What Can One Person Do?

Next week, I will be giving a speech on climate change to the green committee of a local United Church. They are particularly interested in science and solutions, so I wrote the following script, drawing heavily from my previous presentations. I would really appreciate feedback and suggestions for this presentation.

Citations will be on the slides (which I haven’t made yet), so they’re not in the text of this script. Let me know if there’s a particular reference you’re wondering about, but they’re probably common knowledge within this community by now.


Climate change is depressing. I know that really well, because I’ve been studying it for over two years. I’m quite practiced at keeping the scary stuff contained in the analytical part of my brain, and not thinking of the implications – because the implications make you feel powerless. I’m sure that all of us here wish we could stop global warming on our own. So we work hard to reduce our carbon footprints, and then we feel guilty every time we take the car out or buy something that was made in China or turn up the heat a degree.

The truth is, though, the infrastructure of our society doesn’t support a low-carbon lifestyle. Look at the quality of public transit in Winnipeg, or the price of local food. We can work all we want at changing our practices, but it’s an uphill battle. If we change the infrastructure, though – if we put a price on carbon so that sustainable practices are cheaper and easier than using fossil fuels – people everywhere will subsequently change their practices.

Currently, governments – particularly in North America – aren’t too interested in sustainable infrastructure, because they don’t think people care. Politicians only say what they think people want to hear. So, should we go dress up as polar bears and protest in front of Parliament to show them we care? That might work, but they will probably just see us as crazy environmentalists, a fringe group. We need a critical mass of people that care about climate change, understand the problem, and want to fix it. An effective solution requires top-down organization, but that won’t happen until there’s a bottom-up, grassroots movement of people who care.

I believe that the most effective action one person can take in the fight against global warming is to talk to others and educate others. I believe most people are good, and sane, and reasonable. They do the best they can, given their level of awareness. If we increase that awareness, we’ll gain political will for a solution. And so, in an effort to practice what I preach, I’m going to talk to you about the issue.

The science that led us to the modern concern about climate change began all the way back in 1824, when a man named Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect. Gases such as carbon dioxide make up less than one percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, but they trap enough heat to keep the Earth over 30 degrees Celsius warmer than it would be otherwise.

Without greenhouse gases, there could be no life on Earth, so they’re a very good thing – until their concentration changes. If you double the amount of CO2 in the air, the planet will warm, on average, somewhere around 3 degrees. The first person to realize that humans could cause this kind of a change, through the burning of fossil fuels releasing CO2, was Svante Arrhenius, in 1897. So this is not a new theory by any means.

For a long time, scientists assumed that any CO2 we emitted would just get absorbed by the oceans. In 1957, Roger Revelle showed that wasn’t true. The very next year, Charles Keeling decided to test this out, and started measuring the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. Now, Arrhenius had assumed that it would take thousands of years to double CO2 from the preindustrial value of 280 ppm (which we know from ice cores), but the way we’re going, we’ll get there in just a few decades. We’ve already reached 390 ppm. That might not seem like a lot, but 390 ppm of arsenic in your coffee would kill you. Small changes can have big effects.

Around the 1970s, scientists realized that people were exerting another influence on the climate. Many forms of air pollution, known as aerosols, have a cooling effect on the planet. In the 70s, the warming from greenhouse gases and the cooling from aerosols were cancelling each other out, and scientists were split as to which way it would go. There was one paper, by Stephen Schneider, which even said it could be possible to cause an ice age, if we put out enough aerosols and greenhouse gases stayed constant. However, as climate models improved, and governments started to regulate air pollution, a scientific consensus emerged that greenhouse gases would win out. Global warming was coming – it was just a question of when.

In 1988, James Hansen, who is arguably the top climate scientist in the world today, claimed it had arrived. In a famous testimony to the U.S. Congress, he said that “the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” Many scientists weren’t so sure, and thought it was too early to make such a bold statement, but Hansen turned out to be right. Since about 1975, the world has been warming, more quickly than it has for at least the last 55 million years.

Over the past decade, scientists have even been able to rule out the possibility that the warming is caused by something else, like a natural cycle. Different causes of climate change have slightly different effects – like the pattern of warming in different layers of the atmosphere, the amount of warming in summer compared to winter, or at night compared to in the day, and so on. Ben Santer pioneered attribution studies: examining these effects in order to pinpoint a specific cause. And so far, nobody has been able to explain how the recent warming could not be caused by us.

Today, there is a remarkable amount of scientific agreement surrounding this issue. Between 97 and 98% of climate scientists, virtually 100% of peer-reviewed studies, and every scientific organization in the world agree that humans are causing the Earth to warm. The evidence for climate change is not a house of cards, where you take one piece out and the whole theory falls apart. It’s more like a mountain. Scrape a handful of pebbles off the top, but the mountain is still there.

However, if you take a step outside of the academic community, this convergence of evidence is more or less invisible. The majority of newspaper articles, from respected outlets like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, spend at least as much time arguing against this consensus as they do arguing for it. They present ideas such as “maybe it’s a natural cycle” or “CO2 has no effect on climate” that scientists disproved years ago. The media is stuck in the past. Some of them are only stuck in the 1980s, but others are stuck all the way back in 1800. Why is it like this?

Part of it comes from good, but misguided, intentions. When it comes to climate change, most journalists follow the rule of balance: presenting “two equal sides”, staying neutral, letting the reader form their own opinion. This works well when the so-called controversy is one of political or social nature, like tax levels or capital punishment. In these cases, there is no right answer, and people are usually split into two camps. But when the question at hand is one of science, there is a right answer – even if we haven’t found it yet – so some explanations are better than others, and some can be totally wrong. Would you let somebody form their own opinion on Newton’s Laws of Motion or the reality of photosynthesis? Sometimes scientists are split into two equal groups, but sometimes they’re split into three or four or even a dozen. How do you represent that as two equal sides? Sometimes, like we see with climate change, pretty much all the scientists are in agreement, and the two or three percent which aren’t don’t really publish, because they can’t back up their statements and nobody really takes them seriously. So framing these two groups as having equal weight in the scientific community is completely incorrect. It exaggerates the extreme minority, and suppresses everyone else. Being objective is not always the same as being neutral, and it’s particularly important to remember that when our future is at stake.

Another reason to frame climate science as controversial is that it makes for a much better story. Who really wants to read about scientists agreeing on everything? Journalists try to write stories that are exciting. Unfortunately, that goal can begin to overshadow accuracy.

Also, there are fewer journalists than there used to be, and there are almost no science journalists in the mainstream media – general reporters cover science issues instead. Also, a few decades ago, journalists used to get a week or two to write a story. Now they often have less than a day, because speed and availability of news has become more important than quality.

However, perhaps the most important – and disturbing – explanation for this inaccurate framing is that the media has been very compliant in spreading the message of climate change deniers. They call themselves skeptics, but I don’t think that’s accurate. A true skeptic will only accept a claim given sufficient evidence. That’s a good thing, and all scientists should be skeptics. But it’s easy to see that these people will never accept human-caused climate change, no matter what the evidence. At the same time, they blindly accept any shred of information that seems to support their cause, without applying any skepticism at all. That’s denial, so let’s not compliment them by calling them skeptics.

Climate change deniers will use whatever they can get – whether or not it’s legitimate, whether or not it’s honest – as proof that climate change is natural, or nonexistent, or a global conspiracy. They’ll tell you that volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans, but volcanoes actually emit about 1% of what we do. They’ll say that global warming has stopped because 2008 was cooler than 2007. If climatologists organize a public lecture in effort to communicate accurate scientific information, they’ll say that scientists are dogmatic and subscribe to censorship and will not allow any other opinions to be considered.

Some of these questionable sources are organizations, like a dozen or so lobby groups that have been paid a lot of money by oil companies to say that global warming is fake. Some of them are individuals, like US Senator James Inhofe, who was the environment chair under George W. Bush, and says that “global warming is the greatest hoax ever imposed upon the American people.” Some of them have financial motivations, and some of them have ideological motivations, but their motivations don’t really matter – all that matters is that they are saying things that are inaccurate, and misleading, and just plain wrong.

There has been a recent, and very disturbing, new tactic of deniers. Instead of attacking the science, they’ve begun to attack the integrity of individual scientists. In November 2009, they stole thirteen years of emails from a top climate research group in the UK, and spread stories all over the media that said scientists were caught fudging their data and censoring critics. Since then, they’ve been cleared of these charges by eight independent investigations, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the newspaper. For months, nearly every media outlet in the developed world spread what was, essentially, libel, and the only one that has formally apologized for its inaccurate coverage is the BBC.

