9 December 2011

Four Days At The AGU-The World’s Biggest Science Meeting

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Each December, San Francisco hosts 20,000 scientists at the AGU's annual meeting. Dan's pic Wednesday evening.

My first AGU annual meeting is over and what a fun and fascinating week it has been. Several of my fellow AGU bloggers have also been here, but I unfortunately did not get to meet them. My only true disappointment this week, but there is always next year! This place is the holy grail for anyone who loves science, and even more, loves learning something they did not know before.

I was on a panel Wednesday morning that discussed climate change communication, and most of the sessions I attended had to do with climate change science in one form or another. Experts like Richard Alley, Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann all gave superb presentations and so did Naomi Oreskes, but by far the best was by Dr. Ben Santer who gave the first (and likely to be annual) Stephen Schneider Memorial Lecture.

Santer’s talk was a reflection on the life and career of one of the world’s best ambassadors of science, and while I never got the chance to meet him, those that did speak with fond memories and a deep reverence. Schneider died suddenly of a heart attack last year, and was instrumental in the writing of the IPCC climate assessment reports. The loss of Dr. Schneider is a double whammy, for the world lost not just a great scientist, but one of its greatest communicators.

I highly urge you to buy his book Science As A Contact Sport. When you finish, I’ll be preaching to the choir, and yes it’s that good. Santer was present on Tuesday as Dr. Richard Alley was presented with the first Stephen H. Schneider Award for Excellence in Climate Science Communication. The audio of the event is here. Climate One produced a must see video as well about Stephen Schneider and I am told it will be online soon at Climate One.

Bud Ward of the Yale Forum on Climate and Media presents Dr. Richard Alley with the award named for Stephen Schneider.

The award was presented by Bud Ward of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and Media. Bud has done incredible work in getting some of the synoptic weather forecasters who work in TV together with some of the top experts on climate. I’ve been honored to have been at three of these events, to tell about my journey from skeptical meteorologist/forecaster, to writing this blog (and going all the way to the South Pole to learn more about the science).

There was some rather disappointing news today as the meeting approached the close. A new study, from The Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason Univ., found that 39% of Americans think the scientists are divided over whether humans are causing the planet to get warmer.  The actual consensus among those in climate science is about 98%.

How do I know it is 98%? A recent peer-reviewed study, and it also showed that of those 2% that disagreed with every major science organisation on the planet, most had published very little on the subject. Guess who wrote that paper.

Dr. Stephen H. Schneider.

A lot of special interest groups have spent a lot of time and money to persuade those 39% who believe there is disagreement over the basic science. It’s the most enduring myth about climate, bar none. You might be surprised to learn, that many of the same organizations that claimed smoking did not cause cancer are involved. Buy a copy of Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes, and prepare to be shocked. I sure was.

More in the next post on Ben Santer’s lecture. I’ve just scratched the surface.