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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Report helps scientists communicate how global warming is worsening natural disasters

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Posted on 8 December 2016 by John Abraham

**REPORT: Hassol et al (Un)Natural Disasters: Communicating Linkages Between Extreme Events and Climate Change  World Meteorological Organization

Climate scientists have… done a very good job investigating whether or not the Earth’s climate is changing (it is), what is causing the change (humans), how much will it change in the future, and what will be the impacts.

…with an issue like climate change, that has such an impact on peoples’ lives, scientists are being asked to go further. We are being asked to effectively communicate to the public why this matters, what will happen if we take action or not, and what some trade-offs are. This means we can be put in an uncomfortable position where we’re forced to advocate….scientists are tasked with communicating complex science in a short amount of time, to people with varied backgrounds. This is a really tough ask, especially when we are not trained at it. Fortunately, we are getting help.

A very recent publication by several communication experts has been published in the World Meteorological Organization Bulletin. The lead author, Susan Hassol and her co-authors weave together effective language and accurate science in an uncommonly profound way. The results are simple suggestions that the rest of us can use to be both true to facts as well as clear.

The article centers around the influence human-caused warming has had on natural disasters. …The authors remind us that heavy rainfall that can cause flooding has increased markedly because warm air holds more water. …It is more accurate to say that all weather events are now influenced by climate change. Some weather events are coming on stronger; they last longer, or are more severe. As a result, climate change is increasing the impact of these events. The authors reviewed various examples of extreme weather events for which attribution studies allow scientists to make meaningful statements about the role of human-caused climate change.

Another point made in the paper is that with acute weather events, speed of reporting is key. We need to speak with as much clarity as possible while a weather event is still in the media. Fortunately, advances in scientific understanding are enabling us to make statements about the human influence on extreme events that can be conveyed through the media to the interested public. It is important to make these connections while events are still a matter of public interest.

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