Dr Kate Marvel: Climate, Clouds and Communication

This month we held a joint meeting with the Inspiring Science seminar series at the University of Exerer, and we were fortunate to be joined by Dr Kate Marvel- a high profile physicist and climate science who is also well-known for climate communication. Kate’s career has spanned researching policy relevant science issues at Stanford, wind power and the Carnegie Institute, fingerprinting the human influence in precipitation change at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and climate forcings and feedbacks at Columbia University. Most recently, Kate teaches Dynamics of Climate Variability and Change at Columbia University whilst also working at NASA GISS. Kate’s communication efforts started with a blog, but have included high profile writing in Scientific America and the book/project ‘All We Can Save’ as well as high profile interviews with Time magazine, the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine. Kate gave a TED Talk on clouds and climate change in 2017 which has had over 1.3 million views.

To start the meeting, Kate gave us a brief overview of her climate communication work, and the difficulties of telling a story that might not seem very interesting to some, and even just depressing. Kate noted that we are at a point where the global political landscape is shifting. We shouldn’t be trying to counter the question- ‘I don’t believe in climate change’. This isn’t the biggest threat, as this only accounts for a very small amount of hard to reach people. Instead, many people are apathetic or don’t know what to do about it. We need to talk to the people who don’t understand climate change, who don’t see how it will impact them, who don’t care and don’t know what to do. This is a much larger proportion of society which is open to listening.

  • Beware of the extremes (e.g: on social media, the extremes make a lot of noise but are not necessarily representative of the general population)
  • Talking about science is storytelling
  • Find the ‘deep story’ – Find the one thing which matters to someone and their values. You may be able to communicate better with someone that you have shared values or hobbies with.
  • Keep reading both fiction and non-fiction, it helps to make you a better writer and communicator
  • Just start writing – ‘Keep typing until it turns into writing’ David Carr, New York Times. Try out creative methods, simplifying your science, writing in different styles e.g: poetry
  • No one person can be THE climate communicator, it requires everyone to take part.

After hearing from Kate, we had the opportunity to quiz her on different aspects of climate communication and her career. The questions were provided by members of the Women in Climate network and attendees on the day. The discussion mainly focused on improving the communication and outreach we can do as climate researchers. One of the best bits of advice given was to talk about the climate crisis as a problem with a solution. This tends to help people engage with the problem without causing despair and helps them to take action. Remember that the majority of people care about the climate, but do not know enough, or do not know where to start helping. Overall, having more people speaking about the crisis is one of the best things that we can do. This helps to decrease the burden, reach the disengaged and initiate societal change.

Also discussed was ‘All We Can Save’, a topic of a previous Women in Climate book club earlier this year. This exciting project bought together a huge number of women climate scientists and activists to contribute essays and poems, including Kate Marvel. We were also excited to hear about Kate’s new book, ‘Human Nature’, the story of climate science in 9 emotions, which will hopefully be published next year. Kate also suggested other resources to keep on learning, and a variety of fiction, non-fiction and web pages are listed at the end of this post.

We would like to thank Kate for speaking, everyone who attended the event for their excellent questions, and the Maths department for their help in making this event possible as part of their Inspiring Science series.


Book Recommendations

Kate Marvel book coming soon (‘Human Nature’)

Katherine Hayhoe ‘Saving us’


Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents)

Mary Shelly

Richard Powers

Web resources:

Real climate, link

Sceptical science, link

Climate feedback, link