Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The New National Climate Assessment and Related Resources

Earlier today, May 6, 2014, the new National Climate Assessment (NCA) was released. There's an event being webcasted from the Whitehouse right now (until 4:00 pm EDT). That's here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/live

The NCA has a few different access points online. It's a massive document with lots of rich multimedia. For accessing the NCA itself, you might start on http://www.globalchange.gov which provides links to various pieces of the report.

NOAA has also put together a page specifically for educators: http://www.climate.gov/teaching/2014-national-climate-assessment-resources-educators. This nicely breaks out the NCA's Report Findings, and I've cut and pasted that below. 
  • Report Finding 1: Global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations. The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. Learn More
  • Report Finding 2: Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and new and stronger evidence confirms that some of these increases are related to human activities. Learn More
  • Report Finding 3: Human-induced climate change is projected to continue, and it will accelerate significantly if global emissions of heat-trapping gasses continue to increase. Learn More
  • Report Finding 4: Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond. Learn More
  • Report Finding 5: Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including through more extreme weather events and wildfire, decreased air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects, food and water. Learn More
  • Report Finding 6: Infrastructure is being damaged by sea level rise, heavy downpours, and extreme heat; damages are projects to increase with continued climate change. Learn More
  • Report Finding 7: Water quality and water supply reliability are jeopardized by climate change in a variety of ways that affect ecosystems and livelihoods. Learn More
  • Report Finding 8: Climate disruptions to agriculture have been increasing and are projects to become more severe over this century. Learn More
  • Report Finding 9: Climate change poses particular threats to Indigenous Peoples' health, well-being, and ways of life. Learn More
  • Report Finding 10: Ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being affected by climate change. The capacity of ecosystems to buffer the impacts of extreme events like fires, floods, and severe storms is being overwhelmed. Learn More
  • Report Finding 11: Ocean waters are becoming warmer and more acidic, broadly affecting ocean circulation, chemistry, ecosystems, and marine life. Learn More
  • Report Finding 12: Planning for adaptation (to address and prepare for impacts) and mitigation (to reduce future climate change, for example by cutting emissions) is becoming more widespread, but current implementation efforts are insufficient to avoid increasingly negative social, environmental, and economic consequences. Learn More

Note that the NCA has much of it's info broken down by region, so you can focus on what's most relevant where you are. 

There's also a series of related videos found here: http://vimeo.com/channels/nca. I've embedded the Health Chapter Video below.

All of this is brand new today, so I've not had much chance to explore (though I did look at earlier public drafts). If you find things especially helpful for learning and teaching about climate change, it'd be nice to share it in the comments below.

About the Author

Don Duggan-Haas is Director of Teacher Programs at the PaleontologicalResearch Institution in Ithaca. Along with colleagues Robert Ross and Warren Allmon, he authored The Science Beneath the Surface: A VeryShort Guide to the Marcellus Shale.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (Part 3)

This post has been revised to reflect that the deadline for comments on the 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan has been extended to May 30, 2014.

This post is the third in a series that addresses the 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan and some public reactions to that plan. As mentioned in the last post, this commentary relates to New York State and its energy planning most directly, but the nature of what is happening here related to energy is instructive for both other areas of the country and for other controversial topics.

It is recommended that you start with Part 1. And, here's Part 2, if you need a refresher.

The laser-like focus on stopping fracking in New York State is admirable. I strongly believe that the activist community, both in New York and around the country, have led to stronger regulations and improved safety and environmental practices. But I have concerns about unintended consequences. Advocating against one particular thing often makes you de facto for something else. If you've not thought carefully about what that something else is, success in advocacy may not bring positive change. Germany is, unfortunately, providing a strong example of this. The decision to phase out nuclear power has led Germany to burn more strip-mined brown coal in 2013 than they have in decades. See a recent New York Times story on that here.

Finding a cheap and easy source of energy, using up the easy to get stores of fuel and pursuing the remaining reserves through increasingly environmentally damaging and expensive means has happened again and again throughout our history as this cartoon from 1861 shows:
The caption reads: Grand Ball given by the Whales in honor of the discovery of the Oil Wells in Pennsylvania. 

