1. Collaborating with Communities

This year, Woodwell Climate’s Just Access Initiative went global. Just Access works in close partnership with communities to provide tailored, actionable climate risk reports for Rio Branco, Brazil; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Summit County, Utah; and Lawrence, MA. At COP28, Just Access released their latest report in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of the DRC, which focused on climate risks and potential solutions in the country and identified carbon markets as a potential funding mechanism for adaptation efforts.

Just Access collaborates with local officials and advocates to ensure the final reports cover information critical to their community’s planning. So far, 14 reports have been completed and more are on the way.

Read the report.

2. Tongass National Forest Protection

In January of 2023, the Biden Administration restored protections against logging and road-building for more than 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. 

This came after Woodwell Climate’s Dr. Wayne Walker and Geospatial Analyst Seth Gorelik, along with long-time collaborator Dr. Dominick DellaSalla of Wild Heritage, delivered a research report to the Biden administration showing massive carbon stores in Tongass National Forest and highlighting the importance of roadless areas. 

3. Citizen Science with Science on the Fly

In 2023, Science on the Fly’s (SOTF) focused their activities on stewarding their community of scientists. Together they collected more than 3,000 water samples from hundreds of locations around the globe. SOTF leverages the passion and dedication of the global fly fishing community to gather data on the health of rivers across the world. With this data, SOTF can improve our understanding of how watersheds and river systems change over time due to climate change and local effects.

Read about the project’s activities this year.

4. Training the Next Generation of Researchers

We sent 10 Polaris Project students into the field this summer. The Polaris Project engages the brightest young minds from a diversity of backgrounds to tackle global climate research in one of Earth’s most vulnerable environments: the Arctic.

Students conducted their own research projects over two weeks at a field research station near Bethel, Alaska. Afterwards, they returned to the Center to analyze samples, and presented their findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December.

Woodwell Climate also hosted several interns through the Partnership Education Program. These undergraduate students participated in research and communications activities across the center.

Read PEP intern, Jonathan Kopeliovich’s story about research in Howland Forest.

5. Convening Critical Conversations

Woodwell Climate has been conducting tropical forest research in Brazil for nearly two decades alongside partner organization IPAM Amazônia. This year, Water Program Director, Dr. Marcia Macedo and collaborators, including Dr. Ane Alencar of IPAM, convened a multi-day workshop in Brazil that produced a policy brief on forest degradation. They then organized experts to submit public comments on Brazil’s updated policy for controlling Amazon deforestation, which for the first time also addresses forest degradation.

Read the policy brief here.

Across the globe, Permafrost Pathways partner, Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), hosted a “Rights, Resilience, and Community-Led Adaptation” workshop on Dena’ina homelands in Anchorage, Alaska. The two-day workshop created space for Tribes to share their expertise with each other and connect face-to-face with federal and state government representatives to access resources and technical assistance.

Read more about the workshop.

6. Representing Our Expertise

Our experts showed up as thought leaders this year at several high profile events. As just a few examples, Woodwell Climate’s Arctic Program Director Dr. Sue Natali and Senior Science Policy Advisor Peter Frumhoff both spoke on panels alongside other leading voices in climate at SxSW in Austin, TX. Senior Geospatial Analyst, Greg Fiske attended the Esri User Conference, where his topographic map of Alaska garnered two awards. And Assistant Scientist, Dr. Ludmilla Rattis gave a talk at TED Countdown about her research on the role of Tapirs in rainforest restoration. (Recording coming in early 2024)

7. Making Headlines

Woodwell Climate team members showed up in over 5,000 media stories this year. Our scientific leadership provided quotes for a broad range of high profile climate stories in New York Times, Reuters, Boston Globe, CNN and Grist, just to name a few. Senior Scientist Dr. Jen Francis was quoted over 4.2K times, appearing in major news outlets like the Washington Post and AP News to provide accessible context about the links between climate change and extreme weather events. 

