White House Launches Climate Change Communication Tool that Treats Citizens Like Adults

By Tom Yulsman | March 19, 2014 11:53 am
Climate change communication

Screenshot of an interactive map accessible from data.gov/climate showing expected inundation of areas of New York City based on different projections of sea level. (Source: NOAA and data.gov/climate)

A day after a major scientific organization released an embarrassingly ineffective report aimed at communicating the realities of climate change, the White House has launched something entirely different — and better.

For now, it is a web portal that serves as a kind of clearinghouse for all manner of information on how sea level rise is remaking our coasts and posing risks to those who live and work along them.

The screenshot above shows one of the interactive tools available on the site, data.gov/climate. In stunning graphic detail, it shows areas in the New York metro area that would become inundated in the future based on different projections of sea level rise. It’s one of just dozens of such tools available right now on the site.

And according to the White House, it is just the start of a major effort at climate change communication. The effort is designed to enable citizens to see how climate change is affecting them where they live and work, and what they might expect in the future, through interactive, graphics-based digital tools.

Yesterday’s report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science was, at its heart, a “We’re scientists, so listen to what we say” effort. In contrast, the initiative launched by the White House today treats people like grownups and gives them powerful tools to learn for themselves what’s happening. And unlike the AAAS report, its ultimate goal is to take full advantage of the power of digital technology — and visual communication — to empower people to plan for a future of climate change.

I’ve only had time to scratch the surface of the new web site. But so far, I’m impressed. And I know that it will be helpful in my future reporting on climate change.

To offer just one example, the web site offers access to an online, interactive tool from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that allows users to select a county and get a quick snapshot of its demographics, infrastructure and environment within flood zones. The results include a floodplain map, and graphics showing the overall population in floodplains, as well as the population over 65 years of age and in poverty that live in these areas, along with a plethora of other useful statistics and information.

I’ll be poking around the new site in coming days, and I may come back with an update on what I find.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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