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Vol. LXII, No. 51
 
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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Climate Central Working Hard, Using Media, To Collect and Disseminate Information

Ellen Gilbert

“Climate change is not a problem du jour,” observed Berrien Moore III, executive director and senior research scientist at Climate Central, a recently created, Princeton-based science and media group that seeks, according to its to website, “to provide clear and objective information about climate change and its potential solutions.”

“I think that we all need to recognize that this problem is going to be with us for a century,” said the co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, who left a longtime position as Director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire to become the founding director of Climate Central. “That’s the nature of the carbon dioxide system. Carbon dioxide stays a long time in the atmosphere, and it’s not going to change easily.”

Education

Solutions, according to Mr. Moore, lie in an informed populace. “We have an inherent belief that people, in particular in a democracy, make better decisions when they have information,” he said, adding that he is aware that he may not always like the decisions an educated public will make. No matter; the goal of Climate Central is to use available media to convey “clear, easy-to-understand information about this very complex topic, about which a great deal of misinformation has been circulated. We want to inform people, not persuade them.”

Climate Central’s staff includes both research scientists and communications experts, and Mr. Moore uses the word “bridging” often, as he describes the concurrent processes of gathering scholarly, peer-reviewed material in scientific documents like IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports (“the best crystallization of the science”), and making it available, in less technical form through public broadcasting, magazines, and the press. A heavy emphasis is on video and the Internet. “We’re excited about providing programming for The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” said Mr. Moore. “I think that we’re different from many similar organizations who’ve dealt with climate change through a political agenda. We’re not going to lobby for anything, other than the best scientific information.”

Asked about scientist Freeman Dyson’s recent dismissive writings and talks on global warming, Mr. Moore observed that “Freeman Dyson is a terribly bright physicist, but this problem is more than physics. It involves very complex biology and chemistry, public policy, and human behavior. His article in the New York Review of Books erred on some basic facts about biology.”

Non-Profit

Climate Central, which recently received non-profit status, was established in early 2008 with seed money from the Flora Family Foundation, a Menlo Park, California foundation created and run by the family of William Hewlett, cofounder of the Hewlett-Packard Company, and his late wife, Flora. It also received development funds from the 11th Hour Project, a San Francisco-based operation that describes itself as connecting “organizations, businesses and individuals to one another, resources and information to create a sustainable world. We work to change public perceptions about climate crisis from hand-wringing hopelessness to engaged, hands-on problem solving.” The 11th Hour Project continues to be Climate Central’s major source of support.

In addition to the hive of activity at its 1 Palmer Square headquarters, Climate Central has a two-person operation in Palo Alto — again, “to bridge” the country. (Climate Central’s focus is national at this point, according to Mr. Moore, because “the American body politic is in need of information on this topic.”) The presence of public policy institutes, federal laboratories, and engineering departments at both Princeton and Stanford make them congenial to Climate Central’s concerns, he noted. Several Princeton faculty members are on the non-profit’s board.

Obama’s Choices

Mr. Moore is optimistic about the coming Obama administration’s intentions to address climate problems. Noting that Mr. McCain also “understood the seriousness of the problem” and had a very strong record of support for climate research efforts in the Senate, Mr. Moore went on to say that President-elect Obama’s appointments and actions so far have been “unwavering and clear.” He is particularly pleased with Mr. Obama’s choice of Steven Chu as energy secretary, and several days after Mr. Moore was interviewed, a New York Times editorial (“Mr. Obama’s Green Team”) also lauded the choice of Mr. Chu and other Obama appointments.

In his comments Mr. Moore suggested that there actually may be a silver lining in the country’s bleak economic condition. With the need for “strong action,” to address the economic downturn, Mr. Moore observed, “green jobs are a perfectly legitimate economic strategy.”

For more information on Climate Central, see www.climatecentral.org, which is, Mr. Moore noted, “very much a work in progress. For a website to work, it has to be information-rich and interactive. There’s a dialog that takes place, and we want to make that dialog rewarding, and we want to make sure that misinformation is not being passed.”

 

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