Getting the World to Care About Climate Change

Getting the World to Care About Climate Change
By Derek Maiolo

A New Approach To An Old Dilemna


Reaching any kind of consensus on what to do about climate change has been nearly as impossible as agreeing that it actually exists.

That was all supposed to change with the passage of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, which became the most inclusive international climate change initiative in history. More than 175 countries signed the agreement, but President Trump’s decision last June to pull out of the deal has made the US the only nation in the world not participating.

It is hard to solve a problem when so many people — including our president — do not believe that it is a problem at all. Despite Trump’s dismissing climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” a group of government researchers recently came to a different conclusion. The most comprehensive study ever of climate science published by US researchers* states it is “extremely likely” that humans are the “dominant cause” of global warming.




Rising global temperatures are just the beginning. From coastal flooding to increasingly devastating natural disasters like this past summer’s hurricane season, the effects of greenhouse gas emissions will alter the world to such an extent that scientists are still trying to accurately understand what our new reality will look like.

Seeing the chaos over the climate debate, physics professor Gregory Bothun, who has taught an honors college climate change course for the past three years, is trying to equip students with the tools to communicate the many dimensions of climate change.

“It’s not just about the facts,” Bothun says, it’s how one uses those facts. “I want them to learn to make an argument by persuasion.”

More importantly, he wants to teach how detrimental effects posed by a radically changing planet can be assuaged by changes in human behavior, mainly how we consume goods.

In the class “Climate Change and the Need for Data Driven Policy” students work in the same group of four throughout the term, writing weekly blog posts that alert the public to a certain threat of climate change. These posts try to convince readers to take a specific course of action, something small that can make a big impact when applied nationally.

“A lot of this is about regional solutions,” Bothun explains. People can eat less beef, for instance, or be more mindful about water use. The variety presented in the following student examples reflect the multidisciplinary nature of honors college classes. Each person brings an expertise to the table, Bothun said, which when combined can lead to creative solutions that speak to diverse audiences.

At the end of each class, students converge in the basement of the new Price Science Commons to view each group’s final presentations using the library’s Visualization Lab. The lab’s notable feature is a massive digital wall, composed of 24 high-definition displays. It allows students to present multiple slides at once, or to emphasize a single image with stunning color and clarity.

Behind much of the lab’s development is Clark Honors College senior and human physiology major Sherman Tran, who took Bothun’s class winter 2017. “I didn’t even know the lab existed until I took the class,” he says.

He was astounded that the UO Libraries offered such advanced technology to students. “This is the kind of technology that government agencies use,” he says.

After seeing its potential as a tool for scientific research, Sherman applied for a job with a team that has since expanded the wall’s capabilities. “The best part about this is now you can present a lot of data at once,” he explains. “You can use a high-resolution map, go out, zoom in. With PowerPoints, you can put up three slides at once.”

Bothun says that those capabilities can help strengthen an argument on climate change, especially when someone is presenting to a government group.

Now, Tran says he is working on making the visual lab more accessible to students, including those not in the sciences. Anyone can use the digital wall after a short orientation and tutorial, so he says that it is mostly about letting students know the resource exists.

Bothun says that technology like this can pave the way for action on climate change, helping to convince the public and lawmakers through more vivid, appealing slideshows and simulations. It is that coupling of digital innovation and human action that can, in effect, change the world.


About Vislab 

Composed of 24 HD TVs, the Visualization Lab is the only place in the state of Oregon where groups can view full resolution, 50-million-pixel images. These digital screens optimize any presentation or data visualization. They allow researchers to observe and analyze huge datasets, build 3D simulations and explore complex simulations, from nanoparticles to vast expanses of outer space.




Student Work: Data Visualizations





Soybeans are one of the United States’ leading agricultural crops, behind only corn. They are a major driving force to the American economy, with a wide range of applications even beyond agriculture. Extreme weather events caused by climate change, however, are threatening this keystone commercial crop. This could trigger steep price hikes in products from meat to pet food to biodiesel.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “Soybeans will be one of the crops that suffers most from climate change, if current production practices stay the same.” Above and below are soybean fields in Argentina, before and after, respectively, intense flooding caused by erratic weather conditions, an event that becomes increasingly common as climate change advances.

As can be seen in this comparison, the flooding caused major damage to many production operations, and consequently harmed not only the local economy of Argentina, but the global economy as a whole. Ultimately, we must face the reality that the effects climate change has on our environment are no longer limited to the far-off North Pole. These changes are happening in our own backyards and will be felt in our farms and grocery stores. That is, unless there are sweeping changes to American culture, which the Paris Climate Agreement outlined.

Argentina flooding before

Argentina flooding after



Columbian Coffee Production Relative to 1991

Columbian Coffee Production Relative to 1991



If you’re one of those people, like me, who wakes up and needs a cup of joe before doing anything else, then I have some bad news for you. This graph shows the US price (blue line) and Columbian coffee production (grey, yellow and red lines) since 1991.

As you can clearly see, coffee production has been steadily decreasing while the price for coffee has been growing exponentially! Although this data is only looking at Columbia, almost all other large coffee producers have been experiencing lower production levels. So what does this mean for my morning cup of coffee? Soon, I may not be able to afford it.



Fresh water withdrawals have nearly tripled in the last five decades, and they are increasing by around 60 billion cubic meters every year. The US is an especially heavy consumer of fresh water. According to, the average American uses 176 gallons of water per day whereas the average African family uses just 5 gallons each day.

How many liters of water to produce... This is far beyond a sustainable level. As the Earth’s population increases, roughly 80 million per year, and global lifestyle and dietary habits change, domestic consumption of fresh water is increasing rapidly. The industries that use the most water, agriculture and irrigation, represent nearly 70 percent of all water consumed worldwide.

The consumer plays a major role in driving the huge amount of water used by agriculture, irrigation, and industry as well. According to the United States Geological Survey, one quarter pound of beef requires around 460 gallons of water to produce. The US alone processed 25.8 billion pounds of beef in 2013, according to the North American Meat Institute. In comparison, producing poultry requires roughly a quarter as much water per pound as beef. Non-meat foods, such as bread, corn or fruits and vegetables require drastically less water to produce than meat.

The public thus has a lot of power to address this dilemma. If consumers can reduce or eliminate the amount of meat that they consume, then the overall water usage in agriculture could drop dramatically, as food that now does not have to be fed to animals to fatten them up can instead be made into food for consumers to eat. The lower on the food chain that consumers can go to get their foods, the more sustainable those foods tend to be. The consumer has a moral responsibility to do what they can to take care of the world around them and to try to live in a sustainable way. Reducing meat consumption is one fairly simple way to do that.

Making little changes to go green – from biking to class or work instead of driving, to eating more salads and fewer steaks – can lead to big victories in the fight to reduce climate change.