In an effort to encourage education and discussion on climate change, the organizers of PolarPalooza San Diego held a media/scientist roundtable prior to the weekend events. This safespace encouraged open discussion and allowed journalists to ask the 'obvious' questions that are often wondered but rarely understood about climate change. It also allowed plenty of time for scientists to explain the long and short of what they are seeing on the poles. Below is the second half of the discussion. strong>Question: What are your thoughts/reactions to the climate change debate in mainstream media?
Dr. Donal Monahan - The ozone issue was well-handled by the media; they 'got it.' But there has been a very poor handling of the climate change issue, that is until Katrina. Post-Katrina, there has been a real recognition that not only is there a problem but there is a need to act on solutions.
Dr. Anandakrishnan - One problem in particular has been the issue of uncertainty. I there is one take-away point, it is the importance of explaining this to readers. For a scientist to say something has 90% certainty is like them saying 'yes, we know. It is happening, but we don't have data to say technically 100% so we can't, but technically it is 100% certain.' Having 90% certainty is wonderful and you won't get better than that, so don't discount the data just because the IPCC says its 90% certain instead of 100% certain.
A reporter from the San Diego Union Tribune brought up the flipside of the issue that reporters face. If there is no certainty then editors will ask if there is even a story, and a reporter is then caught in a catch-22. After today, the reporters understand better what 90% means and can better explain and manage the story.
Question 2: How much energy do we put into 'saving species' if we lose them all the time throughout the history of the planet?
Dr. Monahan - Well, it's different now because the rate of change in the planet is faster than the rate of evolution can handle. If things keep at this pace, we will be responsible for the next extinction. Dr. Monahan - this is the first time that we know we can change the geosystem, not just the ecosystem.
Dr. Lim - We're the first species to be ale to weigh moral responsibility and that's a really deep issue.
Question 3: If we take a doom and gloom stance on climate change, people will give up, so what do we do?
Dr. Nigella Hillgarth - People are interested in solutions and constructive answers. I am a Gore Climate Presenter, I took the training and when I give the power point presentation, I, and most of the presenters I have spoken with, spend most of our time talking about and answering questions about solutions.
Dr. Anandakrishnan - Species extinction is a separate issue from climate change. These are related but they are two different issues and I feel that species extinction is a much larger issue. We need a technological solution to the issue but a technological solution needs new science. It's just not there yet. We need new scientists.
Dr. Don Pettit - We need to encourage creative thought without castigating the people who come up with them. There needs to be a free exchange of ideas without castigating someone who comes up with something that may not be accepted at the time.
Question 4: How do you report on dissent? How do we show "both sides" of the issue?
A reporter from San Diego City Beat, said that he writes for an alternative paper, which does away with the idea of "balance" and just goes straight for the truth.
Andy Revkin, a reporter for the New York Times, and one of the panelists for PolarPalooza, said that a reporter must convey the context. A dissenter deserves a voice on say on an article for, Should a CO2 bill be passed, but not on an article on hurricane intensity. The dissenter does not have a role in that article and therefore it does away with the idea of making the article balanced.
Question 5: Is there a quantified number of scientists who are unsure about climate change any more?
Andy Revkin - On whether climate change exists, no, but on the effects of climate change there is a range in responses on how bad the situation will be. There is highest confidence in the long-term picture but the speed at which it will unfold is still unclear.
Dr. Lim - there will always be debate on the issue. Scientists are okay with that, in fact that is what science is about, the debate and search for truth on an issue. That is okay.
By the end of the roundtable, there were a few parting words on climate change and what we know. Its interesting to consider that you can't do a scientific controlled experiment on climate change. There is no "second" planet in which we can test what its like without CO2. We can't test multiple options to see which we like best. But the conservative response is to do something about climate change. We can't afford not to. What is the downside to cleaning up the planet and reducing our energy consumption? There isn't really one. We get less pollution, have more resources to go around, less dependence on foreign oil, less reason to go to war, healthier population. What's so wrong with that?
Amen, what is so wrong with peace, love and understanding? And with that we sign out from this issue of Polar Palooza. Friday night kicks off the big event with a media presentation from the scientists and film from their expeditions to both poles. If you're in San Diego and want to take part this weekend, more information can be found online at the PolarPalooza website.. And more information on climate change can be found at the UC San Diego Aquarium exhibit Feeling the Heat.