18 December 2009

Kids Grill Scientists About Climate

Posted by Michael McFadden

Kids grill scientists about climateYou may have seen them haunting the corridors of Moscone West’s third floor. Cherubic and about a foot shorter than the adults milling about, their hard to miss! Meet Sam (right) and Toby (left), University of Toronto Professor Steve Easterbrook’s kids. Video camera and mic in hand, they’ve been pulling aside climate scientists after their talks to interview them about climate.

It goes like this: A smiling Easterbrook, a computer scientist focusing on climate models, approaches a scientist with the query, “Would you be willing to be interviewed by my kids?” Startled, the scientists nods. One of the boys assumes the role of director, holding the camera, and the other holds the mic and asks questions from a prepared list. “Are you presenting work at the conference?” “Have you made a recent breakthrough in your work?” “How fast is global warming happening?” “Any way to get rid of greenhouse gases to stop climate change?” “Will polar bears and penguins go extinct?”

This is a tough set of questions for any scientist to answer. But when I saw Sam and Toby in action on Wednesday night at the close of the last session, I witnessed an amazing thing: Because they were being asked by children, the scientists were forced to forgo elevated speech of GCM model parameters and albedo and subpixel remote sensing to get their messages across.

And that’s the whole point, says Easterbrook, “When people talk to kids, they have to bring things down to a different level.”

About 15 scientists have been interviewed so far. Depending on what they get, Sam and Toby will perhaps make a YouTube snippet. But until then, the kids are having a blast grilling the scientists. You might be next!

–Mohi Kumar, AGU Science Writer