A newly released climate science re-cap from the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, in the United Kingdom, does little to add to the substantial and growing body of scientific evidence concerning climate change. But it does pair those two prestigious science organizations on behalf of that evidence, and that alone may make it somewhat notable.
The report is useful for another reason too: It’s a powerful tool bringing together in one place and in easily accessible form a body of understanding on the most important contemporary climate science matters. And it does so in a way most reasonably informed and “engaged” citizens likely can digest.
The 36-page overview of current understanding — “Climate Change: Evidence & Causes” — brought together an all-star list of American and British climate scientists as authors and reviewers. One of them, Brian Hoskins of Imperial College and the University of Reading in the U.K., participated remotely in a recent Academy/Royal Society release of the booklet. He characterized the current slow-down or “hiatus” in global warming as “what you would expect” in a variable climate, and not as a long-term prospect. Hoskins said it helps to see the variable climate and the effects of human-caused climate change as “a staircase and not a constant climb upward,” but with the trend definitely upward when it comes to global temperatures.
Asked what reporters or editors might find “new” in the report compared with existing scientific literature, Eric Wolff, the U.K. lead project author at the University of Cambridge, replied candidly that “not that much is new.”
That prompted a quick retort from PBS Newshour science correspondent Miles O’Brien, who hosted the Academy/Royal Society release event in Washington, D.C., even though he seldom if ever addresses climate change issues on the Newshour: “I think all the cameras just left from the back of the room,” O’Brien deadpanned.
Asked by O’Brien if in preparing the “plain-English” report the scientist/authors had found it challenging to “write in English,” lead Academy project author Inez Fung, of the University of California, Berkeley, replied that “I would have preferred to write equations, because they’re much more precise, and there’s no ambiguity.”
Hoskins’s response to that line of discussion: “Only when you don’t understand the issue can you not explain it in English.” And project participant Ben Santer, of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said that he is convinced that “a failure to explain in an understandable way is our problem, not that of the audience.”
O’Brien, taking a question from the audience during the Academy/Royal Society release event, asked the scientists how they go about accommodating the “newsroom psychology” involving what constitutes news. “Good luck with that one,” he chided, with Fung responding that a “constant stream of information” about the changing climate is essential and emphasizing the value of climate education generally.