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A Simple Strategy to Communicate about Climate Attribution

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  • 1 Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, and RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • | 2 Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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Abstract

Hurricane Harvey and other recent weather extremes stimulated extensive public discourse about the role of anthropogenic climate change in amplifying, or otherwise modifying, such events. In tandem, the scientific community has made considerable progress on statistical “climate attribution.” However, explaining these statistical methods to the public has posed challenges. Using appropriately designed “spinner boards,” we find that even members of the general public who do not understand the difference between weather and climate are readily able to understand basic concepts of attribution and explain those concepts to others. This includes both understanding and explaining the way in which the probability of an extreme weather event may increase as a result of climate change and explaining how the intensity of hurricanes can be increased. If properly developed and used by TV weather forecasters and news reporters, this method holds the potential to significantly improve public understanding of climate attribution.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Rachel Dryden, rachellynndryden@gmail.com

Abstract

Hurricane Harvey and other recent weather extremes stimulated extensive public discourse about the role of anthropogenic climate change in amplifying, or otherwise modifying, such events. In tandem, the scientific community has made considerable progress on statistical “climate attribution.” However, explaining these statistical methods to the public has posed challenges. Using appropriately designed “spinner boards,” we find that even members of the general public who do not understand the difference between weather and climate are readily able to understand basic concepts of attribution and explain those concepts to others. This includes both understanding and explaining the way in which the probability of an extreme weather event may increase as a result of climate change and explaining how the intensity of hurricanes can be increased. If properly developed and used by TV weather forecasters and news reporters, this method holds the potential to significantly improve public understanding of climate attribution.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Rachel Dryden, rachellynndryden@gmail.com
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