In the meantime, there has been tremendous personal impact on the scientists involved. Many of them have received death threats, and Phil Jones, the director of the research group, was nearly driven to suicide. Another scientist, who wishes to remain anonymous, had a dead animal dumped on his doorstep and now travels with bodyguards. The Republican Party, which prides itself on fiscal responsibility, is pushing for more and more investigations, because they just can’t accept that the scientists are innocent…and James Inhofe, the “global warming is a hoax” guy, attempted to criminally prosecute seventeen researchers, most of whom had done nothing but occasionally correspond with the scientists who had their emails stolen. It’s McCarthyism all over again.

So this is where we are. Where are we going?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which collects and summarizes all the scientific literature about climate change, said in 2007 that under a business-as-usual scenario, where we keep going the way we’re going, the world will warm somewhere around 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. Unfortunately, this report was out of date almost as soon as it was published, and has widely been criticized for being too conservative. The British Meteorological Office published an updated figure in 2009 that estimated we will reach 4 degrees by the 2070s.

I will still be alive then (I hope!). I will likely have kids and even grandkids by then. I’ve spent a lot of time researching climate change, and the prospect of a 4 degree rise is terrifying to me. At 4 degrees, we will have lost control of the climate – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases, positive feedbacks in the climate system will make sure the warming continues. We will have committed somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of the world’s species to extinction. Prehistoric records indicate that we can expect 40 to 80 metres of eventual sea level rise – it will take thousands of years to get there, but many coastal cities will be swamped within the first century. Countries – maybe even developed countries – will be at war over food and water. All this…within my lifetime.

And look at our current response. We seem to be spending more time attacking the scientists who discovered the problem than we are negotiating policy to fix it. We should have started reducing our greenhouse gas emissions twenty years ago, but if we start now, and work really hard, we do have a shot at stopping the warming at a point where we stay in control. Technically, we can do it. It’s going to take an unprecedented amount of political will and international communication

Everybody wants to know, “What can I do?” to fix the problem. Now, magazines everywhere are happy to tell you “10 easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint” – ride your bike, and compost, and buy organic spinach. That’s not really going to help. Say that enough people reduce their demand on fossil fuels: supply and demand dictates that the price will go down, and someone else will say, “Hey, gas is cheap!” and use more of it. Grassroots sentiment isn’t going to be enough. We need a price on carbon, whether it’s a carbon tax or cap-and-trade…but governments won’t do that until a critical mass of people demand it.

So what can you do? You can work on achieving that critical mass. Engage the apathetic. Educate people. Talk to them about climate change – it’s scary stuff, but suck it up. We’re all going to need to face it. Help them to understand and care about the problem. Don’t worry about the crazy people who shout about socialist conspiracies, they’re not worth your time. They’re very loud, but there’s not really very many of them. And in the end, we all get one vote.


24 thoughts on “What Can One Person Do?

  1. Well stated, Kate.

    Although I applaud those that are reducing their carbon footprint on an individual basis, do not fall into the trap of trying to save the world silently.

    While educating your friends and other community members be sure to tell them that letters to their local politicans carry tremendous weight.

    It will take a change in government policy to fix the problem so our elected leaders must understand how important the issue of climate change is with the masses.

  2. Here’s my tuppences:

    1. “Now, Arrhenius had assumed that it would take thousands of years to double CO2 from the preindustrial value of 280 ppm (which we know from ice cores)”
    — the ‘which’ in there is ambiguous; it could reference Arrhenius’ assumption. I would recast as “(a value we know from ice cores)”

    2. “If climatologists organize a public lecture in effort to communicate accurate scientific information…”
    — I think you’re missing an ‘an’: “… in an effort to…”

    3. “Since then, they’ve been cleared of these charges by eight independent investigations ”
    — not clear who ‘they’ are: recent uses of ‘they’ refer to climate deniers; this ‘they’ refers to ‘these scientists’. I would recast as:
    “Since then, these scientists have been cleared… ”

    4. “For months, nearly every media outlet in the developed world spread what was, essentially, libel, and the only one that has formally apologized for its inaccurate coverage is the BBC.”
    — Wow, really? I missed that. Got a link?

    5. “Say that enough people reduce their demand on fossil fuels: supply and demand dictates that the price will go down, and someone else will say, “Hey, gas is cheap!” and use more of it.”
    — (is this a variant of the Jevons paradox?) Good example why government regulation is needed, in my opinion, despite what the free market fundamentalist establishment would have us all believe as they encourage us to drive to the shops and consume ever more…

    6. You refer to the need for grassroots activity (and activism) — would it be an idea to mention some organisations, such as eg 350.org and Power Shift?

    ‘What can one person do? Join forces with others, that’s what.’

