Climate Change National Forum (CCNF) is a new journalistic initiative and national dialogue, founded and led by scientists, to educate the American public on the science of climate change and its policy implications. Our website, ClimateChangeNationalForum.org, launched in January 2014 as a “go to” site for the American public to learn about the science of climate change. The blog, forum, and fact-checker platform features an ongoing and open dialogue by scientists at the forefront of climate change research and communication. Just 11 months in, CCNF has built an engaged community of leading scientists, gained a readership that spans scientific and political spectrums, and is advancing climate literacy in America.
At this time, the Forum is just focused on the science of climate change, and the ClimateChangeNationalForum.org platform is only open to scientists, journalists, and their guests; but that will soon change. CCNF is openly soliciting all Fellows and scientist-members of the American Geophysical Union (see press), American Meteorological Society (see letter), and American Institute of Physics to join this open dialogue on the science of climate change and ocean acidification. Any scientist that can meet CCNF’s science columnist criteria is welcome to join the CCNF science columnist community and participate. Science-columnist members have free reign to post in the science sections of the Forum, openly engage with one another in the Scientists’ Comment Thread, and fact check or comment on outside material presented by journalists. Other than the “Journalists’ Section” and the “Climate Change in the Media” section, the platform functions as a true public forum for experts.
Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Regents Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University and Texas State Climatologist, explained the intent of the journalistic initiative in his abstract on CCNF for an upcoming oral session at the AGU Fall Meeting in December:
CCNF was established to provide a publicly visible platform for discussion of scientific issues related to climate change and, at a later date, policy options motivated by climate change science.
The site is also designed to promote public literacy in the culture and conduct of science by incorporating dozens of active scientists in a broad range of climate science and related fields and encouraging dialogue among those scientists.
The forum provides a rare window into scientific debate, allowing non-scientists to see how scientists evaluate the work of others, construct meaning out of various bits of evidence, formulate ideas, challenge their colleagues, and (on occasion) develop a consensus. As such, the site is intended to have educational value well beyond its climate science focus.
Setting the Stage for a National Debate on Climate Policy
All of this blogging on the science is laying the foundation for an ongoing national dialogue on what can or should be done about climate change as a nation. This is Phase II of the CCNF project, and it is set to begin on January 1st, 2015 and continue indefinitely. When Phase II begins, the Forum will be open to various subject matter experts, leaders in energy and sustainability, former military leaders, environmentalists, innovators and advocates of climate-mitigation and -adaptation technologies, unique voices, students and educators, and policymakers on both sides of the aisle – all to share and debate ideas. The Forum will feature an ongoing and rigorous bi-partisan policy debate that will be grounded in science, informed by experts, and covered by journalists.
Thanks to nearly a year’s worth of posting, commenting, and fact checking by the dozens of climate and physical scientists comprising the CCNF science columnist community, this entire dialogue will be based on a common, accurate understanding of the science of climate change. During Phase II, any subject matter expert or policymaker will be free to advocate for any policy solution in the Forum so long as it is based on the climate science discussed or reviewed by the scientists. This rule, along with the structured bifurcation of science and policy in the Forum, is designed to prevent cherry picking. The appearance of the Scientists’ Comment Thread under ever policy post should also ensure the policy discussion and debate stays moored to the science.
With Phase II fast approaching, CCNF has begun building its CCNF subject matter and policy columnist community, and, based on the initial group assembled, we are on our way to amassing a community that transcends partisan labels and could very well de-tribalize this issue. In sum, CCNF is on the verge of establishing a scientifically grounded national dialogue that will serve as a true marketplace of bi-partisan policy ideas on what to do about climate change. Such a forum does not exist at this time, and it is desperately needed, especially in the online space.
Origins and Leadership
The CCNF project is being led by: Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon; Dr. Barry Lefer—Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science, Chemistry and Associate Chair of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Houston; and Tracy Hester—law faculty and former Director of the Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Center at the University of Houston Law Center. The project was started by Michael Quirke, a law student at the University of Houston Law Center, web developer, and former Army captain. Drs. Nielsen-Gammon and Lefer and Prof. Hester are the founding board members and comprised the start of the CCNF Columnist Community. Quirke is the Forum’s founding journalist and is serving as the executive director of CCNF.
