by David Crookall and chaired by Dean Page, Guiseppe di Capua and myself. Svitlana Krakovska was another co-convener but unfortunately couldn't make it to Vienna this year. To begin with, I didn't really know what if any role I'd have as one of the chairs, so I offered to keep an eye on the time each speaker had. In order to do that, I had to sit in front which also meant that I was close to one of the microphones and this - not too surprisingly! - lead to me introducing each speaker and their abstract. What's the saying? "There's a first for everything!".

EOS2.3 Abstract

Please image or here for a larger - and readable! - version

The session had an oral and a poster part, both with virtual participation. We started with 2 virtual presentations - A journey to a cold seep: a paired teaching video lesson on how scientists study methane in the Arctic Ocean and Communicating the need for better understanding of the military’s contribution to climate change and action to be taken followed by a recording of Mapping Our Technosphere: what questions make it (and our biosphere) more sustainable?.

Next came three on-premise presentation where Fossil war impact on atmosphere air, terrestrial ecosystems, and climate: involvement of master’s degree and post-graduate students in Ukrainian Polissia case study left the deepest impression for me and many others because of it's immediacy. The other two were Fostering the next generation of Arctic scientists, from five to 35 and Activism as a tool for education and societal outreach: legitimacy, efficiency and complementarity with classic science communication.

To round out the orals we had Innovative tools to narrate the importance of climate literacy, Getting to impact at scale: A dynamic analysis to guide propagation of educational innovations in climate change and last but not least “Seas & Oceans”:  An interactive, immersive science-art exhibition for communicating science and educating the public.

After the coffee break it was time for the poster part of the session for which I had offered to "chair" - i.e. moderate - the virtual part in I was really happy that I had spent some time on Tuesday to get at least the basic navigation right and that I had already defined my avatar in this video game like online environment! So, I headed to the virtual poster hall for EOS sessions to see if any of the authors had already made it there via their own avatars. It took a couple of minutes to find them and to direct them to where we were supposed to meet, but eventually they all made it! This is how a virtual poster session looks like when nobody shares their screen:

Virtual Posters

The first two posters - The Making of Ynyslas: weaving hard scientific evidence into an understandable narrative (open PDF) and The Making of Ynyslas: communicating change through the visual impact of a drowned landscape  (open PDF) were presented by John Mason and we already included detailed descriptions in the preview blog post. The other posters were How marine insurance causes damage with insurers aiding and abetting it!, Time to recognize the geoscience disclosure as the tool to face climate change impacts: can we care about something that we do not know? and The European Teach-In On Climate And Justice, March 2023. This was an interesting way to include posters virtually in a hybrid conference and worked rather well, once all attendees had come to grips with how the platform worked.

And with this, day 3 of EGU 2023 came to a close for me.

Thursday April 27

EGU Today

On Thursday I headed to the convention center early as I'd a hunch that the short course I was interested in might fill the room fairly quickly. When I arrived the room was still empty and I settled in ahead of time for SC3.12 - Beyond SciComm 101: what is meaningful & ethical communication when it comes to the climate crisis?

SC3.12 Beyond SciComm

From the abstract:

How can scientists and governments ensure that their communication resonates more deeply with citizens without resorting to the manipulative tactics used by those who seek to undermine liberal democracy? How can scientific and government actors ensure their communications are equally meaningful and ethical?

This Short Course will combine insights from state-of-the-art scientific knowledge, novel empirical research on values-targeted communication strategies, and a deep understanding of practitioners’ and citizens’ attitudes on these topics. Examples from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre will be used to share practical guidance for scientists who need to successfully navigate the policy world.

This short course was chaired by Laura Smilie and Mario Scharfbillig of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. They help prepare policy proposals — often an arduous process. Here are key points (I‘ll add links to material when publicly available):

  • Most people - 80 to 100 % - think that their countries should tackle climate change yet don't necessarily pick the most impactful measures. There's an increase in the number of people who avoid news for various reasons as well as a shift from traditional news media (TV, radio, newspapers) to online venues.

