Slinging CCNF at the AGU Fall Meeting… With a light dose of Texas swagger

January 8, 2015 8:11 pm0 comments

David and I were posted at our booth and ready to rock when  Monday evening’s “Ice Breaker” kicked off and the exhibit hall opened up for the first time at the recent American Geophysical Union’s annual Fall Meeting for 2014 (AGU14). Accomplishing this while keeping within CCNF’s modest budget of the week meant spending the better part of the first day buying furnishings at 1/4th their rental price, which wasn’t planned, but we had everything set up and the site up on all our six screens when the exhibit hall’s doors opened up for the first time. As the attendees poured in to grab a (free) beer and check out the exhibits for the first time, David remarked “Take that you union racketeers!” From then on, almost all day every day, at least one of us was at the booth promoting the CCNF project, showing the website, or pitching columnist-membership to attendees.

AGU from 2013

Exhibit hall at the AGU Fall Meeting (previous photo from AGU13, but the best one out there). Credit: AGU

Slinging CCNF

Slinging CCNF at AGU14.

Recruiting: Scientists, educators, communicators, & experts

For the most part we were focused on recruiting scientists so that CCNF can reach a critical mass, and there was no better place to do this than the AGU Fall Meeting – the largest gathering of earth, climate, and space scientists in the word. But we were also there to recruit science educators and communicators for a new section that will come online once we have an initial group of columnists. Unlike other sections, this section will be for science educators and communicators to produce content for kids or a really general audience comprising true newcomers to this issue and regular folks on the street with only a fleeing interest on this issue. This section will also serve as a space for educators and communicators to communicate with one another and share resources. Teachers will also be encouraged to post their own lesson plans for feedback or republish their school textbook’s section on climate change for the scientists to fact check. (The scientists on CCNF will also be able to publish in this section.)

CCNF’s board and staff felt this section was needed because much of the material being published on CCNF, while great for certain audiences or for showing where the actual scientific discussion or debate lies on an area of the science, can be way over the heads of regular folks. As for the content produced for kids, if CCNF were to get funded, we’ll set up a separate platform/website that will be geared for kids and will feature content coming out of this section (so long as it passes muster among the scientists in terms of accuracy).


Michael Quirke slinging CCNF at AGU14Finally, David and I were also on the lookout for social scientists, various experts, advocates, and young students at the conference. This is because CCNF has begun transitioning to Phase II with the new year and is now opening up to participants from broad range of fields for an expanded dialogue on the many economic, social, national security, and geopolitical implications of climate change and for discussion and debate on what can or should be done as a nation (based on the science discussed or reviewed by the scientists in the Forum).

NOTE: I say CCNF has *begun* transitioning to Phase II, because we still need to set up new policy sections and categories on the site to keep everything organized, and absent funding for a staff, this might take a while due to the fact that David and I have to disengage for two months to prepare for our bar exams. CCNF will continue to operate during this time thanks to others taking on essential duties, but there will be no one on staff to work on the site (or follow up on most of the leads we made at AGU14) for a period. That being said, the full transition over to Phase II should be complete in the early part of 2015.

Slinging CCNF… with a little Texas swagger

Slinging Climate Change National Forum at the AGU Fall Meeting 2014.I had a ball of a time exhibiting at AGU14 and definitely made the most of the opportunity. I’d stand right at the front of the booth area and just politely ask passersby, “Interested in advancing climate literacy?” Sometimes that’s all it took to hook someone in. When it didn’t keep an attendee from walking away, but registered an affirmative response, hesitancy to stop, or the slightest inkling of interest, I’d summon all my showmanship and with a dose of Texas swagger (I was wearing my Stetson after all) declare, “We have the only objective and troll-free public comment thread for scientists on the internet!” (which is true). That would often get the attendee to turn right around and check us out. It was like getting a duck flying away to come back with a duck call, except I can hardly ever get that to happen and this worked repeatedly!

The attendees would always be more than a little skeptical after hearing that bold claim. Some common responses were “Come on, really?”, “Now way”, “How is that even possible?”, or (my favorite) “bull shit.” I’d then turn one of the screens showing the Scientists’ Comment Thread (SCT) toward them and say “Here, see for yourself” and then prove them wrong every time!

Mr. Extraordinaire: David Leib

Mr. Extraordinaire: David Leib

Once we had folks engaged, David or I would show them the Forum and community, find out who they were and what their field was, explain the mission and overall project, and stress the importance of informing a bi-partisan policy debate with sound science. If they were interested, we’d ask them to make the commitment to apply and participate by signing a sheet. (Looking back, we should have had applications forms printed out, just to get the scientists that committed started on the application, which is super short but requires a CV and photo.) If someone was really interested but not ready to sign up just yet, we would get their contact information and add their name to a list so we can follow up with them later.

