As a scientist who works on the Climate Assessment for the Southwest project (CLIMAS) at the UA's Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, Dr. Melanie Lenart has several jobs, one of which is to translate the latest in climate-change research into information that everyday people can use. To that end, Lenart has been helping construct a Web page at
Do you find it's difficult to translate information you get into something that's relevant for people in their day-to-day lives?
Well, there definitely is a trick to it. I actually have a background as a journalist myself. I spent 10 years writing for various newspapers, and I do a lot of writing in my job now, so that helps. We call ourselves--people who are kind of working on this translation thing--scientific translators, because that is part of the challenge: taking something that somebody's writing for an academic research journal and making some of the findings more relevant to, you know, Joe and Jane down the street. Why should they care about this? And I think it's a really crucial issue when we start talking about global warming, because there's a lot of really great research out there, and yet I don't know if people fully understand how much our understanding has increased in the last decade on what we're facing. There's still this impression among a lot of people that there's this uncertainty (and) that scientists are in conflict on this--when, in fact, the temperature rise, at least, has been nailed down pretty well. The range (of projected temperature increases) mainly relates to what might people do to moderate the global warming. That's not to say there's no controversy, but, relatively, that's a minor factor. There is more certainty than people maybe tend to understand.
What do you attribute that to--that people have a misunderstanding of the level of certainty?
Well, I think--and I'm saying this having been a journalist--some of it does go back to the media's desire to present a balanced story. And so if you have someone saying one thing, you try to find a source who says something to contrast that so you make sure you're not slanting the news. So the few skeptics who are out there, they get a lot of media coverage, because there are only a few of them. Then a lot of the information that's more (prevalent) among the mainstream scientists, who are more accepting of what is happening, that's just treated as another side of the argument.
But I do think things are changing. I think people are becoming more aware, and I think a lot of it does have to do with people like yourself and other journalists getting involved and getting interested. That's making a big difference, and I hope that we help, too, in some of the translating here at CLIMAS. ... I think another part for that was we always want to say, "Well, in this particular situation, this is what happened under that experiment." I think more and more scientists--because we are also citizens of this country and this planet--have been ready to get up and say, "Look, look what's happening. We'd better do something." We're in the same situation as everyone else, and we can see more clearly the dangers ahead.
What are you going to be talking about at the CFI forum?
Well, we have a panel, actually. I'm one of the four panelists, and we're going to be addressing--kind of in a tag-team format--some of the causes, the consequences and a few ideas on some solutions for the climate change, the global warming. It has different names; I like to call it global warming myself, just because the temperature element is so well pinned down, and the changes that will wreak (havoc) on our precipitation regimes are very much less understood. What we're doing is we're creating a situation where we're taking a big gamble about what's going to happen to our rainfall. But we do know a few things: We know that with the temperature increase, we're going to get higher evaporation rates, so whether it rains more or less, we're still going to have higher evaporation rates, which will have its own problems. And we also know that snow will be melting earlier, because we're getting earlier springs. That has a big impact on our water reservoirs and storage and things like that. ... Global warming--it might sound like a warm and fuzzy thing to some people, but I think those of us in the desert understand that we don't really want temperatures to get much higher. We're already struggling in the summer.