The online world is cognitively unique because:

  • our behaviour is changed by online media - it is identity driven, with in-groups and out-groups
  • people are driven by negative news, getting highest numbers of eyeballs, getting shares and likes
  • it's an attention economy based on a choice architecture and algorithmic content creation and often ripe with mis- and disinformation

Policymaking with convictions - myside biases

  • own values and views from people's social groups automatically cloud own views and beliefs
  • myside bias is not mitigated by intelligence, political sophistication or the tendency to displace actively open-minded thinking
  • myside bias is a central challenge to evidence-informed policymaking

The case of personal values

  • Blend of biological and individual histories
  • Individually stable, mostly determined in early life
  • Priority over diverse values matters
  • Seen as positive, people like their values
  • More diverse within than between countries (under discussion)

Exceptional features of the climate crisis

  • Time is running out
  • Those seeking to end the problem are also causing it
  • No central authority
  • Policies discount the future irrationally
  • Question: is individual non-action paired with calls for more actions by others a contradiction?

Communication in an adversarial environment (Lewandowsky 2021)

  • Acknowledge emotional nuances but avoid focusing on fear
  • Affirm science through culturally appropriate message and by highlighting scientific consensus
  • Counter mis- and disinformation by innoculation or well-designed debunking
  • Focus on policies rather than attitudes

14 strategies to increase / repair trust in environmental policies (Cvitanovic et al. 2021)

  1. Increase process transparency
  2. Do not advocate for a specific outcome
  3. Have regular outputs
  4. Be able to demonstrate independence
  5. Acknowledge risks and / or limitations
  6. Ensure data quality control
  7. Have advice independently reviewed
  8. Do not defend advice
  9. Allow time for trust to form
  10. Ensure those generating advice have expertise
  11. Listen to stakeholders and accept feedback
  12. Communicate organisational success
  13. Provide the advice that was requested
  14. Be mindful of local politics and political sensitivities

Due to several questions from attendees, not all slides of the presentation were shown, but I noticed three slides with quite familiar images flash by while fast forwarding to the last slide: The Debunking HandbookThe Conspiracy Theory Handbook and the Cranky Uncle game! It's reassuring to see - even if briefly - that these offerings are getting used by organizations like the EU Commission!


After the coffee break Laura Smilie and Mario Scharfbillig offered a "Drop in clinic" to discuss these topics in more details. A few of the attendees - me included - took them up on the offer and we relocated to another conference room for about 90 minutes.

After the lunch break, I went to Great Debate GDB1 - The thrills and dangers of extending human impact beyond our planetary boundaries

From the abstract:

Space exploration has enabled humanity to unlock and discover amazing things about the Earth we inhabit. It has pushed our scientific boundaries and transformed the way in which we communicate, navigate, predict the weather, monitor climate, and investigate the rest of the Solar System and the Universe. With humanity’s ever growing greenhouse gas emissions and resource exploitation driving us closer to tipping points that threaten our existence, could it also be a solution to our planetary boundaries? Could we reduce our impact on Earth by exploiting the resources and energy sources of other planets? Or is extending humanity’s exploitation to nearby planets an unethical option that will cause more problems than it solves?

This Great Debate will outline the benefits and opportunities that we may be able to achieve through space exploration while debating the ethical dilemmas and potential risks that it comes with. It will discuss the impacts of private investment into space exploration and the potential for its regulation. Not only is this an ethical issue, but unregulated access to space exploration and a surge in activity has the potential to result in collisions and space debris that, could in an extreme circumstance, limit our access to space in the future. The panelists will also debate if humanity can ethically exploit the resources on other planets and objects in space and how we can limit our impact beyond our planetary boundaries.

The following panellists were involved with this great debate:

  • Dr Alfredo Carpineti: Astrophysicist and Science Journalist
  • Dr Michaela Musilova: Astrobiologist and Analog Astronaut
  • Dr Anna Maria Trofaier: Cryosphere Scientist, European Space Agency
  • Dr Andrew Williams: External Relations, Executive Office of the Director General, European Southern Observatory

The session was moderated by Jonathan Bamber, Professor at the University of Bristol and Guest Professor at the Technical University of Munich.