8. Rebuilding an Arctic Research Station

Last fall, Scotty Creek Research Station in Canada—one of the only Indigenous-led climate research stations in the world—was almost entirely consumed by a late-season wildfire. Woodwell Climate’s Permafrost Pathways project is providing rebuilding support to the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation. Project scientists Dr. Kyle Arndt and Marco Montemayor visited the site for two weeks this spring to restore an essential carbon monitoring tower.

Read the story of Scotty Creek.

9. Advancing the Scientific Literature

Our researchers published 80 peer-reviewed scientific publications this year. From the Arctic to the Tropics, from soil concentrations to river concentrations, Woodwell Climate had a part in discovery.

Assessing carbon stocks and accumulation potential of mature forests and larger trees in U.S. federal lands

Recent trends in the chemistry of major northern rivers signal widespread Arctic change

Grain-cropping suitability for evaluating the agricultural land use change in Brazil

Observational and model evidence together support wide-spread exposure to noncompensable heat under continued global warming

Explore all our publications.

10. Leading on the World Stage

Woodwell Climate’s President & CEO Dr. Max Holmes brought Woodwell Climate to the main stage of CERAWeek, Green Accelerator Davos, GenZero Climate Summit in Singapore, Climate Week NYC, and Mountainfilm Festival. He discussed cutting-edge climate science alongside notable figures like Bill McKibben and former Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez.Read about Dr. Holmes’ time at Davos.

In a busy hallway of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, Arctic Communications Specialist, Jess Howard, and Climate Adaptation Specialist, Brooke Woods, stand in front of a large print-out of a map of Alaska. The map was created by Greg Fiske, Senior Geospatial Analyst at Woodwell Climate, to show the topography of the state in artfully shaded greens, browns, and whites. At the moment it is covered in handwritten notes. 

Woods had suggested they bring the map to the Alaska Forum on the Environment (AFE) and invite conference attendees to add notes describing their community’s experiences with the impacts of climate change. Their table remained crowded throughout the day, as people stopped to point out the rivers and mountain ranges around where they lived, and swap stories about erosion, flooding, permafrost thaw, and missing species.

“Even on this huge map of Alaska,” says Howard. “People were coming up and immediately saying ‘there’s this river, there we are.’ Knowing exactly where to point was just so immediate because of the deep connection Alaska Native communities have to the land and water, of which they are the original stewards.”

Fiske who, alongside Cartographer Christina Shintani, leads the Center’s map-making activities, has seen many moments like this one over his decades-long career—moments where maps start conversations, foster connections, and get people thinking. It’s the reason he brings maps with him wherever he goes, and encourages others to do the same. It’s the reason he keeps a table at the Center’s offices covered in printed maps, sometimes finished pieces for display, sometimes draft versions to workshop. 

Because when the maps come out, so do the stories. And the stories help us better understand our place in the changing world.

Making maps is a method of discovery

“But Google Maps exists. Haven’t all the maps been made already?”

Fiske and Shintani have heard it before: the idea that “everything has already been mapped.” Why should we create new maps of familiar places?

In a world beset by hundreds of transformative forces, of which climate change is one, Shintani responds that cartography is just as important now, if not more important than ever.

“The world is constantly changing,” says Shintani. “If it weren’t, we wouldn’t spend billions of dollars to capture satellite imagery every minute of the day. Political boundaries change every year, glaciers disappear, wildfires break out and alter the landscape, and we have to map the physical and social phenomena to understand that changing world.”

The act of creating a map can also be a method of revealing something new from existing data, which is why cartography plays a central role in research at Woodwell Climate.

Fiske and Shintani field frequent requests from scientists for maps to accompany research papers. According to Fiske, “sometimes the data for that is readily available, but sometimes it takes an entire geospatial analysis to derive what you need to make the map. And you won’t really know until you start iterating.” Often, viewing data on a map will inspire new scientific questions for researchers to chase down. The act of creating maps is not just an end product, it can be a critical step in the scientific process.

Cartography requires a little bit of everything

In their time at the Center, Fiske and Shintani have worked on maps detailing forest carbon in the United States, global drought forecasts, fire detections in the Amazon rainforest, and Arctic communities located on permafrost ground—they are no strangers to working across disciplines.

