Public Release: 

Understanding climate science: A scientist's responsibility to communicate with the public

American Chemical Society

NEW ORLEANS, April 8, 2013 -- With global climate change and the prospect of another record-hot summer on the minds of millions of people, experts have gathered here today to encourage scientists to take a more active role in communicating the topic to the public, policy makers and others. The symposium, "Understanding Climate Science: A Scientist's Responsibility," is part of the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society.

Speakers are highlighting a new resource that scientists can use in communicating the science of climate change. Launched late last year, the ACS Climate Science Toolkit, available at, is a web-based tool to enhance understanding and communication of the science underpinning global climate change. The toolkit was developed for ACS' more than 163,000 members and others. Abstracts related to the symposium are at the end of this release.

The project, more than a year in development, was one of the major initiatives that Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., 2012 ACS president, put forth for his year in office. Shakhashiri, the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, described the toolkit as a unique resource, with a sharp focus on the scientific concepts that determine Earth's climate.

"The ACS Climate Science Toolkit fills a need for education and equips scientists with the information and other resources necessary to develop a robust intellectual structure to communicate on this key topic," said Shakhashiri. "Climate change affects everyone and everything on Earth, and ranks as one of the greatest global challenges of the early 21st century."

Shakhashiri explained that the ACS is among the major scientific organizations with position statements acknowledging the reality of climate change and recommending action. The ACS policy statement mentions that people need a basic understanding of climate science in order to make informed personal decisions. And it describes climate change education for the public as "essential." Not explicit in the statement, however, is the responsibility of individual ACS members to take active roles in this education process as both scientists and citizens.

"Scientist-citizens must use their expertise and credibility as scientists ― as the ACS Mission Statement expresses so eloquently ― '...for the benefit of Earth and its people,'" Shakhashiri added. "Recruiting individual scientists to take on this responsibility requires encouragement and exhortation. It also requires providing convenient access to reliable tools for doing so."

The ACS Climate Science Toolkit discusses greenhouse gases, how the Earth's heating mechanism works, how the vibrational energy from molecules changes into translational kinetic energy and much more. The toolkit also provides a package of "Climate Science Narratives" that can be adapted and personalized when scientists have the opportunity to speak about climate science to other audiences. Those may include students, schoolteachers, college and university faculty, industrial scientists and business leaders, civic and religious groups, professional science and educational organizations, and elected public officials at all levels and in all branches of government.

Work on the toolkit began in 2011, when Shakhashiri formed the ACS Presidential Working Group on Climate Science, a panel of distinguished scientists and science communicators chaired by physical chemist and science educator Jerry A. Bell, Ph.D. The panel worked on two tasks. One was to develop a toolkit that ACS members and others could use for self-education on climate science, to understand the fundamental chemical and physical processes that determine Earth's climate. The second was an ongoing task of developing strategies for using the toolkit in communicating about climate change to other audiences.

The Dec. 3, 2012, edition of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine, contains a Comment article at in which Shakhashiri discusses the toolkit and its importance.

Members of the working group:

  • Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea, the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Jerry A. Bell, Ph.D., working group chair, the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Joseph S. Francisco, Ph.D., William E. Moore Distinguished Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Chemistry, Purdue University
  • Peter Mahaffy, Ph.D., King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and co-director of the King's Centre for Visualization in Science
  • Kathleen M. Schulz, Ph.D., president of Business Results Inc., Albuquerque, N.M., and a member of the ACS Board of Directors
  • Susan Solomon, Ph.D., Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • John Wiesenfeld, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Florida Atlantic University
  • Rudy M. Baum, consultant, former editor-in-chief of Chemical & Engineering News
  • Barbara J. Finlayson-Pitts, Ph.D., consultant, University of California-Irvine
  • Mario J. Molina, Ph.D., consultant, University of California-San Diego
  • Michael Woods, ACS staff liaison, assistant director, science communications, ACS Office of Public Affairs
  • Katie Cottingham, Ph.D., ACS staff liaison, senior science writer, science communications, ACS Office of Public Affairs
  • Darcy Gentleman, Ph.D., ACS staff liaison, ACS Science & the Congress Project, ACS Office of Public Affairs

An editorial on this topic appears in the current edition of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at


The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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ACS climate science toolkit

1. Jerry A. Bell1, Ph.D., American Chemical Society, 1155 16th St., Washington, DC, 20036, United States, 202-872-9734,

Scientists have a responsibility to help non-scientists understand a science-based issue like global climate change, even if they are not in a field directly related to climate science. The good news is that a great deal of excellent material on climate science, most often associated with global climate change, is available from print and electronic resources. The bad news is that there is so much available that it is a daunting task to know where to begin to learn enough to be helpful to others. An ACS Presidential Climate Science Working Group has developed a concise, web-based Climate Science Toolkit designed to engage ACS members in learning the fundamentals of climate science so those who take on their responsibility to the public have an entry point to the depth of material available to learn more. In this presentation we will examine the principles that guided development of the Toolkit and how it might be used.

Baffled by climate change? New interactive tools demystify the science behind climate change

1. Peter Mahaffy1, Ph.D., The King's University College, Chemistry Department, 9125 50th St, Edmonton, AB, T6B 2H3, Canada, 780-465-3500,

What's different about the climate change we are experiencing now, relative to the many changes in earth's climate in the past? Can't the oceans absorb the extra CO2 that humans are putting into the atmosphere? Is it true that laughing gas contributes to climate change? And do we need to worry about a runaway greenhouse effect from methane clathrate hydrates? The challenges seem enormous - is there anything I can do that could possibly make a difference? In this talk, we introduce a comprehensive set of interactive, web-based tools that will help you answer these and many other questions, and make connections between fundamental concepts in chemistry and the science of climate change. Learn more about the materials at, created as a legacy of the International Year of Chemistry by the team at the King's Centre for Visualization in Science ( in partnership with IUPAC, UNESCO, RSC and ACS.

Air pollution and climate change: Integrating lessons from the past

1. Barbara J. Finlayson-Pitts1, Ph.D., University California Irvine, Department of Chemistry, 328 Rowland Hall, Irvine, CA, 92697-2025, United States, 949- 824-7670,
Air pollution and climate are very closely intertwined in many ways, including the science behind them. However, the connection between them is often not recognized, hindering the translation of what we have learned from one to the other. Examples of their interconnectedness and what we can learn from this will be discussed. In addition, a successful summer workshop for high school teachers designed to provide the fundamental chemistry behind air pollution and climate will be described.

Climate communication from a science perspective

1. Richard C.J. Somerville1, Ph.D., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, Dept. 0224, La Jolla, CA, 92093-0224, United States, 858-534-4644,
Scientists as a group are widely admired and can often use their prestige as well as their technical knowledge to advantage in publicizing and illuminating the findings of climate science. However, most scientists are unaware of the main obstacles to effective communication, such as the distrust that arises when the scientist and the audience do not have a shared worldview and shared cultural values. Many climate scientists also fail to realize that their jargon and specialized terminology are significant barriers to communication, and that their messages require skilled translation into understandable everyday language. The people whom one is trying to reach are rarely hungry for pure scientific information, but instead want to know how climate change will affect them, and especially what can be done about it.

Communication and climate science

1. Kathleen M. Schulz1, Ph.D., Business Results, Inc., 12704 Sandia Ridge Place NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87111, United States, 505-856-9227,

Understanding science is vital, communicating science equally so. Scientists have a responsibility to communicate effectively.

Understanding Climate Science Change

(Rudy Baum, abstract not yet available)

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