Saturday Series: An Interview with Bruce Melton

By Olivia Arnow

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Bruce Melton interprets and delivers climate science to the public (Photo credit: www.meltonengineering.com)

Name: Bruce Melton

Location: Austin, Texas

Bio: Bruce is an independent civil engineer focusing primarily on environmental issues and climate change awareness.

How do you effectively communicate climate science to society given its complexity and future uncertainty?

I focus primarily on outreach—giving environmental leaders and the public information about climate change. I try to insert science into everyday life using unconventional methods at times. I have a band called Climate Change and have made several documentaries. I’m also currently working on a television series called Climate Change Man.

I have been working with climate science since I did my EPA storm water research in the early 1990s. The disconnection between what the public knew and what the scientists knew was simply amazing and the gap has only widened since. Between 1990 and 2005 I published several book and then decided to do something different. I picked up my camera and went to Greenland to photograph visible climate change evidence. From then on I began my Climate Change Now Initiative, where I report on impacts happening now.

Who is your target audience and how do you reach them?

My main goal is to educate our government officials as well as the public because we cannot create change with environmental leaders alone. My primary audience is those who understand that climate change is real but don’t understand how significant it really is. In 1990, only 60 to 70 percent of climate scientists believed climate change was real and while today that number is up to 97 percent, the public is 20 years behind. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the general public considers climate change to be a real and a threat to our global systems.

Through my website I try to reach a broader audience and also try to engage with my local Austin community as much as possible. I sit on the executive committee board at the Austin Sierra Club and routinely give talks. My outreach training from the EPA research I did taught me that images and color are the keys to engaging non-specialist with complicated science. I try to use images as much as I can when working with scientific findings; often modifying a graph slightly can reduce the scientific jargon and make the data very fascinating and useful.

I also have a T-shirt messaging site.

What is the most crucial message you wish to convey to the public?

I suppose it would be that those “voices” who tell us that climate change is not real- or that it is a natural cycle, a grand conspiracy or maybe it will be good for us- are the same voices that tell us that the solutions will ruin our economies.

The vast majority of credentialed climate specialists say nothing of the sort. Richard Alley, Professor of Geosciences at Penn State University, one of the lead authors of the 2001 and 2007 IPCC Reports, describes in his book, Earth: The Operators’ Manual, the hundred economic evaluations of climate change solutions that use only one percent of global GDP. Using existing technologies, this one percent of global GDP, $540 billion a year, is roughly the same as what we have already spent on efforts to control human toilet pollution and provide safe drinking water across the planet every year for the last hundred years. It is little different from what we spend on the U.S. military every year not counting wars, or what we spend on adverting every year across the planet. It is little different than the normal costs to agriculture every year because of normal inclement weather.

Another important message is that we are now in the worst-case greenhouse gas emission scenario to date. In 2010, the last year with emissions data, we doubled our emissions across the globe—even with the ongoing recession—from three percent to six percent. Most of the public understands and accepts the IPCC consensus, but because our actions twenty years ago are affecting our planet today, reducing current emissions will not fully fix the problem.

Olivia Arnow is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Read our other Saturday Series interviews: Mary McLaughlin and Sarah Alexander.

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