The panelists talked about ethical questions related to outer space missions like planned landings on the Moon or on Mars but also practial issues like what to do with all the waste in the form of disbanded satellites orbiting Earth. Current rules and regulations are not enforced and nobody knows how well - or not - private companies will adhere to them. As an example, once completely launched Musk's Starlink project will account for 5 out of 6 satellites orbiting Earth! Given how "well" (or not!) the "Polluter pays" principle works in the case of fossil fuels pollution, it's rather unlikely that it'll work any better when applied to outer space - unless enforcable mechanisms and rules are in place and players are held accountable for whatever mishaps they cause.

While somewhat interesting, this session wasn't related very closely to climate science communciations, so I didn't take many notes.

To round off the day I went down to level -2 and Hall X2 to the poster part of session EOS4.1 - Geoethics: Geoscience Implications for Professional Communities, Society, and Environment.

From the abstract:

Geoscience expertise is essential for the functioning of modern societies, to address many of the most urgent global problems, inform decision-making, and guide education at all levels, by equipping citizens to discuss, shape and implement solutions to local, regional and global social-environmental problems. In recent years, geoscientists have become more and more aware of ethical responsibilities to put their knowledge at the service of society, foster public trust in geosciences, and reflect on the environmental footprint of research practices. Geoethics aims to provide a common framework for orienting geoscientists’ concerns on delicate issues related geoscience-society interaction and to nourish a discussion on the fundamental principles and values which underpin appropriate behaviors and practices, wherever human activities interact with the Earth system.

The displayed posters tackled various aspects of Geoethics which is explained in great detail on the related website of the International Association for Promoting Geoethics. I spent some time at David Crookall's and Pimnutcha Promduangsri's Geoethics values clarification: A playable poster which proved a bit of a challenge for me as they task viewers to pick and rank geoethical principles and underlying values and to then give their picks "some thoughts". You can check it out yourself here. Based on the number of people milling around and engaging with the poster, it seemed to be quite popular.

Poster Session

 This concluded day #4 at EGU 2023 for me.

Friday April 28

EGU Today

It‘s always quite amazing, how quickly time flies when at a conference like the EGU's annual meeting! So here is my account for Friday, the 5th and therefore last day of this year‘s General Assembly!

I started the day with short course SC3.18 - Non-academic stakeholders and sectors: who are they, why should we care and how do we engage with them? as that looked quite applicable to the work we do here at Skeptical Science. 

From the abstract:

Research institutes, universities, and academic societies are key agents of economic and social progress. The research that they undertake should inform critical decisions leading to the advancement of society and the solution to local and global issues, such as the usage of natural resources, resilience to geohazard impacts, climate change mitigation actions, and other societal challenges that shape our future. Knowing how to generate effective and efficient interactions with stakeholders is also essential for career advancement; it helps promote the research by increasing its impact and is now demanded by most funding agencies. However, science is often created and shared in silos, limiting research impact and potential societal progress. Breaking down these silos requires more than just expanding our academic network and working across disciplines. It requires us –as scientists and as a scientific community– to engage more with other sectors and stakeholders. But where do we start?

Speakers in this short course were:

  • Jenny Turton, Arctic Frontiers, Norway
  • Glen Burridge, European Federation of Geologists, Belgium
  • Munira Raji
  • Marco Masia, University of Vienna, Austria

The short course started with remarks and presentations from the speakers with convener Jenny Turton providing an introduction to set the stage with a slide showing the various stakeholders for science & research:


Why should scientists engage with these stakeholder?

  • They are directly impacted by your research - it is your duty to engage e.g. via science outreach and communication
  • Development of ideas and science progression
  • Science that makes a difference, e.g. via policy involvements or start-ups

How to meet and approach stakeholders?

  • At conferences - EGU has exhibtors, policy working groups, journalists
  • Research councils sometimes have calls to fund projects in collaboration with businesses
  • Science-Policy Pairing schemes
  • Non-academic scientists
  • Experts in short courses like this one!