    Thanks for those suggestions, Colin. Here’s the BBC link. -Kate

  3. I liked the overall tone and feel of the article. I have noticed that whenever I talk to people about climate change there is one word that can instantly shut down their productive thoughts. That is the word “Global Warming”. Too many negative comments printed by the big oil industry and corporate America have turned “Global Warming” into a sour word.

    I think the use of Climate Change or Planetary Warming will have a more winning effect on the general population.

    I have also noted that people open to the subject better when they understand that the Earth is changing, we all know this, and it is not a matter of taking rights away from people, or take away their gizmos and gadgets. The bottom line is, can humans change enough to adapt to the new climate?

    In the 4.5 billion years our planet has circled the sun, it has seen many changes, and many lifeforms have come and gone during all of those changes. It is not only possible, but feasible that previous great civilizations have crumbled from Earth changes. So can we adapt to Mother Earth? Because she will not adapt to us.

    These are my own thoughts and observations. I hope my long-winded comment has not offended, I look forward to reading your future posts.

  4. Very good overall, but this paragraph worries me:

    “The majority of newspaper articles, from respected outlets like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, spend at least as much time arguing against this consensus as they do arguing for it. They present ideas such as “maybe it’s a natural cycle” or “CO2 has no effect on climate” that scientists disproved years ago. The media is stuck in the past. Some of them are only stuck in the 1980s, but others are stuck all the way back in 1800. Why is it like this?”

    It isn’t like this. I’m not sure what makes you think otherwise. The news pages of the papers you mention, along with virtually every other respected outlet (in the U.S., at least; I’m not sure about Canada), spend little if any time giving credence to denialist arguments–and certainly not to the arguments you cite.

    I’m a longtime science journalist who wrote a cover story for TIME on climate change nearly a year before Hansen’s 1988 testimony, so I’ve been in this game for quite a while. Way back in 2001, I wrote another cover story for TIME and wanted to include a mild criticism from John Christy, one of the small minority of legitimate scientists who disagree with the mainstream–that’s a single quote in a 4,000-word story that otherwise quoted only the mainstream view. My editor opposed me, on the grounds that even this one quote would amount to “false balance.”

    This study is where the “at least as much time” stat came from – it wasn’t anecdotal evidence of my own. Perhaps TIME has a different policy; it was not one of the outlets in the study. I will think about whether the examples I gave are too extreme or not, but I strongly disagree that media outlets “spend little if any time giving credence to denialist arguments”. Anyone want to find some recent examples for Michael? I’m on break at work so don’t have time. -Kate

  5. You state the key phrase: “What do we do?”

    I have worn out friends with my rants, and all they respond with is ‘OK What can I do?”

    There is so much to do, all are colossal tasks.

    But the one simple rule, the first task is “Stop the denial”

    Do not tolerate ignoring the problem. Do not accept people looking aside. Do not do business with those who are purposefully ignorant.

    Ruthlessly face the issue. This is the first, the minimal and all else is derived from this.

    Thank you for all that you do.

  6. Examples of media outlets “giving credence to denialist arguments” would include (in the UK) the DAILY EXPRESS, DAILY MAIL and TELEGRAPH newspapers, the latter giving a certain individual called James Delingpole (the self-proclaimed “interpreter of interpreters”) free rein to conjure conspiracy theories out of anything to do with Climate Science.

    In Canada, a very popular news magazine called Maclean’s is particularly bad for this, as well as any local papers run by CanWest (a lot!) and fringe publications like the National Post. -Kate

    • Sadly, the National Post isn’t quite as “fringe” as this suggests.

      Even then, though, they occasionally get it more or less right.

      Interestingly, the author of the piece discussed there recently was involved in this fascinating discussion on conspiracist thinking. I think he beats around the bush (particularly because of his obvious dodge of the racist streak in birtherism), but it’s still reassuring to hear conservatives taking an interest in fighting wooly thinking.

  7. Nice job Kate!

    I think the structure and tone of this talk is very appropriate for your target audience.

    Some of my thoughts as an “audience” member:

    I agree with all of pendantry’s suggestions and I think it is very important to give specific examples of “what one person can do”, this is the title of your talk and yet I would leave it feeling no better informed about what specific steps I could take today to start making a difference.

    Although I understand your rationale, I am not sure that telling people that lowering their individual carbon footprint is “not really going to help.” This will give the message that there is no point reducing your fossil fuel consumption because it changes nothing and someone else will just consume your portion anyway. Although you are quite correct that these strategies, even when adopted by large numbers, are not enough on their own to impact significantly on the problem, they are still an integral part of our society’s longterm adaption to the climate problem. My experience has been that statements like this can give people psychological permission to opt out of the solution. Perhaps you could reframe this point slightly to say that although these things remain important, critical change can only be brought about through lobbying for better policy at a national level?

