Let’s talk about climate science

Climate scientists from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC (ACE CRC) are meeting the public face to face to explain the science of climate change. The public forums are called The Climate Conversations and began in New South Wales with visits to Port Stephens, Old Bar, Lake Macquarie and Forster in September 2010. Since then, a further 18 climate conversation sessions have been held in Tasmania. Most sessions have been held for the general public, with others for councillors, service clubs, specific delegations and high school students. ACE CRC glaciologist Tessa Vance has coordinated most of the sessions - in conjunction with local councils, service clubs and high schools - in a format designed to encourage dialogue and understanding. A panel of climate scientists gives a short, plain-English presentation and then invites questions from the public. Dr Vance said the panel often faced ‘interesting, tough questions’ at the forums, reflecting the public’s strong appetite for information from scientists. ‘And we are also almost always asked, “what can I do?”‘ said Dr Vance. The Climate Conversations were initiated by a group of climate scientists at the ACE CRC and the Australian Antarctic Division led by the enthusiasm of young scientists Dr Vance and PhD student Joel Pedro. The group wanted to encourage members of the public, particularly those who weren’t completely convinced about climate change, to hear the scientific facts. ‘It is about providing them with the information that we have, and then letting them do what they want with that information,’ Dr Vance said. During the forums, the scientists present a 2000-year-old ice core from Antarctica. Bubbles of air trapped in the ice core provide a record of the concentration of gases in the atmosphere over time. The ice core is used to illustrate the history of climate change and to help describe how scientists know that the current greenhouse gas levels greatly exceed anything seen in the past 800,000 years. This is accompanied by discussion of observed temperature changes, and likely future impacts. Dr Vance said that local councils, particularly in rural areas, had responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to hear about climate change from climate scientists. In some cases audience members had seen inundation maps and were specifically worried about rising sea levels, but the forums had faced a diverse range of questions. Dr Vance said people wanted to understand the big picture - the scientific basis of our knowledge of climate change, not just how it was going to affect their own lives. Australians want to make informed decisions and communicating the science is increasingly important. It is clear that as researchers we can’t just tell people the answer from our research, we have to explain the science behind the answer. The scientists participating in the Climate Conversations are glaciologists Tessa Vance, Tas van Ommen and Ian Allison, paleo-climate expert Joel Pedro, marine biologist Rob King and oceanographer and sea-level-rise expert John Hunter.  Louise Gilfedder, from the Tasmanian Government's Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and the Environment, has also taken part. Anyone who would like to see The Climate Conversations in their area should ask their local council to arrange the event with the ACE CRC.

Authorised by the CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre October 2019.

The ACE CRC was established and supported under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program.

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