Jeffrey T. Kiehl

2012 Climate Communication Prize Winner

Jeffrey T. Kiehl was awarded the 2012 Climate Communication Prize at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 5 December 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. The Climate Communication Prize is funded by Nature’s Own, a purveyor of fossils, minerals, and handcrafted jewelry in Boulder, Colo. The prize honors an “AGU member-scientist for the communication of climate science, and highlights the importance of promoting scientific literacy, clarity of message, and efforts to foster respected and understanding of science-based values as they relate to the implications of climate change.”


Jeffrey Kiehl’s career has been marked by exceptional accomplishments with identifiable impacts in both scientific understanding of climate and leadership of national and international research programs. He has made seminal research contributions to our understanding of many aspects of climate variability and climate change, and he is recognized internationally as a leading climate modeler. For his contributions, Jeffrey has received numerous professional awards. He is a Fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.


Building on his immense foundation of scientific research, Jeffrey is a leading communicator of climate science, in part because of his profound interest in the human treatment of the natural world. Much of the last decade of Jeffrey’s professional career has been dedicated to promoting climate science literacy to a wide range of the public sector. He has organized many professional meetings and discussions on this topic. He has spoken about climate science to groups including executives of the fossil fuel industry, petroleum geologists, renewable energy businesses, and religious organizations. He has presented to the National Organization of Information Technologists and Librarians, the international Mensa association, senior citizen groups, and a large number of psychology groups. Jeffrey co-organized and coled a recent meeting in Portland, Oregon aimed at bringing diverse communities together to discuss existing divisions around climate change. He organized a highly successful Aspen Global Change Institute workshop that included speakers from the fields of philosophy, psychology, religious studies, filmmaking, and anthropology.


Jeffrey’s presentations employ images and narratives that are specific to these diverse audiences. He has tended to the important tenet in communications that one must properly frame information for a specific audience. His presentations typically explore both the science and psychological dimensions of communicating climate change science. Importantly, Jeffrey is extremely dedicated to teaching other scientists, especially those early in their careers, how people may resist the message of anthropogenic climate change and how one can work through these resistances.


In his presentations, Jeffrey not only presents climate change science in a way that is accessible to the public, but also includes the audience in the process by asking them to share their personal feelings about the issue. This process allows the listeners to become an integral part of the learning process, an approach that has enabled those who are initially resistant to the message of climate change to open up. Jeffrey has not only brought the science of climate change to the public, but also has worked on approaches to improving how we communicate climate science. His unique background as both a climate scientist and psychologist has provided the framework for this novel work in science communication.


In summary, Jeffrey Kiehl is one of the top climate scientists in the world, and he is passionate about communicating climate science to a diverse range of audiences. He is committed to helping other scientists improve their communication skills. Jeffrey is an extremely deserving recipient of the Climate Communication Prize from AGU.



               –James W. Hurrell, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado


I thank James Hurrell for his gracious citation of my work on communicating climate science to the public. I am deeply moved by his summary of my work over these past years. It clearly reflects how passionately I feel about this work and how important communication is for our field.  I thank the Prize Committee for their recognition of my work and Nature’s Own for supporting this important AGU prize. As climate scientists, I feel we have a duty to convey our research to the public in meaningful ways. This is especially true given that much of our scientific research is supported by tax paying citizens. I also believe there is a moral imperative to communicate our research to the world. Our understanding of the significant climatic changes occurring now and those that will occur in the future places a great burden on all of us as scientists. We cannot hold onto our science like some protected treasure, but must convey both the facts and the serious implications of our science to more than just our peers.


Unfortunately, in today’s world, our various approaches to communicate the science of climate change are often confronted with a very sobering social and political reality. A reality that seems less than receptive to science, in general. It is easy to get discouraged amidst the apathy, distortion, and personal threats focused on the communication of climate science. I admire those in our community who have chosen to work so hard to communicate climate science to society and who have been attacked professionally and personally by those who don’t want the facts of climate change to leave the pages of peer reviewed journals. We must continue to deliver the best science in the best ways to the public. Interestingly the word “communication” holds within it the root “common,” deriving from “public” and “shared by many.” So, by definition, to communicate means to share with the public.


Over the past several years, I have experienced the thrill of sharing science with the public, from speaking to small groups of the elderly up to organizations including hundreds of people. For the most part, I have found a deep civility among the public. I believe the majority of people want more information on the science of climate change. I also believe we can develop better ways to convey these facts. Perhaps it is my training in psychology that led me to begin to ask not just what people thought about climate change, but what they felt about the issue. In asking about people’s feelings I found a whole new dimension to climate communication. I continue to enjoy exploring new ways to frame climate science in ways that better connect people to the issue. I am especially pleased to see so many young scientists yearning to learn new ways to communicate science to the public. If the people want to hear more about the science, and scientists want to work on providing this science, then there is hope for our future.


–Jeffrey T. Kiehl, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado