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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

How Can Cars Run on Hydrogen?

by March 31, 2012

needs_rank As part of this answer, we’ll need to explain the role of batteries and/or fuel cells. The answer infographic will detail different ways that fruit trees are pollinated. If you would like to see a high-quality infographic developed for this question, please share it with your network using the sharing icons above—these actions will increase the question’s priority. Please look at the example answers here. Also, if you would value a high-quality answer being available on the Web, please consider a small donation ($0.99) to support our research team.

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Why Does Sea Level Rise When the Planet Warms?

by March 26, 2012

If you would like to see a high-quality infographic developed for this question, please share it with your network using the sharing icons above—these actions will increase the question’s priority. Please look at the example answers here. Also, if you would value a high-quality answer being available on the Web, please consider a small donation ($0.99) to support our research team.

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What Is Ocean Acidification?

by March 26, 2012

ANSWER (CURRENTLY UNDER REVIEW): A gradual yet steady change of ocean chemistry marked by a decrease in pH that is caused by increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This answer is focused on changes to the ocean over recent decades. In addition to the infographic below, check out several videos on our YouTube channel that we produced through a video contest.
Q001 what is ocean acidification v0289

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How Do Greenhouse Gases Trap Heat in the Atmosphere?

by February 26, 2012

If you would like to see a high-quality infographic developed for this question, please share it with your network using the sharing icons above—these actions will increase the question’s priority. Please look at the example answers here. Also, if you would value a high-quality answer being available on the Web, please consider a small donation ($0.99) to support our research team.

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From Toilet to Treatment to Treatment to Tap in San Diego

by February 10, 2012

dog-drinking-from-toilet_sm2 My first reaction to hearing at the breakfast table about today’s piece in the NY Times about water reuse in San Diego was that it isn’t all that different from what we have been doing for years: discharging treated waste water into streams and rivers and then drawing out drinking water downstream, counting on bacterial decomposition, dilution, and other processes to treat further the discharged water. I was pleased to see that this point was discussed in the article.

Drinking water that recently was flushed down a neighbor’s drain is a tough concept, pardon the pun, to swallow. However, as the piece in the Times correctly points out, we are headed into times in which resources like water are likely to be scarcer. To my mind, this community is a shining example of people—who rightly had very strong feelings on an issue—being willing to accept what the science community had to offer. Jerry Sanders, the mayor of this San Diego community, put it this way: “If science is behind you and you can prove that, I think people are willing to listen.” Here, here!

Image in post from Climate Watch. Thumbnail image on home page from the NY Times article.

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Bringing the Global Carbon Cycle to Quora

by December 3, 2011

In a recent post about building a knowledge base for general consumption on the topic of ocean acidification, I suggested that it would be wise to step back and address questions-and-answers about the carbon cycle. This is a cross-posting of a post I just put up on Quora: The Carbon Cycle, Starting in.

And, the first question is also up on Quora: What are the compartments in which carbon is stored on Earth? Do you have the credentials to answer this, or do you know someone who does? Please help out—I believe it will be a rewarding way to bridge the gap between the science community and the rest of society. Also, keep in mind that “upvoting,” adding comments for the author, or suggesting edits,  as soon as there is one or more answers will be a really great way to participate.

For anyone new to Quora, I’d encourage you to take a look at a new infographic and video that helps explain how to have a winning strategy within the Quora community.

Any and all feedback is welcome!

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Making Decisions About Purchasing Alternative Vehicles

by November 28, 2011

In a recent post, I discussed Why Hybrid Cars Are Tough To Justify On Fuel Savings Alone and how Gallons per Mile (GPM) would be a better metric than Miles per Gallon (MPG) to use to compare vehicles. The gist of it is that we save a lot more fuel replacing a 15 MPG vehicle with one that gets 20 MPG compared to replacing a 30 MPG vehicle with one that gets 35 MPG. The GPM metric makes this intuitively obvious, whereas MPG does not.

A few weeks back when I dipped my cup into the Twitter river, which I need to do more often, I happened upon a press release from the U of Minnesota Extension having to do with a new spreadsheet tool designed by energy economist Doug Tiffany to help those considering an alternative vehicle purchase.

Tiffany’s tool allows the user to customize the data input, adjusting things like purchase price, down payments, expected cost of fuel, one’s personal opportunity cost (the cost to me for tying up cash for down payment and monthly car payments). The tool then produces several graphs, the first of which is a 15-year cumulative cost projection comparing several vehicle types. For the graph below, I used the default values in the tool, which can be downloaded here.

cumulative-cost-curves

So, what this means, is that for the input parameters, the 15-year cumulative cost of ownership of the extended range vehicle, such as a Chevy Volt, comes out the highest, whereas the electric vehicle, like the Nissan Leaf, comes in with the lowest cost. The following graph shows the breakdown between car types at year 15.

year15costs

Cost may not be the only motivator, however, at a time when many are concerned about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thus, it may be important for many to compare the estimated emissions of greenhouse gases from the different vehicle types. Tiffany’s tool produces this graph based on various inputs.

annualghgemissions

As would be expected, the conventional gasoline-powered vehicle has the highest emissions. There’s not as much difference between the other types, with the hybrid having somewhat higher GHG emissions than the all-electric, both of which do somewhat better than the extended range electric.

Tiffany’s tool reminded me of a widget available from my colleagues over at Climate Central, which is embedded below. It allows you to get a good sense of potential fuel and GHG emission savings between two different vehicles. It dynamically updates fuel costs for your state, which is a nice feature.

Together, these tools provide a great resource to anyone considering an alternative car purchase. Perhaps these groups could team up to create a tool that blends together both annual costs / savings and economics over the vehicle’s lifetime.

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Building A Knowledge Base About Ocean Acidification on Quora

by October 13, 2011

Some months ago, we did a proof-of-concept video contest on the subject of ocean acidification. Here’s the winning video, about a snail that doesn’t have a shell, goes to learn why, and then forms a band to spread the word about this phenomenon.

Our overall vision is that we’d only initiate video, or other multimedia, projects once we’d nailed down the “science behind the story.” Furthermore, to us, nailing down the story means that we’ve ferreted out those key points for which we can get widespread agreement from experts drawn from across society–those from industry, NGOs, government, as well as academics.

To be blunt, we skipped this (huge) step for ocean acidification for two reasons. We were trying to proof out a crowd-based process for creating videos that conveyed science points fairly. Also, I had a good bit of background on the issue from my graduate work in oceanography.

102__0x0_quora-picture Now that we’re aiming to cultivate Q&As on Quora on topics related to the environment, it seems only logical to revisit the topic of ocean acidification. We’re dubbing this Quora-based project EarthQ (see also this post about putting candidates on the spot about global warming). For reference, see this post I did on the science behind the story of ocean acidification.

The goal of EarthQ will be to identify the top questions about various issues people are likely to ask about ocean acidification–assuming we can shepherd solid answers that are endorsed by a wide spectrum of experts. Taking this approach ties into Anticipating Questions People Will Ask About a Topic. Of course, if we’re successful, we will have created a great network of experts ready to jump to assistance as new questions emerge organically on Quora.

I’m a big advocate of working with building blocks on an issue. Having given this a good deal of thought recently, it is clear to me that step one will be to develop Q&A that fully explain the carbon cycle. Then, we can move on to the topic of ocean acidification. Then we should have worked out enough of the kinks to take on the topic of global warming. Onward!

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Putting Candidates and Others on the Spot About Global Warming

by September 29, 2011

This opinion piece, written in response to a recent Star Tribune op-ed, was published on Yale’s Forum for Climate Change and the Media on September 29, 2011.

The presence, or perhaps more so the absence, of serious climate change dialogue in the run-up to the presidential elections could make the issue a volatile unknown: Few politicians in the national spotlight want to be caught holding strong opinions in favor of aggressive policies to slow, curb, or reverse anticipated climate change.

James Lenfestey, a former Star Tribune editorial writer on climate and education, recently argued in Minneapolis Star Tribune (op-ed 9/17) that journalists should drill presidential candidates on six questions related to climate change, presumably to highlight those who are silent, or openly hostile, toward taking action in the face of this global threat.

Commentary

The media clearly can do a better job in raising serious issues like global warming with those leading, or aspiring to lead, our country. BUT putting candidates on the spot is unlikely to yield what our country desperately needs: a serious, ongoing dialogue about this global issue, which has connections to nearly every aspect of our society. Such a dialogue MUST be built on a foundation of trust and respect for political and ideological differences, as well as different scientific backgrounds.

Lenfestey’s six questions can be boiled down to these two: Do you believe global warming is occurring? And, do you believe we should have aggressive policies to counter this threat?

Lumping together opinions about how persuaded one is by the underlying science with questions about the appropriateness of a policy response is a recipe for an unproductive dialogue. Having spent a number of years working with experts drawn from across society to describe the condition and use of our ecosystems, I learned that it is essential to separate these aspects of the conversation—especially for the more contentious issues. In other words, we collectively need to find some common ground before arguing about appropriate policy responses.

