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return to Sound Waves article: Scientists and the Media: Impacts of Sea-level Rise

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Economic Impacts

Clip 1: Communicating by using graphics and models to help illustrate complex systems and concepts

Ecological economics professor Robert Costanza and journalist Daniel Grossman discuss the limitations and the striking visual impacts of climate-change models.

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Robert Costanza: …and in fact, there's something called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness—which, I think, journalists, politicians, and scientists have a tendency to fall into—which is mistaking the fact that, or confusing the model with reality. All of our thinking is really a model. You have to recognize that it is just a model. And it may be a good model or a not-so-good model. That's really the issues that we have to worry about. So, getting people to understand the climate system and how that works is obviously a complex thing.

Daniel Grossman: Well, before you go on, I just want to say one thing. I'm hoping that after we've gone over this, you know, I'll probably get back to you in a few days. And I'm thinking, that maybe—I'll talk to my editors about this—but if I run a story, I'm wondering whether it would be possible to run that model as sort of a little thing on our Web site, ‘cause that is really cool, if we could explain what we are seeing there. I mean, I don't want to talk about it today because we don't have that much time, but it would be really cool if we could use that.

Robert Costanza: Sure, this is public domain. I downloaded this from the N-CAR Web site [National Center for Atmospheric Research, URL]…

Daniel Grossman: Yeah, that is really cool. Yeah, all right.

Robert Costanza: …and there are other, I think, interesting graphics that I'm going to try and show that I think help to make this point and communicate…

Daniel Grossman: Yeah

Robert Costanza: …to the public. …into the U.S. This is from The Onion [URL; features fact-based, fictional parodies about national and international news], so it's not a serious proposal, but there is an element of truth there, and that is that this is a very interconnected system, and what happens in the Arctic will have major impacts on what's going on with this climate system that we were just talking about there. It will change the way that works. This is a movie that shows just how rapidly, from 1990 to 2049, the Arctic sea ice is projected to disappear. This is what it is around 1990, ‘93, ‘94. You can see it [change] sort of very rapidly and, I think, more rapidly than some of the models had estimated.


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in this issue:

cover story:
Corals, Habitats, and Paleoclimate in the Drake Passage

Scientists and the Media: Impacts of Sea-level Rise

USGS NWRC Celebrates National Women's History Month

USGS Promoted at National Science Teachers Association Conference

Meetings Field Trip for Association of American Geographers Meeting

USGS Modeling Conference

Publications New Poster Depicts Complex Bathymetry in Northern Monterey Bay

August 2008 Publications List U. S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
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