If We Built It, Will They Fund?
Our contributing scientists are advancing climate literacy where it counts the most (among the uninformed, misinformed, and unengaged) and are all but complete in laying the foundation for a scientifically grounded national dialogue on climate policy that could last for many years. We’ve gotten this far on a shoe-string budget, but, alas, we are now running on empty.
To sustain operations and continue scaling up, we need to hire a staff of three. Considering all the progress made and the immense potential of this scalable national dialogue coming out of Houston, it would be a HUGE opportunity loss if this fine working ship were to never make it out of the shallows for lack of funding and crew. This is why CCNF is reaching out to local and national corporations and foundations to step up as core sustaining sponsors and back a project that is obviously working.
With modest funding, CCNF will hire the staff of three necessary to sustain operations and continue scaling up. With funding and resources remotely close to a level that is commensurate to the challenge we face, CCNF will be a game-changer. With no funding for a staff, CCNF will die.
What is the value of a high-profile, scientifically grounded marketplace of bi-partisan policy ideas on climate change?
How CCNF Works
Scientists have free reign to post in the science sections and comment in the Scientists’ Comment Thread, which is a separate comment thread just for the science columnists and their guests. Once Phase II kicks in, the subject matter and policy columnists will have free reign to post in the policy sections of the site. The journalists control their two sections and cover the dialogue.
[UPDATE 12/12/14: We also plan on establishing a science-writer/educator columnist category soon.]
Columnists that contribute regularly to the Forum elect the board in annual elections. The board, in turn, acts as the gatekeeper, admitting only those applicants who can meet CCNF’s columnist criteria. Each CCNF columnist and journalist has the privilege to grant a guest temporary publishing privileges in the sections they have access to. Thus, it is possible for a columnist to act as an individual editor and producer of content in the Forum.
No one is in control and this ongoing Socratic dialogue is just a sum of all its contributions by the growing CCNF Columnist Community and CCNF journalists.
CCNF enhances dialogue among thought leaders, informs the uniformed and misinformed
CCNF has garnered a readership that spans scientific, socio-economic, demographic, and political spectrums, and this audience will only grow and further diversify once the policy phase begins. Just check out who’s following CCNF on Twitter. It has to be the most diverse audience ever for a climate blog. It includes the thought leaders in this space – such as the “who’s who” of climate scientists, journalists, university departments and national labs, and advocacy groups – but there are also all kinds of people and groups that one would not normally expect to follow a climate blog.
The CCNF science columnists are doing their best to make these posts, discussions, and debates as accessible as possible to a layperson audience. That being said, much of this material is still way over the heads of average folks. This is why it is so necessary that CCNF gain funding in order to hire a journalism staff and maybe a couple researchers to break down the more complex content so that it can be grasped by regular citizens on the street. Substantial funding would enable the hiring of a communications staff, who would be responsible for ensuring the columnists’ and journalists’ content reaches regular folks on the street. Right now the journalism staff is just one individual temporarily working part-time as a volunteer, and there’s no director of communications. This is just one example of how the absence of funding is seriously undermining the project’s ability to accomplish its journalistic and educational mission.
The Science of Climate Change: As discussed and reviewed by the participating scientists
Over the past 11 months, CCNF’s contributing scientists have spent thousands of hours voluntarily blogging on the science of climate change and engaging with one another in the Scientists’ Comment Thread – often with the same level of scrutiny and attention to detail that they bring to peer-review. They have also dispelled dozens of prevalent myths about climate change by fact checking and commenting on a myriad of claims from the media. Through this ongoing dialogue, it has become clear where the threats and risks lie in regards to global warming and ocean acidification, what projected impacts and risks come with unchecked greenhouse emissions, what the relative degrees of uncertainty are in these various projections and estimates, what is known and certain to come, what gaps in knowledge remain, and, finally, what opportunities exist in mitigating these risks and reducing future impacts.
