Climate Palooza 2014 presents new ways of communicating climate science

By Olivia Niland

USC Annenberg’s second annual Climate Palooza event drew a diverse crowd of more than 300 people to “converse, connect and care” about climate change on Friday, March 28.

Attendees of all ages milled around USC Annenberg throughout six lively hours of Climate Palooza 2014, which offered climate-centric lectures and discussions, musical performances, sketch comedy, eco-friendly exhibitors and free food.

The event was presented by USC Visions and Voices and co-curated by the USC Annenberg Earth Sciences Communication Initiative (ESCI) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and featured various climate scientists from JPL and USC.

The ultimate goal of Climate Palooza, according to Annenberg Associate Professor Larry Pryor, is to engage the public in discussions of climate change and make scientific concepts more easily accessible.

“Climate Palooza is our attempt to look at new ways to communicate climate science,” said Pryor, ESCI co-founder and a former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor who also teaches environmental journalism at Annenberg. “We have to approach the climate change threat as a challenge that involves all of us.”

Climate science panels were presented in the Annenberg Auditorium as well as several other locations around the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and addressed topics such as “Droughts vs. Floods: Where Is Our Water Going?” and “Oceans Rise Up Against Us.”

“Almost all ecosystems are changing as a result of climate change [and] increased Co2 and land use,” said JPL research scientist Dave Schimel during the “Fate of the Terrestrial Biosphere” presentation. “When we look to the future, we’re talking about the fate of the biosphere here, we see...these negative effects from the climate becoming hotter and dryer in critical parts of the world...eventually taking over the beneficial effects of warming in the north and increasing Co2, and one of the great challenges is figuring out when those crossing points will occur.”

The “Fate of the Terrestrial Biosphere” presentation was also chaired by JPL climate scientist Josh Fisher and moderated by USC Annenberg Assistant Professor Mike Ananny. JPL’s Mike Gunson, Annmarie Eldering, Ian Fenty, Jorge Vazquez, Josh Willis as panelists and USC Dornsife Earth Sciences’ Sarah Freakins as a moderator.

Attendees were also given the opportunity to engage with presenting climate scientists throughout Climate Palooza, and encouraged to take part in activities such as Climate Jeopardy and “Angry Haiku” writing in which participants could “funnel [their] feelings about climate change into 17 classic syllables.” Climate Palooza also featured a debate between the Trojan Debate Squad and The Trojan Parliamentary Debate Club on the topic of whether carbon fuels should be left in the ground.

Climate Palooza entertainment included a theatrical performance by the USC School of Dramatic Arts’ Deep Map Theatre Project, music from Camino Real, and sketch comedy performed by Second City comedy group The Lollygaggers, with which JPL climate scientist Josh Willis performed.

Actor and climate change activist Ed Begley, Jr., was also in attendance and spoke at the outdoor Climate Lounge before introducing a musical performance by his daughter, Hayden.

A sneak peek of Showtime’s upcoming 10-hour climate change series Years of Living Dangerously, executive produced by James Cameron and featuring celebrity correspondents such as Matt Damon, Jessica Alba and Harrison Ford, set to premiere on April 13, was also screened by producer Stuart Sender.

“I worked on a segment that we filmed right here in Los Angeles about the impact of rising temperatures, and I guess the older people, we have to apologize to the younger people because it seems like we’ve left you a bit of a mess,” said Sender. “And it sounds like it’s only going to get a lot hotter in LA, so hopefully you guys are all going to get more educated about what’s happening. I also got to see though that there are some really great people in Los Angeles...who are thinking about how climate change is affecting our community.”

Sender’s reflection on how climate change is affecting younger generations was particularly fitting as the Years of Living Dangerously screening was attended by a group of elementary school students, one of whom excitedly proclaimed the documentary to be “uncontrollably awesome,” which seemed to be an overarching sentiment shared by many attendees at Climate Palooza 2014.


(Photo by Benjamin Dunn)