Next, Glenn Burridge made some very interesting points about different groups of stakeholders and what they want as „customers“ of geoscientis:

  • Engineers - want to build something specific and for example need to know the ground conditions and if they are viable for what gets build
  • Investors - might be inclined to provide funds but want a viable project, financially,  socially and environmentally. It should also be sustainable in the longer run
  • Communities - have a voice in what you are doing. They want to know what brings benefits to their lives and reduces their risk to a minimum.
  • Media - prepared to translate your message but want to know what scientists are talking about
  • Policymakers - they have a job to do and want topics with positive impact for (European) society, they want wise counsel and a vision
  • And they all want assurance about risks!

 He also had a very good list of recommendations:

Non Academic Stakeholders

  • Get into the mind of your stakeholders…
    • What do they need to do their jobs?
    • To make a decision => create options, identify values, weigh uncertanty
  • Craft your messaging accordingly….
    • Highlight how you can uniquely help them through your solutions. Create a pathway.
    • Make efforts to speak their language and see world through their eyes
  • Capitalise on the most engaging mechanisms available….
    • What‘s newsworthy / vital / familiar/ awe-inspriing!
    • Create emotion, think like a marketer. Use cool visuals, create wonder, tell a story!
  • Where possible, work in coalitions…
    • Creates gravitas, spreads efforts and creates opportunity for greater collective impact
    • Capitalise on wisdom of diversity to strengthen message and appeal

Next, Munira Raji talked about why and how to engage with scientific stakeholders:

  • Why will your research benefit from the engagement with targeted stakeholders?
  • Define the prupose of your engagement and why your are engaging with them
  • Why will these stakeholders benefit or be influenced by your research?
  • Research impact is an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life.

Non Academic Stakeholders

Marco Masia briefly talked about the role of scientists in society:

  • They can have a very positive effect
  • See society as a network with nodes which are connected to periphery. What happens in one node has impacts on the rest of the network (with different levels of impact, depending on how relevant the node is)
  • Establishing connections from science to other communities
  • Personal level „why“ to engage - you want to give back to society, you do it for money

Several questions were raised by attendees of the session, here are two of them:

Is there a directory of stakeholders?

  • No, unfortunately not!
  • Attending workshops might be an option
  • Can be a laborious process to create.
  • Try becoming a node to connect people
  • Map out groups, identify the important nodes
  • it’s a bit like a dating exercise, develop trust with people you already know, 2nd order links - the friend of a friend - often work best, good faith activities, trust

How to balance slowly building trust with the need for quick action?

  • Find the node most likely having the most impact
  • See who the influencers are and become useful for them
  • Not everybody has to do everything, pick and chose according to your own preferences
  • We need to help and support each other and that includes institutional support for these kind of activities

This for sure was a very valuable short course to attend!

Next I went to EOS1.4 - Science communication and citizen science to increase risk perception and awareness but as the orals presented in that session were not too closely related to my main focus I only listened with half an ear and actually used the time to get a head-start on today‘s write-up!

After a quick lunch - courtesy of the press center (as a science blooger I had media accredation for the conference in addition to my regular registration) - I went to my only science-related session of the week: CL3.2.1 - Towards a net-zero world: remaining carbon budgets, mitigation pathways and implications for policy.  

From the abstract:

Remaining carbon budgets specify the maximum amount of CO2 that may be emitted while stabilizing warming at a particular level (such as the 1.5°C or 2.0°C target), and are thus of high interest to the public and policymakers. Estimates of the remaining carbon budget come with associated uncertainties, which increase in relative terms as more ambitious targets are being considered, or as emission reductions continue to be delayed. As a result, practical implementation of remaining carbon budgets is challenging.

This session aims to further our understanding of the climate response under various emission scenarios that aim to inform the goals of the Paris Agreement, with particular interest in emission pathways entailing net-zero targets. We invite contributions that use a variety of tools, including fully coupled Earth System Models (ESMs), Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), or simple climate model emulators, that advance our knowledge of remaining carbon budgets, net-zero targets, and policy implications. 

I have to admit that most of the presentations about carbon budgets, emission scenarios, achieving net-zero, TCRE, ZEC, CMIP7 and what-not flew straight over my head! That at least one speaker seemed to think that this was a speed-talking competition didn't really help! The main reason for joining this particular session was Stefan Rahmstorf's contribution Assessing ExxonMobil’s global warming projections which had been planned as an on-premise talk. Unfortunately, he already had to leave Vienna in the morning, and because of that joined virtually via Zoom (good thing that the conference is now fully hybrid!).

