White House, Science Community Try to Instill Emergency of Climate Change

President Obama unveiled another part of his Climate Action Plan this week with the opening of ClimateData.gov.

While a majority of Americans (67%) now believe in the reality of climate change, it’s still way down on their list of priorities, according to the latest Pew poll. But being able to visualize the actual impact on their homes and neighborhoods could convince them that climate change is an emergency, he hopes. 

It’s an effort to provide an antidote to the rash of misinformation about climate change, making it tangible and immediate through eye-catching depictions of sea level rise, projected droughts and wildfires depending on where you live.

"Localizing this information gives a sense of how this affects people and spurs action," says Obama’s climate advisor John Podesta, who conceived of the project with White House science adviser, John Holdren. 

Climate Change Sea Levels

Besides providing crucial data that can help communities prepare climate impacts, they hope it can help stem the tide of opposition that’s building against EPA regulation of power plants. 

The first batch of data focuses on rising sea levels and coastal flooding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Geological Survey, Defense Department and NASA. Over time, the site will expand to other climate-related impacts – food supplies, human health and energy infrastructure.

Government agencies want researchers and private companies to turn the data into software simulations that illustrate the impacts and Intel, Microsoft, Google and mapping company Esir are among those showing interest.

Esri, for example, can show how a hurricane can cause floods that affect specific roads, homes and schools in a neighborhood. And Google has visions of making sea-level rise, extreme heat and drought as simple to digest as using Google Maps to get directions.

The Climate Data Initiative "will help create easy-to-use tools for regional planners, farmers, hospitals, and businesses across the country while empowering America’s communities to prepare themselves for the future," say Podesta and Holdren.

The White House’s "We the Geeks" Weekly Google Hangout is another way they are pushing back against the current anti-science fervor.

What We Know

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific membership organization which publishes Science, is also jumping on board with the launch of the What We Know initiative.

Saying there’s no issue more pressing than climate change, they are launching a "marketing campaign" of their own. Americans have been led to believe the scientific community is divided on the issue of climate change and many are largely unaware of the full spectrum of climate risks, they say.

They will communicate the three "R’s" of climate change:

1. Reality: 97% of the world’s climate scientists concur that human-caused climate change is happening now.

2. Risk: climate change equals risk; while there are impacts we can expect, there are risks of abrupt changes with massively damaging impacts that are irreversible.

3. Response: there is much we can do and the sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. 

"This effort is intended to state very clearly the exceptionally strong evidence that Earth’s climate is changing, and that future climate change can seriously impact natural and societal systems," says Dr. James McCarthy, Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard.

"Even among members of the broader public who already know about the evidence for climate change and what’s causing it, some don’t know the degree of concern climate scientists have for the risk of rapid, abrupt climate change – that’s something we are dedicated to discussing with multiple audiences, from business leaders and financial experts to decision makers in all walks of life," says McCarthy.

Here is the Climate Data Initiative website:

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