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Highlights of AAAS Conference on Promoting Climate Literacy through Informal Education
03/15/2010 | Marilyn Sigman, Alaska SeaGrant/MAP
Tags: Communicating about Climate Change, Ocean and Climate Literacy

On February 16-17, the Project 2061 program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) sponsored a climate literacy conference for informal educators before their annual meeting in San Diego. A series of presenters provided background on the status of climate science, public opinion, and climate literacy, then provided advice about how informal science institutions such as museums, aquaria, zoos, and nature centers could best promote an increase in climate literacy and actions.


    • American public opinion is shifting in the direction of fewer people believing that climate change is happening, that humans are causing climate change, that the majority of scientists agree that climate change is happening and that scientists can be trusted as a source of information. This shift is very partisan but reflects changes in attitudes among all age groups. These attitudes are at odds, however, with a continuing willingness by Americans to support a wide variety of climate change and energy policies.
    • The strategies of “naysayers” to climate change are similar to well-organized and well-funded efforts to discredit the science that connected smoking to lung cancer, acid rain to negative environmental effects, and the hole in ozone layer to aerosols. They are backed by influential scientists and exploit basic misunderstandings by the majority of the public in the role of uncertainty in the scientific processand the process and significance of consensus in the science community.
    • The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process is open and transparent, is overseen by governments, and includes extensive peer and public reviews. By its nature, the process is intellectually conservative. The most recent report (2007) concluded that “warming of the climate system is unequivocable and is now evident from many lines of inquiry . . . Most of the observed increase is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”
The report, however, failed to predict a number of recent climate change phenomena such as the accelerated melting of Greenland and Antarctic icesheets, accelerated melting of glaciers and ice caps; rapid Arctic sea ice decline, changes in ocean temperatures, heat content, salinity, acidity, and oxygen; and the likelihood of a 1 meter sea level rise by 2100 (higher than IPCC prediction). The Copenhagen Diagnosis, released in late 2009, summarized the more recent science and also addressed the urgency of action in reducing CO2 emissions in relation to tipping points and irreversible changes.

The AAAS Conference on Promoting Climate Literacy through Informal Science Summary Document summarizes the advice provided to informal educators and includes references for more information and selected opinion polling results. All presentations have been posted on the Project 2061 website.

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