THE BLOG
12/01/2014 06:13 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

Climate Is As Hot (a Subject) As Ever

I had many curious instances in this past (blog-absent) year where the climate debacle was proven to be if not the most discussed scientific issue of the current time, at least the most popular one - and in several cases, in the wrong way. I had a friend contact me because she had to write a paper about climate change for a college class. The interesting part was not that she had to write the paper, it's that the instructions were to take a side on the debate and defend it. I was appalled that a college educator would ask a student to actually try to discredit the scientific findings of 97% of experts. Another interesting instance was during a professional development seminar, where the focus was on science communication. Throughout the day, whenever we were discussing how to convey science to the layperson, or how to "get through" to people with sometimes complicated scientific facts, the examples and questions were always climate change-related. We were environmental scientists, social scientists, health scientists, veterinarians, and all kinds of scientists there, but everyone would bring up climate change. Wow.

I felt it was time to start working on climate communication again, albeit in a limited way (aka, writing this blog). It's been a while since I showed up here, so hello, and thanks for reading! In the upcoming weeks I will be showing up more. But today I would only like to mention a couple of instances where (hopefully) one can see how important it is to keep studying and to try to better understand climate-related matters.

First, about tipping points, extinctions and edges. I have written about those subjects, here and here. Recently a new study came out showing that, depending on the adaptive strategy of a population, the tipping points might be of different nature. Basically the study mapped "zones" where each different adaptive strategies worked best (see link for explanation of adaptive strategies). A certain strategy did better in a highly predictable environment, independently of the speed of environmental change. Another did well when the rate of change was slow, regardless of predictability. But when any organism would get close to the edge of its "zone", very small variations in either predictability or rate of change led to rapid extinction. My points here are (1) we don't know enough to define tipping points for all species, since each will cope with climate change in a different way (even the same species may cope in different ways in different populations), and we will never know what will happen, or when. Therefore, (2) the best we can do (in addition to adaptation planning) is protect and conserve as much as possible, based on the best available science and information.

Second, I would like to talk about education. Not only formal education, but also education in a broader sense, as in having people learn what to expect from different climate-related situations. Another recent study found that disaster fatalities can be greatly reduced when people are educated, and as a consequence have an enhanced perception of risk. Therefore, investing in education and outreach should be an integral part of any climate adaptation planning, at any level. Remember, knowledge is power! While knowing more about climate does not always translate into accepting that climate change is largely due to human activities, or being concerned about climate change (as shown here), it can have a sizable impact on the outcomes of climate-exacerbated disasters. I for one will keep trying to contribute to a better understanding of climate change and its possible effects on us!