“Cartographers are generalists,” says Shintani. “We have to know a little bit about a lot of things, which actually benefits us as climate communicators, since the maps we’re making aren’t meant to inform other expert climate scientists, they are trying to convey information to everyone else.”

“Cartography isn’t really one profession,” Fiske clarifies. “It’s a collection of professions.”

A modern cartographer, according to Fiske, is a data analyst, a statistician, a designer, a programmer, a storyteller, and an artist all rolled into one. Skills from each profession, and a healthy curiosity about a hundred other topics, are required in order to create maps that are informative, attention-grabbing, and intuitive to read. Fiske entered into cartography through the world of computer coding, discovering an affinity for programming in his high school’s computer lab. He picked up the other skills later, with guidance from mentors, learning first to apply coding to geospatial data, and then how to display that data visually, and even make it beautiful. 

Shintani’s entryway into cartography was through science. She had intended to study the physical geography of rivers, when a class on cartography changed her direction.

“With maps, I could organize everything in a way that made sense to me—because the world is so often organized in ways that don’t make sense—and I could make them beautiful,” says Shintani. “It was the first time I felt like I was really good at something.” 

Fiske and Shintani’s cartographic talents eventually brought them both to Woodwell Climate, where their knowledge of various fields has helped them solve research questions and communicate new findings to the public. 

“The day-to-day involves bringing together datasets, developing a clear story, making it look intuitive through design, taking the experts’ thoughts and data and making it a little more tangible for folks,” says Shintani.

To map something is to understand it

In another era, a cartographer might also have been somewhat of an adventurer—conducting expeditions to map hills and valleys, using mathematical conversions to capture the detailed curves of a coastline in a meticulously hand-drawn document. These days, cartography has much more to do with sitting behind a computer, manipulating massive datasets created by satellite observation and tweaking color pallets and font sizes using a variety of software. 

The proliferation of satellite data has made the process of map-making much quicker and more accessible—no longer requiring long expeditions just to gather information on topography or ground cover. It’s allowed a shortcut to understanding the shape of places you’ve never been. A shortcut, Fiske says, but not a replacement.

“I would never have been able to make that map,” says Fiske, referring to the map of Alaskan topography that Howard and Woods brought to AFE, which earned him two awards from the Esri User Conference earlier this year. “If I hadn’t been to Alaska, seen it from an airplane, looked at those mountains, and seen what it looks like between the green valleys and the white glaciers.”

Travel is something Fiske believes should remain a part of the cartographer’s toolkit whenever possible, because a thorough understanding of a place is critical to being able to map it. Things like the natural colors of the landscape at different times of year, the true scale of glaciers when you are standing beneath them, the shape of a slumping and eroding hillside, give a fuller picture of the reality on the ground.

“A good map is a close connection to reality,” says Fiske. The closer to reality a map is, the more intuitive it is to orient yourself on it, understand the information the map is trying to convey. Fiske travels regularly, joining float trips with Science on the Fly or Permafrost Pathways’ visits to field sites and Alaska Native partner communities. He plays a role in the science, helping navigate and collect data, but values the experiences more for the insights he can use to inform future maps.

“If you’ve stood on the tundra,” he says. “Then you can make a better map of the tundra.”

A place in the world

A decade ago, Fiske recalls, he was helping a colleague map her work studying chimpanzees in the Congo Rainforest. 

“We were going through and pulling coordinates out, sifting through notebooks that had obviously been sitting in the field for years, covered in water stains and mud.” They were overlaying documented nesting sites with data on forest type and at some point, Fiske turned around and realized she was in tears. 

“Seeing it formulate on the screen, she was overcome with emotions,” says Fiske. “The map reflected what she had been carrying around in her mind the whole time.” 

Maps, in Fiske’s experience, create instant—sometimes emotional—connections between people and places. They place individuals in the context of the wider world and put long-held ideas down on paper to be shared.

Which is why Fiske believes anyone can and should make maps. He has been helping the Permafrost Pathways team bring cartography into their work with Indigenous Arctic communities through a method called participatory mapping, which combines community input with technical expertise to create maps representing collective knowledge. Howard is also working with Fiske to create a digital version of his Alaskan topography map that incorporates the stories shared through the exercise at AFE. 

