What is the best way to provide people with information about climate change?

Answer

There are many ways that people can benefit from having information about climate change, including being able to make informed policy and management decisions. This is one reason why people are talking about creating a national climate service. So, what functions would a national climate service provide?

A good place to start is with an organization that has a similar name and purpose — the National Weather Service, a government agency that was established in the late 1800s. The importance of the Weather Service is almost too obvious to mention. Without accurate reports about the current weather and predictions of future weather, planes would fly into thunderstorms unawares, ships would plow directly into hurricanes and typhoons, and people wouldn’t know about blizzards barreling down on them. Also, planning for pretty much any outdoor activity would become a lot more difficult. Without good weather forecasts, the losses in economic terms and in human lives would be huge.

Climate change unfolds on a slower scale — over decades rather than in hours. But now that we know it is happening, the need for forecasting how climate change will impact us has become clear as well. Knowing how much sea level is likely to rise, and how quickly, is crucial to knowing how to protect coastal areas from increased damage. Knowing how hurricane frequency and strength might change could affect building codes and evacuation strategies. Knowing how the intensity and frequency of droughts and heat waves might change would help city and regional planners manage water resources and mitigate threats to local economies.

The knowledge that these changes will come mostly from an increase in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases could inform decisions about how to produce and use energy, and whether to develop alternative energy and other green technologies. If the world decides that limiting climate change is a priority, then this green technology could be an economic boon to the countries that perfect it.

Realizing that businesses, local governments, and individuals need the most reliable forecasts possible of how, when, and where the climate is likely to change, and what the impacts might be, universities, government agencies, and private companies have come together over the past year or so to figure out how such an entity might operate — how it would organize information and how it would deliver that information in the most useful way.