JPL/NASA returns to USC Annenberg for Climate Palooza 2014

By Anne Bergman

With the aim of putting even more “palooza” into a second Climate Palooza, to be held Friday, March 28 at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, climate scientists will gather to share their knowledge in a decidedly more festive atmosphere than the typical academic conference, complete with music, drama and even some comedy.

The USC Annenberg Earth Sciences Communication Initiative (ESCI) is co-curating the event with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), capitalizing on the scientific minds behind the Mars Curiosity Rover, the Voyager space crafts as well as data-gathering missions focused on Earth’s weather, geology, and oceanography. The data JPL collects provides scientists with a comprehensive view of the effects of climate change, including: Sea level rise, a later snow season in California, drought impacts and melting glaciers.

And, in turn, JPL scientists and their work will benefit from the public exposure and communications strategies provided by the Annenberg partnership.

The first JPL-USC palooza event took place last January 24 at Annenberg, which got a good response. This year’s festival, presented as a Visions and Voices event, will build on last year’s trial run. The goal is to allow scientists, activists and the public to engage in discussion and share common concerns.

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

To that end, Josh Fisher, a scientist in the Water and Carbon Cycles Group at JPL, plans to bring “something along the cool spectrum” to his talk “Fate of the Terrestrial Biosphere.” Fisher learned to not underestimate the “cool factor” when NASA flight director “Mohawk Guy” (real name: Bobak Ferdowsi) became a viral sensation during the Mars Rover mission. (President Obama even took note, telling a group of JPL staffers, "You guys are a little cooler than you used to be.")

“Mohawk Guy was so effective, more effective than anything else we could do,” Fisher recently recalled. “His Mohawk alone…that visual was just so cool.”

While Fisher will be infusing cool into his presentation (with JPL colleague Dave Schimel, a research scientist). He’s also striving for objectivity in how he presents his material. “Although objectivity is impossible, you have to strive for it,” he said. “It’s not our job to be environmentalists; it just so happens that there’s a lot of overlap between us. If I say [climate change] is what’s happening on the planet, it’s purely scientific.”

This goal dovetails with JPL/NASA’s objective to “to engage the public in JPL/NASA’s missions by providing new pathways for participation; and to inform, engage, and inspire by sharing NASA’s missions, challenges, and results,” said Susan Callery, Earth Science Public Engagement Manager at JPL/NASA, noting that the Climate Palooza partnership with Annenberg is a “perfect fit for our outreach programs.”

Callery added that she hoped the event at Annenberg would help broaden JPL’s reach beyond  its La Cañada-Flintridge/Pasadena environs and also attract “college students who aren’t science majors.”

Meanwhile, Climate Palooza organizers at USC hope to instill the evening with a sense of “trust, so scientists feel they’re not separate from us,” said Pryor, adding that one of his goals as a science communicator is for the event to “encourage people to support scientific research.”

“It’s up to science communicators to provide researchers with spaces, such as science festivals, where their work can be encountered in ways that matter in our lives,” Pryor said. “This involves hands-on exposure and dialogue – the creation of common cultural ground. It involves the arts, innovation and levity.”

Art, music, drama, “angry Haiku,” even some puppet comedy, will be intertwined with provocative, yet concise, scientific presentations throughout the evening. In addition to presenting “Oceans Rise Up Against Us” with JPL oceanographer Jorge Vazquez, JPL climate scientist Josh Willis will provide some of the levity courtesy of his Second City puppet and sketch comedy troupe, the Lollygaggers.

In a friendly rivalry among climate scientists, JPL’s Mike Gunson and Annemarie Eldering, both atmospheric experts will tell how the Atmosphere Sees All, while Jay Famiglietti, a professor, Water and Climate Change, UC Irvine, and Tom Painter, a water and carbon researcher at  JPL, will take on Droughts vs. Floods: Where is Our Water Going?

Last year marked the first Climate Palooza collaboration and this year Callery promises the event will be “bigger and better! We’ve taken over the entire Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and have added many new events and activities. This year we will have a food and entertainment area called the Climate Lounge, a Fun Room where we will play games like ‘Climate Jeopardy,’ a  Take Action Room to discuss what individuals can do about climate change and many other new avenues for talking about climate change.”

JPL will host an exhibit area and the school’s East Lobby will be a venue for exhibitors from government, non-governmental organizations and activist groups. Students will contribute research project displays. And students from the Price School of Public Policy and Annenberg will debate where it might be best to let carbon fuels stay in the ground.

Actors from The Deep Map Theatre Project in the School of Dramatic Arts will perform plays written by students and will circulate among the attendees and engage them in improve theater, all with climate themes.

The Palooza format harks back to singer Perry Farrell’s Lollapalooza in 1991, a kaleidoscopic event that offered something first class for everyone – various modes of rock, as well as hip hop bands, dance and comedy performances, and craft booths.

The 2014 version of Climate Palooza is supported by various campus groups, including The Center for Excellence in Teaching, The Sustainability Office, the Wrigley Institute, and Graduate Student Government.

Admission is free to Climatepalooza, with reservations requested in order to check in. To RSVP, click  here .

Climate Palooza is produced by Visions and Voices, a university-wide arts and humanities initiative. For further information on this event:



4 to 4:45 p.m.: Atmospheres Sees All

5 to 5:45 p.m.: Fate of the Terrestrial Biosphere
Josh Fisher, Climate scientist, JPL
Dave Schimel, Research Scientist, JPL

6 to 6:45 p.m.: Oceans Rise Up Against Us
Josh Willis, Climate Scientist, JPL
Jorge Vasquez, Oceanographer, JPL

7 to 7:45 p.m.: Droughts vs. Floods: Where is Our Water Going?

8:05 to 8:35 p.m.: A Performance by The Lollygaggers
A fun-for-all-ages sketch comedy show about climate change!



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