Looking forward, Fiske wants to push his career more and more towards helping others create maps. Because everyone has stories to share about the places they know—whether they come from generations spent living on a landscape, or one lifetime’s work spent studying a single ecosystem. 

“I want to help folks make maps,” says Fiske. “And tell their story.”

On September 13th, 2023 a group of 15 of Woodwell Climate Research Center staff, scientists, and board members gathered on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. They had a big day ahead of them: on the docket were around 16 different meetings with Congressional staff and Members of Congress on topics ranging from carbon markets and the Farm Bill, to water research, to assessments of climate risk. The goal was clear across the board: share the takeaways from Woodwell’s scientific research with the very policymakers who are tasked with making decisions on climate issues. 

This was Woodwell Climate’s second annual “Fly-In”so called because it brings team members of a non-DC-based organization, like Woodwell, face-to-face with policymakers in Congress. The masterminds behind the Fly-In were staff members who are part of an invaluable team at the Center: the Government Relations (GR) team.

Building a team for the greatest impact

Woodwell Climate has always been involved in the policy-making process. From its outset, the driving principle behind the Center has been carrying out scientific research to inform decision making. For many years, however, there were no team members on staff whose primary responsibility was to bridge the gap between science and policy. When Dave McGlinchey, Chief of Government Relations, came on board with the Center via the Communications team, then-president Dr. Philip Duffy was taking on much of the policy work himself. It became clear as the Center grew, that  in order to realize the full impact potential of the Center’s research they needed a dedicated policy team. 

Today, the GR team has four full-time members who come from a diverse set of professional backgrounds. McGlinchey got his start as a journalist on Capitol Hill who “fell in love with the policymaking process” and felt drawn to address the severity of the climate crisis. Laura Uttley, Director of Government Relations, has been a lobbyist in D.C. for over ten years and was excited to join a relatively new team establishing its roots in the capital. Andrew Condia, External Affairs Manager, spent many years working in the office of a U.S. Senator as a liaison for local government officials. He pivoted to Woodwell because he wanted a more narrow focus on a policy area he was passionate about: solving environmental problems. And Natalie Baillargeon, a Policy Analyst, was a scientist first before she realized that her passion lay in transforming that science into useful policy. 

It is precisely this diversity of perspectives that makes the team so effective, Uttley says, because they are able to reach decisions by coming at problems from many different angles. The full-time team members work alongside Dr. Peter Frumhoff, a part-time Senior Science Policy Expert, and Government Relations Assistant Abby Fennelly.  

The road from research to legislation

In the three years since the creation of the team, the investment in dedicated GR staff members has proven invaluable.  

“In 2023, it’s no longer enough to produce good science and hope something good comes of that…What we came to realize is that we really need to get involved in shaping that policy,” McGlinchey says. “The science is not getting put to use otherwise. And if we don’t get involved in the policymaking process, other people will, and oftentimes it will be people who are not prioritizing climate stability as one of their main objectives” 

So how does the GR team shape policy?  

“Anytime the government acts, there’s an opportunity to influence policymakers, legislation, or regulations and promote or defend policies that advance Woodwell’s interests,” Uttley says. For the members of the GR team, their job is to spot those opportunities and leverage Woodwell’s science in a way that improves climate policy. 

That process starts with building relationships and trust with decision makers. As McGlinchey puts it, “you can’t show up in these policymaking settings and just expect people to welcome you in and embrace your science right off the bat.” 

The GR team puts time and effort into establishing Woodwell’s reputation for producing rigorous, high-quality science and advocating for pragmatic, nonpartisan policies that foster relationships and improve climate-related legislation. After building the organization’s credibility in government, team members take a two pronged approach to advancing climate policy. The first is to spot windows within existing legislation where “there could be a stronger role of climate science,” McGlinchey says. 

One example of this is Woodwell’s work on the Farm Bill, legislation that authorizes programs related to agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy and must be renewed every five years. Given climate science pertains to a range of topics and policies included in the Farm Bill, Woodwell developed policy priorities, hosted a congressional briefing, drafted legislative text alongside congressional offices, and spoke with decision-makers about advancing the role of climate science in the Farm Bill. 

