Catastrophic events often bring about change. For example, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused FEMA to clean up their act. The evidence of this was on display two years later when the catastrophic San Diego wildfires hit. FEMA did a flawless job responding, desperately trying to show they had gone through a “Never Again” moment with the mess they made out of Katrina.

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WHO YOU GONNA CALL? The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta

Today I’m spending what promises to be an absolutely fascinating day at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. The folks in Public Affairs apparently read my book and thought to themselves, “Hmmm …’don’t be such a scientist’ … who do we know that might benefit from such a message?” (hint: most research scientists) This is the same thing we went through last spring at NASA Goddard Flight Center. Basically wherever you find research scientists you’ll find communications folks dealing with the always-challenging interface between science and the public.

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There is cause for celebration! We have evidence of “learning behavior” — both with the graduate students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and more importantly, with the faculty (namely me!). We’re getting better at this stuff.

Last week was the 6th year in a row that we have run the intensive 3 day videomaking workshop for the students in the 12 week orientation course that all the new graduate students in the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography must take in their first summer. What started as an experiment in the summer of 2005 has become an integral part of the course, with the students putting a great deal of thought and effort into the projects.

This year, more than any previous year, we saw a lot more attention and detail paid to the actual structure of the stories told. All of the filmmakers (with the exception of the Old Spice film, which is unusual) were able to say very clearly, “My film is a story about …” and actually tell a good story with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

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This morning a major environmentalist sent me this new PSA from Heal the Bay and asked my opinion. It’s a 4 minute film which is brilliantly executed, BUT … who’s it going to play to?


“POLITE CONVERSATIONS PRODUCE POLITE RESULTS” – that’s a little rule we learned from our friends at Deloitte this past spring. And it’s true. This is a polite PSA about plastic bags that will produce polite results. Which is great for the painfully-polite PBS crowd.


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There seems to be a palpable pause in the great American climate struggle this month. The major climate legislation collapsed at the same time that the world has erupted in an apparent climate spasm from the heat waves of Russia, to the floods of Pakistan, to the glacier calving off Greenland. It’s a strange and eery political calm in the U.S. during which the only thing clear is that the climate forces, at least temporarily, have been rebuffed.

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WES SKILES — he produced the most amazing movies of cave diving and was the best Conga Line dancer I’ve ever seen.


One night in 2002 I drove out to Hermosa Beach to meet legendary cave diver Wes Skiles at a bar to talk about our newly created Shifting Baselines project. I hadn’t seen him since an insane night in Chicago a decade earlier (details on that in a minute). I walked up to him, he smiled, and revealed a mouth full of horribly crooked teeth — so bad that a bolt of shock ran through me and I tried my best to not show any visual reaction. I hadn’t remembered him having such a mess for a mouth. It was very awkward. Poor guy.

We talked for a full minute about what we had been up to, with him spraying saliva everywhere until he finally burst into hysterics and took the fake teeth thing out of his mouth. What an asshole. What a brilliant and hilarious asshole. And what a night we had with him in Chicago in June of 1992 in what turned out to be one of the most AND least memorable (thanks to the alcohol) nights of my life.

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Grist Magazine blogger David Roberts (Left) squares off against Steve Everley of American Solutions (right) in a "debate" in a bar "moderated" by "rock star" Mark McGrath.


I managed to do a brief interview this morning with David Roberts of Grist Magazine who was the pro-climate action side of last Thursday night’s Lexus “Darker Side of Green” debate-in-a-bar show in Chicago. I’ve been a fan of his blogging for a while and while I generally have advised against people taking part in these potential kangaroo events, he seemed to me to be one of the few skillful and potentially aggressive spokespersons for climate action who actually should be up on the stage if there has to be someone doing it.

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A couple of weeks ago I attended the strange and pointless global warming “debate” in Hollywood staged by carmaker Lexus at a bar, moderated by comedian Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live. I had a hard time taking it seriously in my account of it.

This week they are getting ready for the next installment — this time in Chicago, moderated by noted academician Mark McGrath of the once hot band, “Sugar Ray,” (of “Spread Your Wings and Fly,” “fame”).

THIS WEEK’S LEXUS CLIMATE “DEBATE” LINE UP FOR CHICAGO: For the climate community, David Roberts of Grist Magazine, for the skeptics, Steve Everley of conservative group American Solutions, and moderating the whole mess, Marky Mark McGrath.

Climate blogger Joe Romm has already uncorked his critical skills on the absurdity of the “debates,” and I largely agree, though there is one bright side to this event.

The pro-climate science side will feature one of the rising voices of the environmental world, David Roberts of Grist Magazine. I am of the general opinion that given the clownish nature of the climate skeptics (particularly when they feign concern for the poor who will supposedly be neglected by too much carbon worry) and given the clownish nature of the venue (a cacophonous bar with a drunken mob, as was the case in L.A.), I can really only recommend that the climate science crowd devalue the event by offering up a stand-up comic who knows the basic talking points (and there are plenty of these, starting with people like Bill Maher and Dana Gould).

But if there has to be a legitimate climate voice (and you know that given the lure of all expense paid travel and hanging with celebrities they would eventually find someone), I think David Roberts is the best shot. I’m hoping to talk a couple of Chicago friends into attending and giving me their take which I will relate here if they do.

The recent Shirley Sherrod NAACP incident illustrates two aspects of broad communication — “arouse and fulfill,” and the need to take risks. Which reminds me that there’s only one person in the entire global warming movement who can wear with honor the badge of “risk taker,” and that’s Al Gore.

AROUSAL, DISCONNECTED FROM FULFILLMENT, IS DANGEROUS.  As Shirley Sherrod learned the hard way — “arousal” is a key part of effective communication, but if you decide to push things with it, you run the risk of someone (i.e. Breitbart) taking your arousal part out of context.  And yet … I don’t think she’s complaining about the power and attention she is now reaping with all the national fame.  You wanna win big with communication, you have to take risks.

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