We need to build an initiative that is viewed as trustworthy to all of us, no matter our ideological and political positions, or our understanding of science. WE can do that. We can run a transparent process—open to full scrutiny and input from anyone—that develops a series of questions and broadly accepted answers relevant to the issue of climate change. Not 100 questions, but rather more like 10. Each answer would be endorsed by experts drawn from across society and viewed as trustworthy by citizens and politicians from across the spectrum, both politically and ideologically.

As an example, these answers would undoubtedly include:

  • Carbon dioxide, a colorless gas present in tiny concentrations in the atmosphere, can trap radiation from the Earth that would otherwise dissipate into space.
  • There is strong evidence of a marked increase in carbon dioxide directly linked with the growth of industrialized societies across the globe.
  • Our “fingerprints” are detectable in the altered chemical nature of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • Long-term temperature trends indicate significant increases in recent decades.

These would be the first building blocks to a serious national dialogue.

Let’s take on this challenge. Let’s develop a robust, multimedia Web presence that brings to life the science behind the questions-and-answers for general audiences. Ideally, this effort would have its foundation on a public Q&A site, like Quora (http://quora.com).

Circling back to Lenfestey’s questions, let’s ask each candidate if he or she would support such an open, transparent process to create robust common ground across society. Global warming, which has the potential to irreversibly alter our world, demands a serious dialogue, and now is the time for to initiate it. Time is short, and there is a lot to do. Let’s make it happen.

Kent Cavender-Bares is an environmental scientist and the founder of Dialogue Earth, a nonprofit media project that has received major seed funding from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the Foundation for Environmental Research. The views represented are his alone and do not represent those of the University of Minnesota.

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Message From the Bubble: A Concept for Periodic Videos About the Environment From A Roving Earth Bubble

by September 23, 2011

Brace yourselves, this is not high-production value material. Rather, this is a video that I produced in about 15 minutes, start-of-script-to-exporting-video-from-iMovie. It is the product of a brainstorming session during a great workshop put on by Liz Neeley of the COMPASS team at the U of MN’s Institute on the Environment.

Here’s the concept. I build an “Earth Bubble” that would be a moveable “studio.” Each week, or so, I plan and shoot a new video of the flavor of the one below. Aside from hopefully being a fun and engaging style, the final bit would be to zoom out and show where the Bubble is this week. Hanging from a tree, by a river… You get it.

Thoughts?

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Could A Social Q&A Site Like Quora Serve As Home On the Web for Information About Global Warming?

by September 21, 2011

quora-picture Over the past few weeks, I have been giving a good bit of thought to this question. Quora, began as a vibrant Q&A site for the start-up community in Silicon Valley. Its creators, who were key technologists with Facebook, know how to build a good interface. Their goal is not modest:

“Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.”

Some months back, I posed a still-unanswered question: Should Quora be used to gather and distill expert answers on polarizing topics? It is not at all clear if the answer should be “yes” or “no.” Perhaps, as a Quora admin put it in a response to another question of mine, the right strategy is to follow Wikipedia’s “be bold” policy, which is summed up in three words “Just do it.” In other words, it may be necessary just to start doing it and figure out a way to make it work. (more…)

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How Would Smiley Faces Change My Driving Behavior?

by August 12, 2011

xcelenergyreport1 Having just spent a bunch of time working on a pre-proposal for the National Science Foundation, I’m excited about an idea to create more feedback for drivers about their energy use. This project concept is motivated by recent research that many of us have a tough time judging the relative energy savings from a variety of behavior changes.

For example, the researchers found that many Americans estimate that a central air conditioning system uses about the same amount of energy as a window unit, when in fact a window unit typically uses several times less energy (link to abstract of article by Shahzeen Z. Attari and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences here).

Perhaps you are an Xcel Energy customer, or you’re with another utility that is taking advantage of OPOWER’s innovative approach to giving feedback to utility customers. As a residential customer of Xcel’s, we receive a monthly statement showing our use of energy compared to similarly-sized homes in our neighborhood. Thus, we receive a chart with our use of electricity and natural gas over the past 12 months, comparing our usage to that of our “efficient neighbors” and “all neighbors.” Here is our household usage over the past year from Xcel’s Energy Report website, which provides all of the data digitally after registering. (more…)

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Which Energy Questions To Answer?

by July 28, 2011

2540266946_df7114d8fa The memory of our frustration during our last car purchase, more than 10 years ago, is still strong. Fuel economy was central to our decision, and we ended up opting for a turbo diesel Volkswagon. Soon after our purchase, I certainly engaged in some second guessing. This was the older generation turbo diesel, which means the dirtier version. We were in Washington, D.C., so we had to carry with us the reality that we were contributing to lowering the air quality. A more nuanced issue—and one that I’ve not fully researched—is that fuel mileage for a diesel is not directly comparable to that of a gasoline powered car, especially if one is interested in their transportation carbon foot print. I’d forgotten about this for a while, but it is very relevant now that we at Dialogue Earth are working on a project proposal to supply information to support consumer decisions that are connected to energy use.