The second approach Woodwell’s GR team takes is to build support for new initiatives. An example of this is Woodwell’s push for the development of a more coordinated system of national climate services, which grew out of one of the Center’s flagship programs: Just Access.

Just Access is a partnership between GR and Woodwell’s Risk program that provides “useful, relevant, accessible, and free of charge climate information that can help communities make forward thinking policy decisions,” says Condia, who leads this work on the GR side. 

GR team members find and communicate with partner governments around the world, providing project management while the Risk team completes the scientific assessment of risk for relevant climate factors such as heat, flooding, and drought. 

Through this work, the Woodwell team has come face to face with the enormous gaps in delivery of climate services and information to local and regional governments. “You realize that you’re just scratching the surface,” McGlinchey laments. “You work with Chelsea, Massachusetts, and it’s important and powerful. But there’s 1000 other communities like it that I wish we could work with.”

For many communities, Condia says, “the Just Access program may be the only opportunity they have to have access to this data, to be able to understand their climate future.” This realization led the GR team to develop an advocacy framework calling for a new federal initiative establishing comprehensive national climate services. 

From Chelsea, Massachusetts to the D.R.C.

Federal policy work can be a long game. For Baillargeon, working on more local projects like Just Access is exciting because “when we work with these communities, science is in the hands of decision-makers immediately.” In many cases, communities quickly undertake steps towards protecting vulnerable residents and infrastructure identified by the risk assessments. In Chelsea, Massachusetts, city officials integrated the results of the assessment into their planning for equitable climate resilience solutions. In Charleston, South Carolina, local governments are using their risk assessment as support for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant application.  

It’s not just in the United States where these risk assessments have an impact. For the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Environment Ministry, Woodwell completed a unique assessment that included an analysis of risk to forest carbon stocks. The risk assessment led to a request for Woodwell to support the creation of a regulatory agency for carbon markets.

For McGlinchey, this work is incredibly exciting. “This is a once in a generation opportunity to direct enormous amounts of funding into forest conservation efforts…and we need those forests conserved if we’re going to have a stable climate.” Voluntary carbon markets, he says, have not historically been reliable. What’s happening now in the DRC is an opportunity for Woodwell policy experts to support the creation of science-backed standards to ensure that when offsets or credits are sold there is a verifiable climate benefit. In short: “there’s a lot at stake here.” 

Endless possibility for policy action

The flow of opportunities for leveraging Woodwell’s research continues to build momentum. The team is rising to meet the challenge, and there is a lot they want to accomplish in the coming years. As they take on new projects and add new team members, they will continue to stay true to the organization’s mission, never straying from the science. Each team member was adamant about one thing: Woodwell does things differently, and it is that difference that leads to such a profound policy impact coming from such a small team.

“Woodwell exists in not a unique niche, but an unusual one,” McGlinchey says. “We’re not a pure science organization, but we’re not a straight advocacy organization. We bring deep scientific credentials and then we get into the policymaking room and engage and try to create better legislation…people appreciate it. They appreciate that our motivations are purely focused on a stable, safe climate.” It’s what makes an event like September’s Fly-In so successful. Science, translated into policy, without the political baggage. 

“Once they figure that out about Woodwell,” says McGlinchey, “they want to work with us.”

Switching light bulbs, recycling and composting, biking to school—to high school seniors Alice Fan, Amelia Kane, and Simone Colburn, these sorts of sustainability solutions being taught in their classes just didn’t feel like enough. 

“We were seeing a gap in climate education,” says Fan. “We would learn about the greenhouse gas effect, and about the polar bears, but the curriculum wouldn’t really touch on the human aspects of climate change, like environmental justice, redlining, and all the systemic issues that bring a different lens to climate change.”

Fan, Colburn, Kane, and some of their fellow students had come to understand the true scope of the issue through their individual interests and participation in activist and environmental groups outside of school. But the more involved they became, the wider the gap grew between them and their classmates. So they decided to take on the role of educators themselves, founding the Spring Forward Climate Education organization.