While attention is given to transitioning to renewable sources, planning for effective transitions requires knowing where you’re starting. I’d like to help people better understand the system they are trying to change to reduce the likelihood of harmful unintended consequences.

While many speakers at the public hearing on the Energy Plan expressed the need to transition to renewables immediately, the laws of physics make that impossible (unless immediately means many years). Many cited the study led by Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson which acknowledges this reality, though some of the speakers made it sound as if 100% renewable energy could somehow happen tomorrow. Energy production and use requires a lot of infrastructure - we have one kind and need another. We can't make that new infrastructure instantly and we can't do it without using the existing energy system. Making solar panels and windmills requires energy, and to replace our current energy infrastructure, it would take lots of energy - more than can be provided from renewable sources right now.

Replacing the current energy system with one that is 100% renewable would also require lots of space. For example, if we wanted to keep the University of Buffalo's 750 kilowatt quarter-of-a-mile-long Solar Strand the same width and extend it so that it was long enough to match the generating capacity of Ontario's 6.3 gigawatt Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, we'd need to extend the Solar Strand from Buffalo to Phoenix, Arizona! I think it makes more sense to put solar on rooftops than to use bare ground, so think about how many rooftops that would require, and think about how much energy would be required to make all of those solar panels! That's for a single (admittedly very large) power plant!

None of the above is intended to imply that the draft can't be substantially improved - it can. But the gist of the initiatives are about transitioning away from fossil fuels and to reduce energy demand, and it seems to me that most of the commentators failed to address that at all.

Some very brief feedback on the Plan itself:

The Plan does need to include a brief summary of its goals and initiatives in the first few pages, perhaps in the form of an executive summary. That should be followed by a brief overview of where we're starting from - that is; it needs to educate readers about our current energy system, and important changes in that system in recent years.

All of the problems discussed above can be addressed in a range of ways, but there's one strategy that addresses them all - use less energy. And this idea is, thankfully, addressed directly and frequently in the Draft 2014 New York State Energy Plan. Unfortunately, this was only mentioned by a minority of the speakers at the February meeting.

Of course, the Plan itself warrants much more feedback than I've provided in these closing brief paragraphs. I have spent much more time discussing the perception of the Plan than I have discussing the plan itself, because perception really matters. I hope readers of this series of posts will comment on the Draft New York Energy Plan before May 30, 2014. 

I further hope that they will take a careful look at the Plan before they do so. That doesn't require reading all of its many hundreds of pages, but it does require looking closely at the content you know and care the most about. Take advantage of the electronic presentation and search for terms that you think are most important to address, and read those sections carefully. Scan through to get a feeling for completeness, and for balance. Take notes as you go and then craft it into feedback that addresses both what you think is appropriately addressed in the Plan and, being as specific as possible, address its shortcomings and offer specific suggestions on how to improve it. 

Our energy system matters a great deal for almost everything we do. I'm delighted by the interest that changes to that system brings to it. Hydrofracking is catalyzing learning and teaching about the energy system, and political action too. Let's work to make all of our roles in that as beneficial as possible. 

About the Author

Don Duggan-Haas is Director of Teacher Programs at the PaleontologicalResearch Institution in Ithaca. Along with colleagues Robert Ross and Warren Allmon, he authored The Science Beneath the Surface: A VeryShort Guide to the Marcellus Shale.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (Part 2)

This post was updated to reflect that the deadline for comments on the  2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan has been extended to May 30. 

This post is the second in a series that addresses the 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan and some public reactions to that plan. Click to see Part 1 and Part 3. While this commentary relates to New York State and its energy planning most directly, the nature of what is happening here related to energy is instructive for both other areas of the country and for other controversial topics. The State Energy Planning Board is accepting comments on the Plan through May 30, 2014, so this is also a nudge to encourage people to comment. These reflections were inspired by my participation in a public meeting about the Plan on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at the University of Buffalo. I’ll say a (very short) bit about the Plan. Then I’ll blend together a bit about the meeting with reflections on its implications for those engaged in energy education and activism. I’ll include in that discussion some feedback for the Plan that might have implications for policymakers and activists.