    With regards to the “climate change” versus “global warming” nomenclature, I like that you have used both. Although climate change is the nom du jour, warming is what it’s all about in the end.

    Just one last thought. I am not sure what the situation is in Canada, but my colleagues and I wrote an article surrounding the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme (yes, we have one now. It’s not perfect but it’s a start) and one of the biggest challenges is that the general public really don’t understand how it works and are very vulnerable to misinformation – you mention carbon tax or cap-and-trade, will your audience understand what this means?

    Best wishes for a fantastic talk!

    • For “what 1 person can do”, tell them Don’t Just Be the Change, Mass-Produce It; or McKibben’s 2-pronged advice to change your lightbulbs and then your Senator.
      But communicating to the people around you is easiest, I think; esp. if it just involves wearing the appropriate climate-education attire.
      (where are the Tshirts available?)

      Unfortunately, in Canada, our Senators are appointed :) -Kate

    • also, a terminology caution: be aware that talking about “climate change” confuses some people who then think that it’s not known (scientifically) whether it’s human-caused, since they take c.c. to include “observed incidents&patterns that *might* stem from increased GHGs”.
      (not sure I’ve expressed that clearly, sorry; & I’m also not sure how to articulate clearly to them why it’s a misunderstanding, in a way that’s easily grasped.)

  8. – if we put a price on carbon so that sustainable practices are cheaper and easier than using fossil fuels – people everywhere will subsequently change their practices.

    Actually, it would be only the people in the places where you have put a price on carbon.

    Heh, of course. Good point. However, now that I think of it, could the economics of a new energy market in one country impact another country, if they were close trading partners? -Kate

  9. Kate wrote:

    If we change the infrastructure, though – if we put a price on carbon so that sustainable practices are cheaper and easier than using fossil fuels – people everywhere will subsequently change their practices

    I don’t know what it’s like in Canada but in the current state of the economy in the US (and where I come from – Jersey, U.K.), new taxes such as a carbon tax would get the people rioting (or at least protesting) in the streets. I think you need to exlain here in your talk that properly applied carbon taxes don’t have to cost people more and that implementing them could lead to them having a long term reduction in their levels of expenditure.

    I have a special interest in environmental economics and what I think needs to be emphasised in your talk is that carbon taxes (and environmental taxes generally) are only meant to influence purchasing decisions – they are definitely NOT meant to raise tax revenue. Any funds raised from environmental “bads” such as fossil CO2 emissions are dividended back either directly to the tax payer as an overall tax rebate or are applied or invested to make environmental “goods” like renewable energy, or such as long lived repairable products, cheaper than the “bad alternatives. Their great benefit is that they lead to the “free market” helpingpeol people make the right decisions just by bargain hunting!

    Re: the climate change/global warming muddle that denialists exploit to imply science changed the name because things weren’t warming.

    Here is a short phrase I used in a letter about one of our denialist polticians I sent to my local paper recently which I have been told makes things a lot clearer *for the average person*.

    “Again he claimed that the science of global warming, and the climate change it is causing, has been “disproved by science”. “

    That’s a great quote, I can see why it brings clarity to others. Thanks for the tip about the carbon tax. I will throw in “revenue-neutral” so it’s more clear. I will also see how much they know about policy options, I can explain cap-and-trade on the spot if needed. -Kate

  10. Maybe not for the body of the talk, but handy to have in the grab bag for answering questions about ‘carbon taxes’. The proposal in Australia is that the polluters will pay, individuals will be recompensed so that they are not worse off. The best illustration being taxes on fuel. The tax paid by producers will be offset by an equivalent reduction in fuel excise – so it’s a transfer of liability. The government gets the same revenue, but it’s producers rather than consumers paying it.

    Carbon taxes are not about ‘raising revenue’ as much as they are about driving efficiencies. In the Oz example, individuals will receive recompense on an averaged basis, so those who find ways to reduce their power use will be better off, literally, in hard cash.

    Advocating a system of this kind is something individuals can do – and they can tell their friends they’d like this.

  11. >could the economics of a new energy market in one country impact another country, if they were close trading partners?

    They could, but probably not in the way you want. We see how California implementing higher energy prices drives businesses and people to other states. The current Canadian position of acting when the US acts, helps to reduce this problem, making it slightly more likely for the US to act.