Spring Forward’s mission is to bring those larger conversations about climate justice into elementary and middle school classrooms, after-school programs, and summer camps. The organization’s high school members have developed lesson plans and activities that they lead for their younger peers. Mina Subramanian, Spring Forward’s Partnerships Coordinator, says climate education taught by students can be more impactful than receiving information from adults.

“I joined a climate organization before Spring Forward, but it was mostly adults. I felt like in that space, I didn’t have the voice that I wanted to,” Subramanian says. “But at Spring Forward, being youth led, it is such a different environment. We’re all on the same playing field and we all empower each other.”

Spring Forward has also begun branching out from classroom education, to develop additional materials that inform on broader climate topics. Collaborating with Woodwell, the team has created a policy brief around the issue of balancing solar panel installation with other land use considerations.

Solar panels require large clear tracts of land with good sun exposure. Some existing municipal development plans indicate their installation on land currently covered with forests or other vegetation. Forests are some of the best natural carbon sinks and sacrificing them in a rush to install renewable infrastructure is counterproductive. The Spring Forward team wanted to make the policy more accessible to the general public. 

“We need both solar and forests working together—not in competition—if we are going to be successful in addressing the climate crisis,” says Woodwell Carbon Program Director, Wayne Walker, who worked with the Spring Forward team on the brief. “Educating on these complex topics is so important, and the collaboration with Spring Forward offered me the unique opportunity not only to share some of my knowledge with the students, but also to play a small part in helping the students educate others.”

As the group continues to grow and evolve with new members and partnerships, they hope to temper the sting of a sometimes scary topic by showing both kids and adults that they have a voice they can use to make a difference. Talking about the problem helps everyone develop a path forward. 

“In our lessons we try to give information even if it’s scary, but then say ‘okay, well what can you do about it?’” says Colburn. “And one of our big beliefs is that if kids are getting weighed down by information, knowing that they can have power and that they can be influential is really helpful.”

Woodwell Team Awarded Commendation in Climate Creatives Challenge

A team of Woodwell researchers and Communications staff received a commendation in the inaugural Climate Creatives Challenge (CCC). The CCC is a series of design challenges created to encourage new ways of communicating the impacts of climate change and the benefits of adaptation. The first challenge engaged creators working across different media—from film to photography, sculpture, and graphic design— on the topic of extreme flooding.

The challenge asked: “How can we communicate the impacts of flooding (past, present or future) and the benefits of adaptation and resilience?”

The Woodwell team used the Center’s flood risk analyses to create an animated infographic demonstrating how extreme flooding could disrupt essential daily tasks for residents of Lawrence, MA. It compares two different neighborhoods to highlight that risk exposure can vary significantly within the same city, and that poorer residents often suffer the first and worst impacts.

Finding out-of-the-box ways to communicate the impacts of climate change is important, as solving the climate crisis will require us to engage audiences from diverse backgrounds and spur them to action.

“The beauty of climate communication is finding ways to overcome the challenge of informing people in a way that elicits empathy and inspires action, rather than overwhelming them into passivity,” says challenge participant and Woodwell Arctic communications specialist, Jessica Howard. “The Climate Creatives Challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to not only take a more imaginative approach to communicating the impact of the climate crisis but to also further reveal how race and financial privilege make a difference in who bears the brunt of it.”

Contest judges awarded the graphic a commendation, stating that it was, “visually engaging” and “a clever depiction of disruption and inequality.” The final piece was featured in the compendium for Challenge One alongside other winners. Winners will also be displayed at Flood Expo in Birmingham, UK, September 14 and 15. 



Imagining Earth’s most probable futures

New climate education initiative portrays the warmer worlds we are likely to see this century, in hopes of preventing them

Probable Futures website screenshot
One point five—most readers will recognize that number as the generally accepted upper limit of permissible climate warming. With current temperatures already hovering at 1.1 degrees Celsius above the historical average, the race is on to hit that target, and the likelihood that we will surpass it is growing. Even if we do manage a 1.5 degree future, that’s still warmer than today’s world, which is already seeing devastating climate impacts.

