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Understanding Uncertainty in the Context of Climate Change

Does uncertainty about the impacts of climate change mean scientists aren’t sure climate change is even happening? Or, perhaps, that we should wait to take mitigation or resilience actions until further research reduces that uncertainty? These are a few of the questions students might raise about the uncertainty in climate change predictions. Ms. Townsend addresses these issues in the first part of her presentation, discussing the sources of uncertainty in climate projections, what uncertainty means for scientific consensus, and how it can actually be harnessed to make better mitigation and resilience decisions.

One takeaway will be that effective use of uncertainty information requires close attention to what’s communicated by the media, scientists, and interest groups. In the second part of her talk, Ms. Townsend points out common strategies for framing risk and uncertainty information, highlighting ways that students can be smart information consumers to avoid being misled.

Tarlise Townsend
Tarlise (Tarlie) Townsend

At the time she gave this presentation, Tarlise (Tarlie) Townsend was a Master’s student at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. After completing her B.S. in neuroscience and her B.A. in Germanic Studies at Indiana University in 2012, Tarlie spent a year studying risk and uncertainty communication at Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development, where she was a DAAD Scholar. She then took what she had learned into the field: as a Henry Luce Scholar to go work in Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology, where she and her colleagues used field experiments to investigate how rural Vietnamese perceive climate change and uncertainty.