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.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Ban the burning of natural gas with its polluting water emissions. Refill Lake Agassiz, ocean levels drop 5.5 feet. Fill the following with seawater to sea level:

    Dead Sea (Jordan/Israel) -1360 feet (-414 m)
    Lake Assal (Djibouti, Africa) -509 feet (-155 m)
    Turpan Pendi (China) -505 feet (-154 m)
    Qattara Depression (Egypt) -435 feet (-133 m)
    Vpadina Kaundy (Kazakstan) -433 ft (-132 m)
    Denakil (Ethiopia) -410 ft (-125 m)
    Laguna del Carbón (Argentina) -344 ft (-105 m)
    Death Valley (United States) -282 ft (-86 m)
    Vpadina Akchanaya (Turkmenistan) -266 ft (-81 m)
    Salton Sea (California) -227 ft (-69 m)
    Sebkhet Tah (Morroco) -180 ft (-55 m)
    Sabkhat Ghuzayyil (Libya) -154 ft (-47 m)
    Lago Enriquillo (Dominican Republic) -151 ft (-46 m)
    Salinas Chicas (Argentina) -131 ft (-40 m)
    Caspian Sea (Central Asia) -92 ft (-28 m)
    Lake Eyre (Australia) -49 ft (-15 m)

    The Carbon Tax on Everything can save us!

    • CB

      Are you saying you want to ban natural gas or levy a carbon tax to fix the atmospheric carbon imbalance?

      … or both? Normally when one hears calls for a carbon tax, it’s more of a free-market type of approach where no particular fuel is banned.

      • Nick

        He’s saying that (a) the water emissions from natural gas is one of the more potent GW gases (which it is) needs to be stopped immediately!!! and (b) filling up the various salt water lakes and depressions will drop the ocean levels saving us all. I’m afraid you missed his subtlety.

        • CB

          There’s no need to make fun of people. Maybe he doesn’t know how science works. There nothing wrong with ignorance.

          It’s the eager pursuit of ignorance I have a problem with…

    • Nick


  • mememine

    Help save the Dead Sea! Help my planet could possibly be fire maybe!

    How many remaining climate blame “believers” does it take to change a light bulb?

    None, because “believers” choose to remain in the dark about science’s 32 year old consensus of nothing beyond; “could be” and “95%” unlike how they love to say how evolution is “proven” and smoking WILL cause cancer and comet hits are “inevitable”. You can’t “believe” more than science does and don’t tell children that science “believes” as much as you “believers” do. Only science can be certain the end is near.

    And get up to date;

    *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.

    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

    • CB

      The fact that CO₂ warms planets hasn’t been known for 32 years, it’s been known for almost 200 years!

      Why don’t you know it?

      • Nick

        Yes, and we are well into the CO2 range where CO2 may only have a minor impact. Since 95% of all models have significantly over predicted temperature rise, and the CO2 absorption spectrum is basically saturated, don’t expect too much warming in the future…


        FWIW, the feds have spent 100 billion on solar cell slush funds over the last 5 years. Amount spent on Alzheimer’s? Which is going to become one of the major impacts on the federal deficit? $500 million a year, most of which is not directed towards any unified effort. Get your priorities in order, my dear. Kidney disease, adult wasting, diabetes, alzheimer’s. These are the things the government should be pouring money into research on, because that not only helps our long term medicare issues and future debt, it would prevent massive suffering.

        But a degree of temperature change is more important to you all. Which is occurring because we are still on the rebound from the little ice age. Another btw, we haven’t hit the temperatures seen in the medieval or roman warm periods yet. Let me know when we do. Then I might yawn.

        • CB

          If CO₂ has such a minor impact on the Earth’s temperature, why isn’t there a single example in Earth’s history of polar ice caps persisting with levels of CO₂ like we have today?

          If they’ve never done it before, why would you expect them to this time around?

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com William Masters

        My dear CB, it is impossible for CO2 to warm anything. And its effect as an insulator would COOL not warm the earth. Alow me to remind you of what your High School Science Teacher told you. “Heat” is “energy”. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that: “Energy cannot be destroyed nor created. It can only be transmuted from one form of energy to another form of energy.”
        Wood is potential energy, burn it and it turns into light heat and ash. When all the energy in the wood is ocnverted, then the fire dies out. No more energy, no more fire, light, and heat.

        CO2 does not burn anything, nor does it convert any form of energy into heat. CO2 is just an insulating gas. But remember an insulator works both ways, it keeps heat in, and keeps it out. While CO2 absorbes heat given off by the earth, it only redirects about 27% of it back at the earth, about 63% of it is sent out into space. However, that same gas is also blocking heat from the sun from reaching the earth too. The sun send in 30,000,000 times more heat into the atmosphere than the earth sends out. 63% of the heat from the sun absorbed by the CO2 and particulate matter in the atmosphere is also sent back out into space. Thus, the cooling effect of the CO2 insulating the earth from the sun’s heat is over 60,000,000 times greater than the heating effect created when the CO2 sends some heat back.

        • CB

          Right, CO₂ is not, in itself, a source of heat. It traps the energy from the sun at the surface of planets, keeping it from escaping and thereby increasing the temperature.

          This fact has been known for almost 200 years.

          Why don’t you know it?



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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