The Role of Scale in Weather and Climate Change Communications

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 11:00 AM
226AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
David Richard Perkins IV, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC

Scale is an abstract and often contested concept; however, its application facilitates a use of structured frameworks allowing better understanding and communication of complex and dynamic topics. Scale can be simply defined as a focused level of representation which frames conceptualizations of reality. Adding complexity and depth, scale is also argued to possess multidimensional attributes. Such dimensional attributes come in the form of nested vertical and horizontal categorizations, fractals, sizes, levels, relations, and scalar structurations to name a few. While scales are sometimes regarded as engineered social constructions with amoebic certainty and many conclude are only existential abstractions or even fictitious, they still, when applied, promote valuable conceptual frameworks.

Applying scale in earth systems science communication requires description in relative and absolute space. To provide the most benefit, both spatial descriptions are needed to adequately capture a comprehensive scalar representation. With respect to the atmospheric realm, I focus on three continuous graduated scales: temporality, spatiality, and operationality—all of which are bound by scalar resolution. These scales reflect the relationship of humans to the ambient environment in both physical Euclidian (absolute) space as well as socially transformed abstract (relative) space.

Here, scale is presented in a context of weather to climate change communication; uniquely, the scalar derivation was reverse-engineered. Doing so establishes a theoretical framework which is application-derived, resulting in a bottom-up conceptualization.

Introduced in this presentation is a new theoretical framework called the ‘Weather-Climate-Scalar-Continuum' (WCSC) which connects social theory, atmospheric science, and weather/climate change communication. Through the use of subordinate parts of the WCSC such as the ‘Weather-Climate-Temporal-Continuum' (WCTC), the ‘Weather-Climate-Geographic-Continuum' (WCGC) and the ‘Stakeholder Dimensional Resolution' (SDR), the WCSC serves as a conceptual modeling tool. It does so by identifying appropriate gateway points and ‘windows of opportunity' for engaging positive, relevant, and objective public discourse for matters relating to weather and climate science. Using the “Six Americas” report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication to exemplify stakeholder sentiments, I provide varying examples of client engagement utilizing the WCSC framework. These include grassroots ‘bottom-up' contexts and organizational ‘top-down' contexts.

The WCSC framework allows climate scientists to find the appropriate scalar dimension(s) to communicate weather and climate thereby establishing climate change as more relevant and pertinent to all audiences. Increasing relevancy facilitates empowerment through educationally-grounded citizen-science and helps to eliminate passive acceptance.