Stefan Rahmstorf - Exxon Knew

In his talk, Stefan Rahmstorf summarized the paper he had published together with Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes in January 2023 (Supran et al. 2023) showing that most of the projections by Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists between 1977 and 2003 accurately forecast warming consistent with subsequent observations. Their projections were also consistent with, and at least as skillful as, those of independent academic and government models. When the paper came out in January, Geoffrey Supran explained their findings in a Twitter thread which we republished in a blog post: New paper: Assessing ExxonMobil’s global warming projections. You can see most of the slides from today's presentation in that blog post.

This was one of the very last sessions of EGU23 and numbers of attendees in the room had already dwindeled throughout the afternoon as people needed to leave for their trip home. I stayed until the "very end" as I won't be heading back until Sunday.

Final thoughts

As in previous years, I enjoyed participating in the EGU's General Assembly a lot. I made new connections, "ran into" people accidentally - namely Stefan Rahmstorf and Peter Doran - and briefly met "Hoskibui" who some may remember from his contributions to Skeptical Science, especially his translations into Icelandic. On several occasions, I got nice remarks about what we do here on Skeptical Science and I could make others aware of our website and offerings. Quite a few people already knew about and liked Cranky Uncle (anybody surprised?), while others will have heard about him for the first - but hopefully - not the last time. Bottom line for me is that I'm already looking forward to next year's EGU meeting, although I'll then most likely participate virtually from April 14 to 19. And with that, it's a wrap!

See you next year!

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Comments 1 to 3:

  1. My take on Friday so far: Baerbel has already covered sessions where we were both present above.

    I particularly enjoyed CL1.1.4: Deep-time climate change: insights from models and proxies. This session provided a wide-ranging series of palaeoclimate studies looking at various parts of and the whole Earth at key points in the past such as the Permo-Triassic transition, the K-T extinction and the early Cenozoic hyperthermals.

    Some topics were more familiar than others, for example looking at the selective nature of the K-T extinction interval in the oceans: the post-impact 'winter' actually had a positive effect on e.g. siliceous diatom productivity whereas the Deccan Traps large Igneous Province was mostly negative in that instance. Calcareous planktom however suffered greatly. The most though-provoking presentation, "Resilience and implications of an Antarctic monsoon during the Eocene", was something I had not looked at before. It appeasrs there were local ice-sheets even then, but unlike today the continent's periphery supported dense forest.

    It's refreshing to be with so many people to whom the key principles of climate forcings are no longer argued over but instead it's the increaingly minute details of past climates that are under investigation and being presented.

    One word on presentations: it's a pity that presentation skills are not taught at final year undergraduate level. I've seen talks varying from absolutely outstanding to hard-to-follow this week. The cause of the difficulty variably includes talking at breakneck speed about highly complex topics, large blocks of text in slides too long to read for their display-time and using too small a font size to even screengrab effectively. Some, by no means all people need to learn how to communicate findings more clearly (the EGU Guidelines are quite specific in this respect) and in addition, every author had a Supplementary Material folder in which to upload a more detailed file. Attention to such points would have made an aleady enjoyable event even more so!

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  2. "it's a pity that presentation skills are not taught at final year undergraduate level"

    It's a pity that they aren't taught at the graduate level, too. I saw far too many professors with nearly zero teaching skills during my academic career, and far too many scientists at conferences and meetings with nearly zero presentation skills.

    To your excellent list, add graphs with too many lines, graphs shown and removed before you can even read the axes to find out what is being displayed (and no explanation from the presenter), colours of lines or symbols that are almost indistinguishable.

    ...and modern software that makes animations, lack of contrast, etc. as "features", wher in reality theywork against clarity.

    For web sites, its as if the features epitomized at buduglydesign represent some sort of ideal, rather than something to avoid.

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  3. Graphs where online attendees have to turn their head on one side in order to read axis captions on their screens....

    Stefan's talk this afternoon, covering "what Exxon knew" was a must-watch. Baerbel will likely have plenty to say about it!.

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