Framework for Communicating Climate Change and Our Responsibility to Take Action

This is the start of a helpful framework for demystifying our collective need to address climate change when interacting with the confused masses, skeptics, disbelievers, etc….. it is NRE509 and NRE510 applied to real debates going on around us. If you add to this or change it, please keep it simple so that the issue can be understood by even those with no prior knowledge.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT A BINARY YES/NO QUESTION —> It's a series of questions with corresponding certainties and associated risks

LEVEL 1 QUESTIONS - Issue Foundations

Are GHGs going up dramatically?

A: YES - very high degree of certainty

Can we demonstrate factors that influence the level of GHGs in our atmosphere?

A: YES - very high degree of certainty. Plant, land, and aqauatic carbon sequestration and release, as well as anthropogenic additions to atmospheric GHGs via industry.

Are GHG increases largely impacted by human actions and industry?

A: YES - very high degree of certainty

Will this trend continue to increase given current global development, industry, and lifestyles?

A: YES - high degree of likelihood (could be very high likelihood, though this ranking is simply meant to show that the future always carries uncertainty)

Would high levels of GHGs put us at risk over the long-term of positive feedback loops that can raise temperatures, melt glaciers, and create further pressures on ecosystems?

A: YES - high degree of likelihood, although the extent of ecological responses would be unknown until after they occur.

LEVEL 2 QUESTIONS - Uncertainties and Additional Human Impacts

Do we/can we firmly know where a firm tipping point exists that significantly increases permanent changes to the ecosystem balance on which we and other organisms depend?

A: NO - an exact point is a wild goose chase. One can only be found retrospectively (think of major past climate change events) because of the complex series of inputs and long-term ecological responses that are influencing factors

Can we estimate and run models on different scenarios given what conditions we know have occurred in the past, trends that have been occurring recently, and projections of international development?

A: YES - although we can't know exactly what will happen and we know models will encompass lots of uncertainties, so we must take care to openly consider and model the gull gamut of scientific perspectives

- Range of models should represent: 1) continued increases in GHGs, 2) GHG levels if they are held constant at today's levels, 3) decrease in GHG levels

- We must couple those models with showing what ongoing conditions/human inputs or changes to human inputs/societies/regulations/development could get us to the levels shown in the models —> acknowledge that while we can't be exact, we CAN demonstrate the SCALE of changes that would be needed and how to frame the corresponding socio-economic challenges.

Are anthropogenic inputs causing significant global ecosystem impacts outside of macro-atmospheric risk?

A: YES - clear scientific and anecdotal consensus supports this

- i.e. As atmospheric CO2 climbs, more CO2 enters oceans —> H2O + CO2 = H2CO3, an acid that has led to lowering the ocean's pH from 8.2 to 8.1
- i.e. Corrosive shells of marine life, 65 mya mass extinction due to oceanic acidification
- NOx and SOx from industrial revolution creating acid rain and smog
- N + P increases lead to runoff eutrophication in oceans and dead zone algal blooms
- Collapse of global fisheries
- Over-acidification of soil
- Localized overuse of water, degradation of water quality that does make it further downstream

- Interconnectedness of systems means damage or improvements on a single area affect other processes as well

LEVEL 3 QUESTION - How should we approach Climate Change given what we DO know?

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