It wasn’t long before David picked up on the pitches and buzzwords and started bringing ‘em in and getting a few commitments. A number of times we’d be engaging with 5 folks at once.

So how did we do after it was all said and done?


Calling all climate and physical scientists and subject matter and policy experts! Join Climate Change National Forum!

>  Eight scientists made the commitment to apply and (if admitted) participate in the Forum. This group includes one very high-profile scientist and great communicator whom I have been courting for some time, and one physicist who recently authored a fantastic op-ed that got a lot of play in the media.

>  Another 21 scientists; 3 science educators/communicators; 2 social scientists; 1 journalist; and 1 thorium-nuclear energy advocate are keenly interested in joining CCNF and contributing to the Forum. Most of this group wanted to spend some time checking out the site before making any commitment. The scientists in this group ranged from PhD candidates to the former head of NOAA’s National Climate Program, and one of the social scientists in this group is very well known and respected in the climate communication space.

>  Based on the few hundred interactions that David and I had throughout the conference and the number of cards I handed out or left on posters, I’d say there are likely around 40 additional scientists and almost a dozen science communicators that are interested enough that they might actually join after a follow-up, especially if they see others joining.

NOTE: Following up with these folks, which is almost always required to get someone to join CCNF and get set up (scientists are very busy and we ain’t paying anyone), will take some time, and without a staff to replace David and I during our hiatus, it might even take a few months, but it will be done.

Engagements with movers & shakers and potential partners:

>  CCNF had a very promising meeting and intermittent engagements with the leader and team of an up-and-coming initiative that aims to enable scientists to fact check claims on the science in the media. I had been in communication with the leader of this initiative before AGU14. They are still early in the developmental stage, but it seems there’s a lot our organizations could offer one another. I am confident some mutually beneficial collaboration could come from this, especially after they realize how hard it is to recruit a community of scientists for everything to work.

>  The former head of NOAA’s Climate Program (mentioned above) — who among other things was the head of the technical review of the IPCC’s first 1990 report, architect and former director of the U.S. National Climate Program (early legislation to study climate), and former director of the National Research Council’s Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate — was absolutely blown away with CCNF. “You are doing this exactly the right way,” he said. He was very interested in either participating or playing a part. Will definitely be following up with him.

>  The senior outreach adviser (also a scientist) for a major NASA research center that was at our oral session later stopped by the booth and received the full presentation. She was most impressed with the project. Before leaving with my card she said in the right kind of tone, “I’m going to share this information with some folks.” I hope so!

>  After an oral session, I engaged with the senior climate outreach adviser for UCAR and leader of a new initiative called Backed by the UN-affiliated World Meteorological Organization and UCAR, enables citizen groups to find a credentialed climate scientist near them to speak at their event. The group already has a network of over 636 scientists across the U.S. and Canada. She was super-impressed with the Scientists’ Comment Thread and asked for my card. (I would totally get my go-to programmer to set up a SCT on their website if just 5% of the scientists in that network were to join CCNF and participate.) Maybe a deal could be struck?

>  We also had three to four positive responses from labs that might be interested in having a large contingent of their researchers join CCNF en mass as an unofficial collective outreach project. A lot of these labs often do local outreach projects that only have a limited impact, so CCNF was offering them a far greater impact considering CCNF’s posts regularly have over 1,000 views and a good number are peaking around 3,000). It would also increase the visibility of their lab indirectly. CCNF would not and could not get any monetary gain from such a collaboration or partnership, but we would definitely gain from more experts participating in the dialogue. Critical mass just takes a little from a lot.

Promising leads on sponsorship:

Click here to learn more about becoming a corporate or foundation sponsor of CCNF.

> I exchanged cards with almost two dozen exhibitors of companies big and small as well as a few universities and research collaborations in the United States and all over the world. Most of the time the right person to talk to was not present, but after checking out the site on the laptop and recognizing that it could be an opportunity, they’d always promise to pass on my card to the higher ups or give me the name of the person to contact. One conglomeration of research and academic entities from a nearby country seemed particularly interested in the offer (it also helped that I name-dropped a Nobel laureate from their country that had previously shared a CCNF post on his website).

Hopefully something will come through. CCNF has grown far beyond what a part-time law student can effectively manage and further build upon, so we are desperate for funds to hire an actual staff so we can continue succeeding and scaling up and execute plans for Phase II. A staff will enable CCNF to realize its full potential.

Enough to reach a critical mass?

After AGU14, I can say reaching a critical mass is no longer a question of “if” but is now a question of “when”. That being said, it might take a good while without funding considering that David and I will be off the clock for bar prep for a while and will be getting “real jobs” after that. Rest assured though, all follow ups will be made.

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