Interpreting climate papers in the academic journals was one of Melton’s tasks when he was doing stormwater treatment research for the EPA Clean Water Act in the early 1990s. Climate science was always fascinating to Bruce and the advent of ice core work during this period was really changing our fundamental knowledge about Earth’s climate history. Very little of this knowledge was making it out into the public realm and the disconnection between climate science and the public was just as embarrassing then as it is today. Because of this disconnection, it was not long before he decided to make climate science education his life’s work.
As a principal investigator for a million dollars in EPA Clean Water Act research in the early 1990s Melton was trained in science outreach. Photography and the emerging field of computer graphics were a key part of the training. It was clear that the greatest way to communicate complicated science was with images, color, and non-specialist language.
Shortly after the turn of the century he began to develop a much broader expertise in climate science. By 2005 he was ready to write. His first book, Earth at Risk: Abrupt Climate Change, was to be the first full color book about the latest findings in climate science. Chelsea Green Publishing said they “badly” wanted to do the book but they could only do it in black and white because they had never done color before. Melton’s full color vision remained steadfast; his training in outreach had been so profound that he turned them down.
There should have been no problem securing another publisher, or so this is what Bruce thought. After all, he had secured Chelsea Green on his fifth query. Into the mail went more queries and then his engineering consulting business intervened to refill the bank account. About six months later Bruce was rudely interrupted when the former Vice President published his book…
The former Vice President’s Oscar winning, Grammy winning, Nobel Peace Prize winning “full color” book was so similar to Melton’s that his book project was dead. Very importantly however, the new model for science outreach was confirmed.
Ever the optimists, he turned to his photographic skills for a new hook. Picking up his cameras, he went to Greenland, then Alaska, and the Rockies, the desert and deserted barrier islands. The results were two full length documentaries. The Ice and the Sea is about sea level rise, Greenland, and the deserted barrier islands of the Texas Gulf Coast. What Have We Done is about the subcontinental scale pine beetle pandemic in the Rockies.
By this time the tide had fully turned. A tsunami of anti-climate science rhetoric and authoritarianism was encouraged by one of the first Bush Administration’s actions in 2001. He reneged on his cap and trade campaign promise and gave American’s permission to disregard climate science.
Still, Melton continued querying and his platform grew. His articles began to be picked up on investigative journals on the Internet—not only in the United States, but in languages that could not be identified much less understood.
News of big impacts in Greenland started to appear. Researchers there called it “The Big Melt.” Changes had begun to happen more rapidly and far ahead of projections. Fundamental changes also began to emerge in the climate literature.
Melton was pushing his new hook: climate changes happening now, far more extreme and far ahead of the consensus. The scientific reasoning was simple. We were told that it was very important to start reducing emissions nearly twenty years ago or climate change impacts would happen sooner with more severity and solutions would become more difficult. We did not and they did.
The United States was the only country in the world except for Afghanistan and South Sudan to not sign the Kyoto Protocol. The recession was in high gear and climate was the least worried about issue of them all. Melton knew he was not going to get a publisher or an agent so he started a publishing business, bought editing software and committed to yet another learning curve. The book is not like Al’s. It shows very specific, background science so the reader can understand the skill, not just the words.
Over a decade has gone into Melton’s focused academic evaluation of big picture climate science for the Initiative and throughout, a pattern has emerged. This pattern is basic to the fundamental message that needs to be communicated about climate change:
The global warming psychology used by the Climate Change Counter-movement is powerful. Its techniques cast doubt on climate science logically and morally and have been used effectively by some of the exact same individuals with the debates on smoking, acid rain and ozone depleting chemicals. Critically, the movement has masked the ease, economic feasibility and vast profits—above and beyond a fossil fuel economy—that are embodied in the solutions.
Traditional science outreach has allowed us to become mired in controversy where no controversy should exist. The principles of global warming psychology tell us new education techniques are required. We need to speak science with images and descriptive color devices that communicate more than just words; reveal the skill in the science; allow unaffected individuals to psychologically share impacts from climate pollution happening around the world, and create a better understanding of the environmental consequences of climate change on individuals as well as the commons.
As a global society, we are now on our way to actually doing something about climate pollution, but the science has changed again… In the late 2000s the journals began to publish about discoveries in global cooling pollutants, dynamic atmospheric interactions and net warming in time frames other than 100 years. All current and proposed policy is basically the same long-term climate science as during the Kyoto Era.
The current strategy of the Initiative is to focus on this new science. The most recent interpretation of the science tells us that reducing total long-term warming is not the most critical task. Climate pollution action should focus on net warming from both global warming and cooling gases and mechanisms. To prevent warming in any time frame is now priority one because overshoot, or additional warming already in the pipeline, increases the risk of abrupt change.
Add to this; science has now been able to model abrupt changes. This skill will help modeling projections for the future because abrupt climate change is now more important, in the short-term climate change time frame, than is the simple long-term warming we have come to understand.
The Initiative continues to work on communicating the science along with efforts to create follow-up films on the apparent increase in sea level rise impacts on barrier islands, and the non-stop, dynamic impacts of different forest insect pandemics and disease outbreaks that have devastated over 92 million acres across western North America—an area twice the size of New England.
And of course, the band continues to play almost every Friday night at the studio in Austin.