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Meteorologist says it's fine to talk about climate change, regardless of viewpoint

Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist known for his work on The Weather Channel and Forbes, has learned to adjust his conversations about hot-button topic climate change based on the people he talks to, and he advises other scientists to do the same.

Shepherd visited Dahlonega on Saturday as part of University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega Science Festival to give a presentation on climate, weather, the relationship between the two and how to bridge a gap between scientists and other citizens.

He said in a report to the Pentagon he “didn’t talk about trimlines or bell peppers, I talked about how in a warming climate system, most of the Navy’s bases are at or below sea level, and many of them are flooded. I talk about the fact that as ice sheets are melting, more fresh water is going into the ocean, and you know what that does? That makes the ocean less salty. You know what that does? That messes up the Navy’s sonar algorithms because they have certain assumptions in their algorithms about how salty the ocean is. So they can’t find enemy submarines. Hadn’t thought about that kind of stuff. ... So my point is: you find the value system.”

And when it comes to climate change, that means everything.

Shepherd said he believes finding discussion points within a person’s point of view is important to moving talks about climate forward, because without it people will only apply what they can see in front of them as evidence one way or the other, saying “people base their opinions and their actions on what their experiences are.”

“When we talk about climate change, you’ll often see scientists and the media put up this red trimline that’s meaningless to my aunt in Canton, Ga.,” he said.

While Shepherd admitted to believing in climate change, he said the point of his talk wasn’t to push one belief or the other, he simply said that as a scientist, learning how to frame these discussions in a way that is productive and helps spread awareness to the science behind the issue is the only way to have educated conversations.

“I’m not trying persuade anybody,” Shepherd said. “I don’t care what your politics are. I don’t care what particular faith you align with. I am a scientist, so I just have to present the facts. That’s all I’m trained to do.”

Shepherd hopes that by spreading these ideas of bringing discussion down to a local level with whoever you’re speaking to at events that are public and not closed off to academics, scientists will learn to better educate people on layman’s terms, and that it will lead to a more informed public on issues, whether it’s climate change or beyond.

“I love this event because we’ve got to communicate; us, the scientists, have to do a better job of communicating,” Shepherd said. “If you don’t know your audience, it’s like throwing darts at a dartboard with the lights off. The talk I’m giving you right now because I have a public-facing audience is extremely different than the talk I would give in one of my science conferences. That would sound all science-y. But if I give that talk to the Rotary Club, they’re sitting there like “alright, when’s dessert?” So, you’ve gotta understand and communicate information in a way that the audience consumes.”

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