Communicating Climate Science: A Little “Song & Dance” Can’t Hurt

The first Stephen H. Schneider Award goes to a climatologist who sings, dances and hosts PBS specials. Maybe that’s what it takes.

Earth scientist Richard Alley's engaging style has won him an award for climate communicators.

I’ll be candid here: When teamed up with climate modeler Ben Santer and economist Larry Goulder behind the microphone, his rendition of “Teach Your Children” could use a little work. The rest of Richard Alley’s work speaks eloquently to his talent for making sense of climate science for the rest of us.

This week, in a ceremony at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Alley, a professor of geosciences at Penn State University, was given the first Stephen H. Schneider Award for his work in breaking down climate science and getting the word out to the public and policymakers in digestible form.

Alley’s book Earth: The Operators’ Manual, was made into a PBS documentary in which Alley takes viewers on a personal journey through the climate landscape. The program aired in April on KQED and is now available online. He also demonstrates his lively teaching style in this video explaining climate swings:

Alley told event host Greg Dalton that it’s important that the climate discussion “start with the science.”

“We need to show people all the pieces,” says Alley, “And doing that without saying ‘It’s gonna happen, you’re doomed,’ is a challenge.” Alley likes to use a driving analogy for weighing climate policy. He says that even though there are long odds against being in an accident each time we get behind the wheel, most of us still buy car insurance.

Asked to grade climate coverage by the mainstream media, Alley said we “could do better.”

“Intelligent people who get their science from the media tend to see a lot of argument because the media loves to show that,” he said. “And there is a lot of argument,” he added. “It’s just that what the public is seeing are not the interesting arguments. CO2 as a greenhouse gas is not an interesting argument,” said Alley, as that’s been settled. He says better to ask “What is the best way forward?”

Alley, who is a Christian, says people of faith should embrace, rather than reject climate science. “It’s a Golden Rule issue,” he said.

His biggest personal concern on the climate front: sea level rise.

The event might’ve been lost amid the 20,000 scientists attending the American Geophysical Union conference (#AGU11) in San Francisco, but the room, outfitted for a recorded broadcast, was nearly standing-room only. That’s probably because the award commemorates the life and work of outspoken Stanford climatologist Steve Schneider, whose sudden death last year still has climate science circles reeling.

Schneider was a great communicator himself, which comes through in this engaging tribute produced by Stephen Thompson for the Commonwealth Club.

  • Kleiniken

    Good video, but climate schange has been debunked. We have not had any warming in 15 years with record c02 emissions. Sorry Steven Schneider, you may have been cprrect the first time when you we’re on the global cooling bandwagon.