So what will it actually feel like to live in a 1.5 degree world—or a 2 degree one, or even 3? The Probable Futures initiative has built a tool to help everyone imagine.

Building a bridge between science and society

Probable Futures is a newly launched climate literacy initiative with the goal of reframing the way society thinks about climate change. The initiative was founded by Dr. Spencer Glendon, a senior fellow with Woodwell Climate who, after investigating climate change as Director of Research at Wellington Management, noticed a gap in need of bridging between climate scientists and, well… everyone else.

According to Dr. Glendon, although there was an abundance of available climate science, it wasn’t necessarily accessible to the people who needed to use it. The way scientists spoke about climate impacts didn’t connect with the way most businesses, governments, and communities thought about their operations. There was no easy way for individuals to pose questions of climate science and explore what the answers might mean for them.

In short, the public didn’t know what questions to ask and the technical world of climate modeling wasn’t really inviting audience participation. But it desperately needed to. Because tackling climate change requires everyone’s participation.

“The idea that climate change is somebody else’s job needs to go away,” Dr. Glendon says. “It isn’t anybody else’s job. It’s everybody’s job.”

So, working with scientists and communicators from Woodwell, Dr. Glendon devised Probable Futures—a website that would offer tools and resources to help the public understand climate change in a way that makes it meaningful to everybody. The site employs well-established models to map changing temperatures, precipitation levels, and drought through escalating potential warming scenarios. The data is coupled with accessible content on the fundamentals of climate science and examples of it playing out in today’s world.

According to the initiative’s Executive Director, Alison Smart, Probable Futures is designed to give individuals a gateway into climate science.

“No matter where one might be on their journey to understand climate change, we hope Probable Futures can serve as a trusted resource. This is where you can come to understand the big picture context and the physical limits of our planet, how those systems work, and how they will change as the planet warms,” Smart says.

Storytelling for the future

As the world awakens to the issue of climate change, there is a growing group of individuals who will need to better understand its impacts. Supply chain managers, for example, who are now tasked with figuring out how to get their companies to zero emissions. Or parents, trying to understand how to prepare their kids for the future. Probable Futures provides the tools and encouragement to help anyone ask good questions about climate science.

To that end, the site leans on storytelling that encourages visitors to imagine their lives in the context of a changing world. The maps display forecasts for 1.5, 2, 2.5, and 3 degrees of warming—our most probable futures, with nearly 3 degrees likely by the end of the century on our current trajectory. For the warming we have already surpassed, place-based stories of vulnerable human systems, threatened infrastructure, and disruptions to the natural world, give some sense of the impacts society is already feeling.

According to Isabelle Runde, a Research Assistant with Woodwell’s Risk Program who helped develop the maps and data visualizations for the Probable Futures site, encouraging imagination is what sets the initiative apart from other forms of climate communication.

“The imagination piece has been missing in communication between the scientific community and the broader public,” Runde says. “Probable Futures provides the framework for people to learn about climate change and enter that place [of imagination], while making it more personal.”

Glendon believes that good storytelling in science communication can have the same kind of impact as well-imagined speculative fiction, which has a history of providing glimpses of the future for society to react against. Glendon uses the example of George Orwell who, by imagining unsettling yet possible worlds, influenced debates around policy and culture for decades. The same could be true for climate communication.

“I’m not sure we need more science fiction about other worlds,” Glendon says. “We need fiction about the future of this world. We need an imaginative application of what we know.” Glendon hopes that the factual information on Probable Futures will spark speculative imaginings that could help push society away from a future we don’t want to see.

For Smart, imagining the future doesn’t mean only painting a picture of how the world could change for the worse. It can also mean sketching out the ways in which humans will react to and shape our new surroundings for the better.

“We acknowledge that there are constraints to how we can live on this planet, and imagining how we live within those constraints can be a really exciting thing,” Smart says. “We may find more community in those worlds. We may find less consumption but more satisfaction in those worlds. We may find more connection to human beings on the other side of the planet. And that’s what makes me the most hopeful.”

Visit probablefutures.org.