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be exploring how people get their information about energy use when they’re pondering a purchase, be it a new car or a clothes dryer. Is there the proverbial “low hanging fruit” in terms of information that would be relatively easy to provide, but is not readily accessible currently? No doubt consumers will span the spectrum from knowing very little about energy to having a deep knowledge. What do consumers with different energy knowledge want to know?

Have you thought about your personal energy use recently? Did you seek out new information? If so, was it easy to find? What sources did you tap? If not, why?

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Tom Toles Weighs In on Explaining versus Persuading

by June 15, 2011

A few days ago I wrote a post on the importance of of nonpersuasive communication. Scanning the Washington Post site just now, I noticed that Tom Toles, my favorite political cartoonists, weighed in on the topic two days ago in a post entitled “Explaining and Persuading.” His statement that “[t]hese are two things that seem like they ought to go together, but somehow rarely do” illuminates the issue nicely within a different domain: inside the Beltway.

This reminds me of advice of a PR exec this week at the Google Science Communication workshop, which I had the honor of attending: scientists should “stay in their lane.” It can be a very tough pill to swallow when one feels that decisions do not line up with the latest understanding from the science community, but as Baruch Fischhoff stated in an ES&T piece discussed in my previous post:

Scientists faced with others’ advocacy may feel compelled to respond in kind. However, they can also try to become the trusted source for credible, relevant, comprehensible information by doing the best job possible of nonpersuasive communication. With long-term problems, like climate change, communication is a multiple-play game. Those who resort to advocacy might lose credibility that they will need in future rounds.

I sure wish Toles would pen a cartoon on this topic!

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To Persuade, or Not to Persuade? That’s A Key Question in Science Communication

by June 11, 2011

The philosophy behind Dialogue Earth is deeply rooted in a sense that our provision of information should be advocacy-free in order to maximize trustworthiness (see our history and strategy sections). That is, providing information about an issue while also urging the public to take a particular action based on this information has the real potential to erode trustworthiness, especially among those audience segments who are likely the most important: those people who are skeptical about the credibility of the information and the intentions of its source. This becomes all the more true for issues that are controversial, where I believe advocacy-driven information campaigns can deepen the societal polarization (here’s a short video I recorded explaining more about how I feel we can cut through the polarization, based on an op-ed that I penned for the Pioneer Press in April).

I recently discussed this issue in the context of an edgy hip-hop video featuring climate scientists that has become a YouTube phenomenon over the last month. In that piece, I referenced a 2010 letter to the editor in the journal Science by Bowman and colleagues that advocates for a new initiative to spread information about climate change, and that this initiative should be rooted in a nonpersuasive approach.

Digging into this issue further, it is clear that there is a debate centered on the goal of science communications. To boil things down into a few words: those calling for advocacy and persuasion by scientists cite growing disregard for science in public discourse and within policymaking, while those who urge caution suggest that mixing advocacy with the provision of science-based information jeopardizes the trust in the source of such information. By the way, a great book to read as background on the role of science in American society is “Unscientific America” by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirschenbaum. (more…)

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Don Shelby: Climate Experts to Ratchet Up Language

by June 2, 2011

In his most recent article for MinnPost, Don Shelby describes a meeting he had with three climate science thought leaders about communicating their scientific findings to the public more effectively.  He describes a current message shift that many of them will undertake when fielding questions from reporters about global warming.

The example Shelby gives is when a reporter asks a climate scientist if current weather phenomena are due to global warming.  Rather than the typical, “no single event can be contributed to global warming,” the response will shift to, “no single event can be attributed to global warming, but we told you this was going to happen.”  The former statement has the potential to reinforce complacency by those who are skeptical of global warming or its predicted impacts.  Those supporting this new strategy, as Shelby explains, are hoping that adding a twist will reduce or eliminate some of this fodder for complacency.

(more…)

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Is A Hip Hop Video Featuring Climate Scientists Responsive to the Science Communication Challenge?

by May 20, 2011

scienceMy head is spinning right now, the result of a collision of an eddgy, pop-culture approach to elevate the image of climate scientists and their science with a thoughtful piece by Thomas Bowman and colleagues in the journal Science about the need to take action on climate communication.

