The National Climate Assessment as a Resource for Science Communication
Abstract:The 2014 Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3) is scientifically authoritative and features major advances, relative to other assessments produced by several organizations. NCA3 is a valuable resource for communicating climate science to a wide variety of audiences. Other assessments were often overly detailed and laden with scientific jargon that made them appear too complex and technical to many in their intended audiences, especially policymakers, the media, and the broad public. Some other assessments emphasized extensive scientific caveats, quantitative uncertainty estimates and broad consensus support. All these attributes, while valuable in research, carry the risk of impeding science communication to non-specialists. Without compromising scientific accuracy and integrity, NCA3 is written in exceptionally clear and vivid English. It includes outstanding graphics and employs powerful techniques aimed at conveying key results unambiguously to a wide range of audiences.
I have used NCA3 as a resource in speaking about climate change in three very different settings: classroom teaching for undergraduate university students, presenting in academia to historians and other non-scientists, and briefing corporate executives working on renewable energy. NCA3 proved the value of developing a climate assessment with communication goals and strategies given a high priority throughout the process, not added on as an afterthought. I draw several lessons. First, producing an outstanding scientific assessment is too complex and demanding a task to be carried out by scientists alone. Many types of specialized expertise are also needed. Second, speaking about science to a variety of audiences requires an assortment of communication skills and tools, all tailored to specific groups of listeners. Third, NCA3 is scientifically impeccable and is also an outstanding example of effective communication as well as a valuable resource for communicators.