As the founders intended, individual scientists from a broad range of disciplines have not only communicated what their conclusions are on climate change, but also shown readers and future participants how and why they arrive at these conclusions. It’s been a wide-ranging discussion on the state of the art of climate change science, with some illuminating debate among various participants, and through this ground-up dialogue, which began with zero assumptions on climate change, a consensus on the fundamental aspects of the science has clearly emerged. Thus, a working basis for a subsequent policy dialogue has begun to take shape and solidify.
Things that the scientists have extensively covered and made clear:
Note: Any scientist that can meet the CCNF science columnist criteria is welcome to join the Forum and affirm or contest any of the following conclusions on the science of climate change. Depending on the merits of one’s argument and evidence, this will either alter or reinforce this common foundation for the policy dialogue on CCNF.
There’s the big picture on the climate system and how the carbon cycle works; the numerous lines of evidence attributing the recent rise of warming to man-made CO2 emissions; the “cause and effect” physics of how climate changes as a result of forcings and subsequent responses (this includes the First Law of Thermodynamics, described by Dr. Scott Denning as “when you add heat to things, they heat up”); the transitions between the ice ages and warm periods, including the forcings and positive feedbacks that drove those transitions (“our emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are taking what likely operated as a feedback during the Quaternary cycles and making it a primary forcing of the Earth’s radiative blance (or imbalance in this case)” – Dr. Will Howard, SCT, Fears of Freezing); the long atmospheric life of CO2 (“A better approximation of the lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 for public discussion might be ‘‘300 years, plus 25% that lasts forever’’” – Dr. David Archer, quoted by Dr. Jeremy Shakun, Teaching Climate Change through Six Questions).
This open discussion has revealed the general time-scales for the full manifestation of a warming response; what is known about man-made climate change and ocean acidification, including what impacts are certain to come and those that are still being debated in the peer-reviewed literature; the history of climate change science, including the milestones and discoveries that marked the path to our current knowledge and modern understanding of the climate system; the difference between weather and climate; the “noisiness” of natural variability on a decadal time scale; the range of uncertainties in climate sensitivity estimates; and the remaining gaps of knowledge in our understanding of climate. Further dialogue has shown what climate scientists are saying and concluding about the recent slow down in the rise of global surface temperature; the enormous heat capacity of the ocean and its unabated warming; and what “extreme weather” really means and where it fits in all of this.
There have also been a number of enlightening posts and discussions on risk and how to responsibly communicate science in general and climate change science in particular. The contributing scientists have also emphasized the difference between questions on science (e.g., how much will it warm?) and those on values (e.g., at what level will the warming be catastrophic?), and the difference between the public debate on climate change versus the scientific one.
Thanks to an extensive discussion and debate in recent months on climate sensitivity, the Forum’s scientists have narrowed down (for purposes of this dialogue) the likely and plausible ranges of the ultimate warming response to a doubling of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. This includes the best estimates of the most likely warming response as well as the lowest and highest plausible warming response (aka the best-case and worst-case scenarios).
There are a few remaining topics that have yet to be covered in depth. These include ocean acidification, long-range sea level rise, the full range of expected impacts in these likely and worst-case scenarios under a high-emissions future and a future where emissions are substantially reduced, and a few other things. Hopefully, these topics will be explored before January. All-in-all, the risks and threats of continuing “business as usual” well into this century and the opportunity to reduce those risks and threats through climate mitigation that achieves a low emissions future have all been made clear. What the best way forward is in terms of policy and the comparison of the costs and benefits of possible policy responses are all questions and issues to explore in Phase II, but the foundation in the science has been all but set!
Join us on this intellectual journey!
Please do not hesitate to ask our contributing scientists questions in the Public Comment Thread (they often graciously reply). Also, once Phase II kicks off, we hope you chime in and share with us your thoughts on what we can or should do about climate change as a nation.