Background and Context

A decade ago, when overwhelming scientific evidence supported evolution as the explanation for diversity of life on Earth, it was considered by some to still be a controversial theory as included in K-12 curriculum. At that time, the National Academies stepped into the public discourse by providing statements and resources reiterating the state of the science and helping to move the dialogue forward. These resources are maintained and available for free at http://nas.edu/evolution.

Today, in ways not too dissimilar from the case of evolution those years ago, the scientific community has developed a strong, evidence-based understanding of climate change and information needed to guide responses. Yet, the discourse about climate has become increasingly polarized and often fails to account for the complex range of public concerns. As a scientifically credible, independent, objective, and non-partisan entity, through its multidisciplinary approach to answering the toughest questions, the National Academies are well positioned to advance the public discourse in a way that transcends ideological divides.

The National Academies are establishing a new Climate Communications Initiative (CCI) to coordinate efforts across the institution to facilitate rapid and effective communication of evidence-based insights to an attentive public and critical decision makers. CCI has the unique opportunity to leverage consensus reports and ongoing activities across the depth and breadth of scientific disciplines housed at the National Academies to offer a suite of authoritative and objective materials and engagement opportunities. In 2017, the National Academies released Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda, recommendations from which will be put directly into practice in the plans for the CCI.

The CCI will also build on and extend the existing Climate Change at the National Academies outreach efforts. The NASEM has a long history of producing gold-standard consensus reports on climate science and related topics, including impacts on infrastructure and human health and relevant work in the social and behavioral sciences. Today, Climate Change at the National Academies links to this work through current projects, recently released reports, and events from across the NASEM related to climate. This includes seminal print and multimedia materials that have been produced to explain these topics to a range of audiences, such as the congressionally-mandated America’s Climate Choices suite of reports, the Climate Change: Evidence and Causes (2014) booklet and interactive web material produced jointly by the National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society, and other videos, summaries, booklets, and interactive webpages (e.g. Climate Modeling 101 and Arctic Matters). While these products have had some impact, there is a recognized need for more strategic communication and planning for climate-related work at the NASEM. The CCI has been launched to address this gap in addition to the other reasons outlined above.


An expert Advisory Committee will lead the strategic planning for the Climate Communications Initiative. For more information on the committee and their work plan, visit the Advisory Committee and Strategic Planning Task and Timeline pages.