If you've not read the first post in the series, you might want to do that before reading further. It's short, and right here. And it includes an instantly scored little quiz.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (Part 1)

This is the first post of a three part series. Click to see Part 1 and Part 2.

On Tuesday, February 25, I attended the public meeting on the 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan. It was a fascinating day. This post is the first of a three part series that reflects on the meeting and its implications. I’m hopeful that this set of posts will inspire New Yorkers to take a close look at the plan and to offer feedback. This first post is the shortest of the three and starts off with a one-question quiz.

After you answer the question and click submit, you’ll see a link to a map that shows the answer for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. After you’ve taken the quiz, explore the map, paying attention to the variation in where electricity comes from around the country, looking for things that surprise you.

The map linked from the response page is also embedded below. How did you do?

No peeking!
Don’t scroll on until you’ve taken the quiz!

The five largest sources for the US are labeled. The question, however, was about your state.

Electricity Sources for US States Prezi - click here to see an interactive version of the map.

Data from: http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.cfm#consumption.
See the interactive map here: http://bit.ly/e-stateportfolios.

The structure of the public meeting was simple. There was no formal presentation about the plan. There were members of the Planning Board who helped write it, but they weren’t there to give out information. They were there to take it in. People signed in before entering the large room, and, if they were inclined to speak, they signed up for that. Each speaker was allowed five minutes. In the course of the roughly three-and-a-half hour meeting, about 40 people spoke. I was number 29.

I had brought prepared remarks with me to read for my five-minute slot. After listening to the 28 who came before me, I decided to ditch my prepared statement and I asked the question I just asked you instead. The question was directed to the audience, not to the Energy Planning Board. Though the question wasn’t directed to the Board, I was putting on a show for them, to highlight important changes that I think need to be made in the Energy Plan before it is finalized.

I give a lot of talks that are sort of about the Marcellus Shale and hydrofracking, but really, that’s just a hook to get people in the door. The talk I give most frequently is titled, There’s no such thing as a free megawatt: Hydrofracking as a gateway drug to energy literacy. I ask the question above early in my talk and ask people to raise their hands twice as I go down through the list. Before actually having them raise their hands, I note that for most of the last 15 years, the two biggest sources of electricity have been roughly tied for first place, and that in 2008, each provided 31%. Then I have them raise their hands as I read down through the list.

You know how you did on the quiz. How do you think the people in the audience, who mostly came to give feedback on the Energy Plan did on the quiz? We’ll get to that in the second part of this three part post.

This is the first post of a three part series. Click to see Part 1 and Part 2.

About the Author

Don Duggan-Haas is Director of Teacher Programs at the PaleontologicalResearch Institution in Ithaca. Along with colleagues Robert Ross and Warren Allmon, he authored The Science Beneath the Surface: A VeryShort Guide to the Marcellus Shale.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Having of Holiday Climate Change Chats

The Having of Holiday Climate Change Chats 

Tyler K. Perry

With the holidays right around the corner, many families will soon gather around the dinner table and spend quality time with one another, laughing, sharing memories, and in many cases debating current events. My family can argue over just about anything, whether it be about whose fault it was for leaving my adolescent father in the grocery store parking lot 30 years ago, to how this country should be run and by whom. We are a small close knit family, that helps one another out when needed, and we all love each other very much. However, whenever the whole family is together, somehow, some way, a controversial topic rears its ugly head and soon a heated debate is ignited. Once that first spark flies, not even my mother’s famous homemade creamed onions can contain this clash of opinions. Maybe it’s my grandmother’s stubbornness, or my Aunt’s short fuse, but “teams” are formed and a formidable argument ensues. Most of the time it is usually over by the time pumpkin pie is served, and the consensus is always the same, agree to disagree. 

As a child these arguments caused sadness and frustration that my family would rather argue at the dinner table about concepts that I did not understand, instead of laughing and recounting fond memories together like the families in all the Christmas movies. However, now that I am older and I have opinions of my own, I feel myself becoming tempted to join in the debates, especially those revolving around science and the environment. As a senior in the Environmental and Forestry Biology Department at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, I consider myself well versed in a number of scientific and environmental topics and controversies. I would like to share my knowledge and opinions with my family, without getting into a heated argument over dinner and letting my mashed potatoes go cold. When everyone is yelling, no one is listening. 

