We’ve built it, but will they fund? Need sponsors for scientifically grounded ‘Grand Debate’ on national climate policy

January 8, 2015 7:27 pm0 comments

The first phase for this journalism experiment was fairly simple: Customize the website I had created for the issue of climate change in accordance with the board’s guidance; issue a national call to the Fellows and scientist-members of the American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union, and American Institute of Physics to participate in an open Socratic forum on the science of climate change and its policy implications; start the Forum with zero assumptions on climate change and give each scientist that shows up full publishing-privileges to blog and converse freely; procure outside media for the scientists to fact check or comment on; and report whatever transpires. It would be a true public forum for real scientists, and CCNF’s expert criteria for admission as a science columnist would not require a scientist applicant to divulge his or her position on man-made climate change. We weren’t really sure how it would turn out.

ORGANIZATIONAL CHART GRAPHIC

Organizational chart of the staff and the different types of contributors as of 11/20/2014. Note: CCNF plans on hiring one or two in-house journalists and has now added a science educator/communicator columnist category and will be adding an exclusive section for these columnists on the homepage.

If it worked — as in a substantial discussion and debate on the most policy-relevant scientific questions on climate change was had by a large and diverse body of climate and physical scientists and some funding for a staff of two or three was acquired — then we would begin the second phase of the journalism project. This would begin with the creation of some separate policy categories and the Forum would open up to all kinds of experts and policymakers on both sides of the aisle to discuss and debate what can or should be done about climate change as a nation — all of which would be based on whatever came out of the scientists’ dialogue.

One of the reasons the founding board and I structured it this way is because the main reason why a productive bi-partisan dialogue on climate policy doesn’t exist is because each side can never agree on the underlining science. This project — if Phase I were successful — could perhaps get past that hurdle by first serving as an objective forum for scientists to hash things out on the science through the Socratic method and in a very public manner before ever getting into the policy side of things, and then whatever has held weight in this discussion and debate — that will be the basis for a policy debate. Thus, everyone will more or less be the same page on the science before the policy debate begins, and, similar to evidence in a court course, only the science that has been discussed or reviewed and withstood scrutiny by the participating scientists would be considered in proposing and debating policy.

Corporate SponsorsWe had no money at the start with, just as we have no money now (a few donations from readers, friends, and family have helped along the way, but this is not enough for a single full-time staffer), so the plan was to prove the success of the Forum and get as far forward in the national dialogue as possible before I had to start preparing for the bar. If we did that, surely some corporate sponsorship or modest funding for at least a staff of two to three would come through. I mean, what is an ongoing and continually growing bi-partisan dialogue on climate policy – one that is grounded in sound science – worth?

So the Forum officially started a little over one year ago, on January 1, 2014, with just five scientists signed up as science columnists and yours truly as the acting journalist. It’s been a lot of work on part of the scientists and this one staffer, but lo and behold, but for the funding part, the plan worked! The platform really works!

CCNF establishes foundation for scientifically grounded national debate on climate policy

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Mount Pinatubo eruption, June 1991. From 'Cause and Effect' by Dr. Scott Denning. Source: Wikimedia commons.

Mount Pinatubo eruption (1991) from Dr. Scott Denning’s post on climate sensitivity, titled ‘Cause and Effect’ . Image source: Wikimedia commons.

Over the past 12 months, almost two dozen scientists — many of whom are at the forefront of their fields and adept communicators — have voluntarily blogged on pretty much all the fundamental aspects of climate science, shared innumerable insights into the state of the art of climate change science, and have regularly engaged 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.

There’s been considerable dialogue and some illuminating debate on the all-important question of climate sensitivity, which is pretty much how much and how fast the climate will warm in response to heat forcing from X amount (usually a doubling) of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The scientists have also collectively dispelled dozens of common myths about climate change by fact checking and commenting on a myriad of claims in the media, and many of the scientists have generously taken additional time to respond to readers’ comments in the Public Comment Thread and to my inquires as the Forum’s acting journalist. As the founding board-members intended, these scientists, who are from a broad range of areas, have not only communicated what their conclusions are on different aspects of climate change, but also shown readers how and why they arrive at these conclusions.

SRES and RCP scenarios

Projected radiative forcing (W ^m-2) over the 21st century from the SRES and RCP scenarios. Draft Figure 1-4 from IPCC AR5 WGII, Chapter 1.

Through this ground-up dialogue, a number of consensuses on the fundamental aspects of the science of climate change have clearly emerged. These include but are not limited to the absorption and re-emission of IR heat radiation by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; the First Law of Thermodynamics–explained by Dr. Scott Denning as “when you add heat to things, they heat up”; and the positive feedback role that atmospheric carbon dioxide played in the transition out of the last ice age and the role it is playing now as the main driver of the observed warming that began shortly after the industrial revolution. Additionally, 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 and what remains unknown, and what opportunities exist in mitigating these risks and reducing future impacts have all become clear through the scientists’ dialogue this past year. This understanding of the science within the Forum will continue to develop and evolve and could even be altered as new scientists join and participate and new scientific knowledge emerges from the peer-reviewed literature, but a common and manageable working knowledge has definitely been established for a policy debate.

With sustaining funds, this will be the ‘Grand Debate’ that so many have called for, but no one has yet to establish

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CCNF now stands on the cusp doing something that has never been done before: Establishing an ongoing bi-partisan dialogue on climate policy that (by the structure of the Forum and active moderation by journalists) will remain moored to sound science. This could be the “Grand Debate” on the path forward on climate change – a “coming to Jesus” meeting if you will – for the nation. It ALL depends on whether the project receives sustaining corporate sponsorship or philanthropic/foundation funding.

With just a modest budget for a full-time executive director, communications director, and one or two journalists, CCNF will continue operating through 2015, enhance and improve coverage of this issue, and exponentially scale up operations and grow our audience.

After CCNF’s success at the recent AGU Fall Meeting, a critical mass in the number of scientists participating is ours for the taking, but this will first require following up with around fifty people, which we are not able to do at this time because CCNF’s only two part-time staffers are disengaging from the project to prepare for and take the bar exam.  A staff of three would also enable CCNF to make enhancements to the website and fully execute plans for Phase II, not to mention work on fundraising on the side for the full realization of the project’s potential. But with no funding, I am afraid all forward momentum will be lost and CCNF will start dying a slow death at the doorstep of success. I believe that would be a huge opportunity loss for the nation on this front. What other journalistic initiative has shown more potential to serve as the online platform for a true national dialogue on the way forward on climate change? Regarding the past year, what other group has achieved more with less?

Unique opportunity for corporation or foundation to become a recognized leader in the climate space

Corporate Sponsor Podcast Sustaining sponsorship will enable a local or national corporation or foundation to raise its national profile in the climate space, play a strategic role in the advancement of climate literacy in America (and the world, considering 20% of our traffic is international) and in the establishment of an unprecedented national debate on climate policy – one that will be grounded in sound science and based on shared values. No one has been able to achieve this, yet it is within our grasp. The only question is whether the business and philanthropic community will step up. What is your scope of ambition on climate? Help us make this happen. _

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Michael Quirke
Executive Director
Climate Change National Forum
1016 East 6 1/2 Street
Houston, TX 77009
m.quirke(at)ClimateChangeNationalForum(dot)org
281-832-3170
 
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P.S. For insight into the audience that CCNF has built up organically since the Forum went live one year ago, check out this post of snapshots of our Google Analytics and scroll through our ‘Followers’ page on Twitter (@ClimateChangeNF).


CCNF is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit confirmed by the IRS (EIN# 45-4570998). As such, donations to CCNF are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

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