If you haven’t already seen the hip-hop video, here is the non-raunchy version (click here if you want the uncut piece, that has amassed more than 100,000 views in the past few days).

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what to think when I saw this video. My feeling was that it would do little to draw in anyone who wasn’t already in the “choir,” so to speak. For this reason, it really conflicts with the approach we are taking at Dialogue Earth. In chatting with friends about it, they suggested that the goal was not to inform but rather the video was just a good way to vent and release frustration for climate scientists who may be feeling that the public isn’t listening to their warnings about the state of the world. (more…)

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Have We at Dialogue Earth Broken Free of Randy Olson’s “Nerd Loop”?

by May 9, 2011

nerd-loop-piecePrior to reading Andy Revkin’s post Climate, Communication and the ‘Nerd Loop’ just now, I was unaware of Randy Olson’s newly coined term the “Nerd Loop.” It is a term that he recently gave to in-the-box strategies for communicating science to general audiences (read about it on his blog, The Benshi).

Olson argues passionately that there needs to be more risk taking in the science communication realm. I equate this to needing more out-of-the-box approaches, some of which will fail and some of which will help members of the public to understand a bit more about important issues like global warming, energy, food, water, land use, and so on. There won’t be a single approach that will work in all cases. Nor do I expect that there will be massive uptake of new information. It’ll be a slow, gradual process.

For me, I think the key for out-of-the-box approaches to work is that there needs to be an underlying genuine quality. Is there an effort to change people’s minds, or just to inform? If the goal is ultimately to change people’s minds, I deeply believe that even the most out-of-the-box efforts to raise literacy on a number of key issues connected to the environment will face barriers.

That’s why I’m committed to a non-advocacy approach with Dialogue Earth. We’re advocates for good information being present in societal dialogue and decision making. Period.

I believe that our strategy based in understanding the public dialogue, building credibility by drawing in a wide spectrum of experts, and ultimately delivering highly-engaging, crowd-based multimedia products holds lots of promise.

Ultimately, we can convince ourselves that we’ve stepped outside of the box, but our opinion amounts to very little. What do you think?

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Science Magazine’s Insights of the Decade: What Happens When Science Becomes Politicized

by April 25, 2011

f1-mediumFew would argue that topic of global warming (or the more general topic, climate change) is hugely polarizing. Richard Kerr and Eli Kintisch chronicle the past decade of research on the topic of climate change in the 17 December 2010 issue of Science. They also layer on a summary of the dynamics of the international political scene. As a scientist, I find it saddening that climate scientists have often become the target of very personal attacks. Perhaps the nadir of the decade occurred in the wake of the publication by hackers of private emails between climate scientists. Kerr and Kintisch’s synopsis will undoubtedly prove to be true: “the event may have profoundly damaged public views of climate science, with political repercussions yet to unfold.”

In terms of my personal experiences, I’m reminded of the inaugural public event for the new Heller-Hurwicz Economics Institute at the University of Minnesota earlier this year. I had the occasion to meet a delightful older couple. Immediately after being introduced to them as being affiliated with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, the woman asked what I thought about Al Gore. Soon I realized: people do not tend to ask your opinion of this iconic figure in the global warming debate if they are a fan of his. My realization came after explaining that my feelings are mixed—his science is largely sound, yet I believe his politics have, unfortunately, increased the polarized nature of the debate in our country. I was left wondering if she discounted the science because of the icon, although that would be a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Polarization is the norm, yet it is rather paralyzing. Does it need to be the norm? I believe the answer is a resounding no. That is why I am so passionate about launching Dialogue Earth (for more see this post and my recent op-ed in the Pioneer Press). Can we cut through the polarization on a topic like global warming? I am certain we can, although it will be no easy task.

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Global Warming Chatter: A Hot Topic on Twitter?

by March 28, 2011

Some months ago, our research team developed a strategy for inferring opinions about global warming from Twitter for our Pulse platform. We were lucky to be asked last week if we could present such data for the next issue of Momentum, the award-winning publication of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Of course, like all of us on a deadline, they needed it “yesterday.”

Not to be deterred, we rapidly spun up our collection system to grab those Twitter tweets that included the keywords global warming, climate change, and #climate. For a six day period ending on 23 March, we collected about 7600 tweets that had some geo-location information associated with them. Based on our recent experience focused on weather mood (described in this post), and because we had already generated a good number of quality control units (as described here), we posted a major job on the CrowdFlower platform within a day of the request from the Momentum team. Here’s a snapshot of the results:

momentum_dropshadow_300dpi (more…)

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