    Now it is possible that with threat of a general tariff or specific carbon tariff, the US could force Canada to adopt a cap and trade scheme, as Canada needs access to the US market. But would this work on China? You still have the problem that access to the US market and other markets may not be that important. Developed countries are combined having less population than China, and so even if they combined to threaten high tariffs unless China reduced emissions, it might still be worthwhile for China to just shut itself off, or trade with the other 5 billion people in the world. There is also the issue of whether the rest of the world even has the power to threaten anything. China holds plenty of US debt, and there is an ongoing deficit. Windmills require minerals from China, as well as lots of electronics.

  12. Great article Kate.

    What can one person do? Many people thinking this may be enveloped by a sense of hopelessness and not do anything. But I think it’s important to do something – you never know where it might lead.

    In my experience, the “something” operates at different levels; household, community, wider community and so on. On a household level, having done the easy stuff, our annual household CO2 emissions, were about 7 tonnes. This is for a family of four – two adults and two young children. The easy stuff was basically not flying, using a renewable energy supplier, having good home insulation and living with other people. If I lived alone, my emissions wouldn’t be vastly different from those for a family of four, so if you’re living alone and are worried about climate change, then go and shack up with someone!

    At the end of 2010, we had some solar photovoltaic and solar thermal (for hot water) panels installed. Last month, our home was carbon-negative – the electricity we generated was more than our combined electricity and gas usage in terms of CO2 emissions. I know it was an exceptional month here in the UK, the warmest April ever, but I expect the house to be carbon-negative until September.

    If you do something, you may find that there are others in the community who also want to do something and the community level is where individuals can really make a difference. We’re fortunate to live near Totnes here in the UK and there is a lot going on here – in fact it’s quite inspiring (see http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org for more details). Anyway, inspired by some of the things that were going on in Totnes, a group was formed in the village to try and get bulk discounts for home solar PV and also to install PV panels on community buildings. Two of the group had their PV installations done last week and there are others in the pipeline. The groups running the community buildings are keen too – they’re mainly happy that someone else is doing the work for them.

    I think that the area around here is moving towards “critical mass” where there is so much of these green initiatives happening that it’s considered normal. I may be overly optimistic in this as it’s easy to become so immersed in a bubble so that you assume that everyone else thinks the way that you do. But the key is to try and become the example that you want others to follow – there are plenty of people out there who want to do something. It may not be solar PV panels; it could be growing your own food, low-energy buildings, bicycle paths, whatever. Just something.

    At the national level, I’ve given up any hope of the government doing much. It’s all nice soundbites and no meaningful action. The only way for anything to happen is from the bottom up. When politicians notice things happening at a grass roots level and think that there might be some votes in it for them then we may see something.

  13. Overall this is a powerful and accurate presentation. Well done.

    I don’t think the reference to arsenic in coffee at the same concentration as CO2 in the atmosphere helps though. It equates the two substances in a way that that’s not really scientifically valid. I get what you are trying to say. In context, it might work. Out of context it won’t. I think a general audience will get the wrong idea. They will repeat the statement without understanding it’s only a metaphor, and will be rightly ridiculed for making such a claim.

    The presentation doesn’t lose anything by removing this one sentence. I would take it out.

  14. I absolutely agree with you when it comes to infrastructure. Most of North America’s cities were built around a carbon reliant infrastructure. Its a huge shame that as Canadians we don’t invest more in infrastructure that reduces our carbon foot print. After all 2008 saw one of the largest government infusions of public money into infrastructure, only to fix the status quo.



  15. I added your “mountain of pebbles” quote today to the metaphor collection at http://www.climatebites.org. It’s a refreshing alternative to the common “jigsaw puzzle vs. house of cards” metaphor. We cite Climatesight as the source; if you know an earlier source for this, please let me know, so I can cite that as well.

    Once again, Kate, I just want to say how unique and special I find your “voice.” For work, I troll everyday for the most effective climate communicators I can find, online and elsewhere. You’re already up there among the very best.

    Humility aside, I hope you realize how rare — and crucially needed — your gift is. The geophysics world is filled with brilliant researchers. But the truly great communicators — effective at addressing non-scientists — can be counted on two hands.

    And that is exactly what is so desperately needed now.

    I look forward to watching your “voice” evolve. May you never get lost in the numbers, or succumb to the “Curse of Knowledge!” *



    * http://www.heathbrothers.com/madetostick/chapterone.php

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