Hurricane Sandy tore through the Northeastern coast in a terrifying display of Mother Nature’s force. It is therefore a feasible prediction that Sandy, and the ever growing talk of climate change may be a dinner table topic this holiday season. Climate change is a real issue that is affecting our everyday lives and is not going away anytime soon. However there are those out there that dispute the science and still believe that climate change is just a myth. If those naysayers happen to be sitting around your dinner table this holiday season, I have outlined steps to take that will help you get your point regarding climate change (or any other environmental topic) across respectfully and effectively. At the end of the post are some resources for going further. 

The first thing that you need to do, is to make sure your audience knows that you respect their opinion and are willing to listen to what they have to say. The conversation is going to go smoothly when both parties know there is mutual respect. 

The biggest problem with the public opinion of climate change is separating fact from fiction. Setting the record straight on some of the myths out there is number one. According to the “Debunking Handbook” that was referenced in the holiday post last year, it’s better to disprove a myth with three to four facts, rather than ten or twelve. It’s important to not bombard your family with high level scientific facts, when you just spit facts at a person that is not familiar with science, your argument will not be effective. Your goal is to avoid an overly complicated alternative explanation; otherwise people will prefer to believe an easy to understand myth. For example, many people believe that climate and weather is the same thing. The best way to explain the difference is that weather tells you the conditions outside right now, and climate tells you what the conditions will be outside for the whole year. 

Even after you present your choice of facts to your family, if your dinner table is still not completely convinced that climate change is real, all hope is not lost. Even with facts such as 2012 having a 99.99999999% chance of being the hottest year on record for the continental United States, making seven out of the top ten hottest years on record, happening in the last 15 years (More info at Climate Central and NOAA) they still aren’t swayed; tell them that it doesn’t matter. Yes, you heard me correctly, the things we as humans need to do to stop climate change, are good practices in general. We have a responsibility as people on this earth to take care of her. Why should people wait for more and more record breaking years, horrible floods and super storms until they are undoubtedly convinced that climate change is real? We all should work to reduce our carbon footprint. Carpooling to the next family event to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, is just a good idea in general. And remind your naysayers that many practices that reduce greenhouse gasses will also save some of the green in their wallet. Rather than grumbling about the price of gas, see it as an incentive to monitor your energy use, amend your daily driving habits and reap the budgetary benefits. 

Credit: NOAA

All in all it while it’s important to try and convince your family the importance of good environmental practices, it is imperative that you enjoy the time that you have during the holidays to appreciate and spend time with those that are important to you. So if you feel like your stewardship lesson is taking a turn for the worse, steer it in the direction of sports teams, fine wine or if all else fails ask that fateful question of who left dad in the parking lot when he was ten.

Tyler Perry is a senior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and an intern at the Paleontological Research Institution.

Resources for Going Further
There are many great resources for deepening understandings. Here are two that include specific attention to how to talk to climate change contrarians:
You might look back and think about how to apply the lessons from The Debunking Handbook to some of our earlier posts.  

What suggestions do you have? Please use the comments for sharing ideas.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Climate Access -- Lessons from the Field: Talking about Climate and Fracking

Most of this post is an excerpt from a blog post titled "LESSONS FROM THE FIELD: TALKING ABOUT FRACKING AND CLIMATE" on the Climate Access website. The excerpt describes some of the Museum of the Earth's work related to Marcellus Shale education and how we are using the public interest in the Marcellus as a teachable moment to engage the public in learning about energy and climate.

As the Climate Access post on lessons from the field came out while we were running an educator workshop that included a field trip to a well pad where drilling was underway, I've also included a couple of images of the field trip.

