A New Model for Communicating Climate Change Impacts in Real Time
Hunter Cutting, Climate Signals, San Francisco, CA

Communicating with most audiences, including policy makers and the general public, requires engagement in terms of their direct personal interest. While research into climate change impacts often focuses on long-term trends with a global or regional scope, the general public generally engages the topic of climate change and attribution through the lens of individual events such as heat waves, floods and wildfires.

Individual events provide teachable moments on climate change, provided the bridging material is both scientifically robust and structured to engage the interests of the desired audience.

Communicating through the lens of current events mandates real-time communications. Social media is particularly well suited to real time communications during events such as extreme weather.

Practitioner outreach in climate science communications over the last several years has yielded a base of lessons that serve as best practice principles for communicating climate change impacts. Recent experience with cataloging, mapping and communicating climate change impacts in real time (@ClimateSignals) furthers this base of communication knowledge.

@ClimateSignals is the primary outreach channle for Climate Signals, an on-line digital platform for cataloging, illustrating and communicating the impacts of climate change. The CS platform specifies and details the chains of connections between greenhouse gas emissions and individual climate events. Currently in open-beta release, the platform is designed to to engage and serve the general public, news media, and policy-makers, particularly in real-time during extreme climate events.

Climate Signals consists of a curated relational database of events and their links to climate change, a mapping engine, and a gallery of climate change monitors offering real-time data. For each event in the database, an infographic engine provides a custom attribution “tree” that illustrates the connections to climate change. In addition, links to key contextual resources are aggregated and curated for each event. All event records are fully annotated with detailed source citations and corresponding hyper links. The system of attribution used to link events to climate change in real-time is detailed here. This open-beta release is offered for public user testing and engagement.

Launched in May 2016, the operation of this platform offers lessons for public engagement in climate change impacts.