Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Picture: Cover of the new journal Nature Climate Change

I decided to break this post into two parts (as it got a bit long).

Overstretching attribution

This is a fantastic paper! It really made me think about the claim that biodiversity is responding to human induced climate change (e.g. earlier flowering or migration of animals). But is biodiversity behaviour itself good evidence of human induced climate change? After all, biodiversity will adapt to normal changes in climate. But a study in 2003 shows that while some species do show a strong response to a change in climate (57%), some showed no change (32%) and some showed behaviour in the opposite direction (11%). This is mainly due to "basic differences in species' sensitivity to climate". Hmmm, this really demonstrates that we need to be careful that we don't overstretch attribution of human induced climate change, especially if we only select cherries from the data (remember there are somewhere between 30 and 100 million different species on the planet).

The other problems are that "human forcing of the climate is only detectable on large spatial scales, yet organisms experience local climate" and there is "a complex interplay among habitat destruction, land-use change, exploitation and pollution, in addition to climate change".

The authors "propose concentrating on assessment of the interacting roles of climate and other environmental factors, regardless of the causes of the climate events or trends" rather than trying to find more proof/evidence of human-induced climate change. Well worth a read!!

I really looked forward to this paper as science communication, and social/decision sciences are particular interests of mine. It didn't let me down! The paper looks at the challenge of communicating uncertain climate risks and suggests that the answer is "strategic listening" rather than yet another poorly targeted climate change campaign which has "little chance of sustained success" and which has the effect of "eroding both the public's trust in the experts, who seem not to know their needs, and the experts' trust in the public, which seems unable to understand the issues".

It also suggests that what is needed is "contributions from cross-disciplinary teams, working within an institutional framework that provides support for their efforts. Such teams would include, at minimum, climate and other experts, decision scientists, social and communications specialists, and programme designers". Music to my ears! This paper is well written and definately worth a read.

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