Before getting to the excerpts and images, I'll share a bit about Climate Access by quoting from their "About" page:

In the fall of 2011, The Resource Innovation Group’s Social Capital Project, in partnership with the Rutgers Initiative on Climate and Society and theStonehouse Standing Circle, launched Climate Access to provide climate communications thinkers and doers with access to the necessary tools, knowledge and people. This is all in the name of increasing public support for climate policies and engagement in programs that help people, organizations and communities change their energy and other carbon-intensive behaviors.
Climate Access facilitates the rapid peer-to-peer exchange of information, bringing together those working on climate communications from various organizations and institutions. As such, Climate Access serves as a network of networks that fosters connection and collaboration and helps turn ideas into action. It also features the Social Capital Project’s ability to synthesize and analyze the most relevant research and campaign strategies.
There's a great deal of interest on Climate Access and on the sites of their partner organizations linked above. Check that out after reading the excerpt below, and about the work that other members of Climate Access are doing related to hydraulic fracturing's role in the energy and climate systems.

Here's the excerpt:

Through a series of grant-funded initiatives (NSF 1016359, 1035078, Smith-Lever NYC-124481), the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) is working to nurture evidence-based understandings of Earth systems issues associated with both hydraulic fracturing and the larger energy system. We see the controversy surrounding the Marcellus Shale as a teachable moment – a great many people are suddenly interested in where their energy comes from. This provides an opportunity for nurturing understandings of not only the Marcellus, but also the broader energy system, and also the larger Earth system.
We believe that the Marcellus cannot be understood in isolation and are striving to not only provide evidence-based understanding with as little bias as possible (that is, we will not advocate for or against drilling in the Marcellus Shale), but also help our audiences to investigate deeper questions than the question many in the Ithaca-area are initially drawn to. Residents justifiably focus on the question: Is this bad for the environment? Without contextualization, the answer is invariably “yes.” A more appropriate context-dependent question might be, “Is this better or worse for the environment than what we are doing now, or might reasonably do in the near future, to meet our energy needs?”
A simple pre-assessment used in some of our programming asks participants to identify the two largest energy sources for electric generation in New York state. The most common answers by far are coal and hydro, which rank numbers four and three, respectively behind natural gas and nuclear which are essentially even in their shares of production for the last several years. By gently drawing attention to the fact that most of us don’t really have much of a sense where our energy comes from now, we have had some success in engaging in richer discussions that have, to some degree, shifted people away from their poles related to this polarizing issue.
Education regarding the Marcellus Shale serves as a case study for both developing outreach approaches for emergent energy issues and for how these issues relate to the teaching of other controversial topics. Our goal is to develop heuristic approaches that others can adapt to their community’s needs before polarization becomes entrenched. Strategies include networking formal and informal educators within communities to develop energy education programming.
We have also produced “The Marcellus Papers,” a series of pamphlets that provide an overview of various aspects of the science related to hydraulic fracturing and the Marcellus Shale, and we are working to define what it means to be Marcellus Shale literate, and also what is needed to be aneffective Marcellus Shale educatorThere's No Such Thing as a Free Megawatt is a presentation (created with Prezi) that has been used to provide an overview of the Marcellus Shale and contextualize it in the changing energy system. 
 Our greatest challenge is helping people to shift from working to fortify their position to deepening their understandings of the related issues. In this work, we are finding recent work by Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) helpful as we strive to help people shift their mode of thinking in Kahneman’s terms from System 1 to System 2, and Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and LadyGagaas we work to make the way we speak and write about these issues more understandable.

On August 29, 2012 we visited a well pad where drilling was taking place as part of one of our educator workshops. A future post will offer more images and a description of the visit. For now, here's a picture and an interactive panorama to help give a sense of what such a site is like.

Note that the drilling rig is only on site while drilling is taking place. That process lasts several days for each well on the pad, but current practice is to drill only one well before removing the rig.

The drilling rig.

An interactive panorama (a Photosynth) of the well pad

Monday, July 2, 2012

Climate Change: Lines of Evidence -- videos from the National Research Council

The National Research Council's America's Climate Choices project has released a series of videos that provide an excellent brief overview of scientific understandings of climate change.

The videos describe both the lines of evidence and the history of the science that led to our current understandings of climate change.

The series of videos can be watched in separate segments, or as a single 26 minute long video. Here are the chapter titles linked to the videos:

The project has also produced a booklet of the same name. You can read the pamphlet online and download a pdf of Climate Change: Lines of Evidence here.

Don Duggan-Haas