24 February 2014

Illustrated IPCC Haiku?

Posted by Olivia Ambrogio

By Gregory C. Johnson

The illustrated IPCC haikus. Images and haikus by Gregory Johnson.

The illustrated IPCC haikus. Images and haikus by Gregory Johnson.

I didn’t deliberately set out to distill the Summary for Policymakers of the latest IPCC report into illustrated haiku. But, one weekend when I was too sick to leave the house, I found myself inspired by its “Headline Statements”, a mere 1.5-page distillation of the hefty, full report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

I composed poems during much of Saturday.  After my spouse asked what on Earth I was doing, I decided to make a booklet of illustrated climate haiku to share with family, friends, and close colleagues.  By Sunday night, my spouse was understandably exasperated by my obsession, but I had a watercolor sketch for each haiku and a cover.  During subsequent evenings, I revised poems, redid a few of the roughest sketches, and assembled a booklet from my creations.

Why haiku? Because it’s a form of expression I enjoy and use often on Facebook. Additionally, its compact nature provides a fitting counterpoint to typically voluminous IPCC reports – apropos of the short sound bites that scientists are often advised to prepare when communicating their results to the public.

Haiku and image by Gregory Johnson.

Haiku and image by Gregory Johnson.

Some friends and colleagues urged me to publish the booklet, but I had to work up the courage to share such a personal abstraction of an assessment report to which so many scientists had dedicated so much painstaking effort.  I cleared this non-official public communication with my employer, tested the waters on a forgiving, limited audience, and considered feedback from friends and friends-of-friends.

I eventually steeled myself to take the plunge, aided by experienced communicators.  They strategically timed publication of the haiku in their blog and tweeted it.  They did considerable subsequent work, I suspect a lot more than I know (thanks Anna and Serena!).  The response was surprising, including several news articles and multiple blog posts, a remarkable review, a translation into Italian, tweets around the globe for months, and over 10,000 views of the video.

What did I learn from this effort?  The constraints of haiku form helped to pare the powerful Summary for Policymakers material down to its essence — there is little room for uncertainty language or jargon in 17 syllables.  Had the original goal been widespread publication, I wouldn’t have thought of incorporating such simple visuals, but they definitely made this project different, and amenable to social media.  Obsessing, review, and editing are always important; but knowledgeable, helpful, and enthusiastic publishers were key.

Like the illustrated haiku, this blog post was done on my own time, and is solely my own creation, so any views or opinions expressed herein are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U. S. Government, the IPCC, or any other entity.


Guest blogger Gregory C. Johnson joined the AGU in 1987 (primary affiliation: Ocean Sciences) and was elected a fellow in 2013.