Basalt woman translates science of global warming into English |

Basalt woman translates science of global warming into English

Susan Joy Hassol of Basalt stands in a glacier field in Alaska while recently working on an HBO documentary on global warming. (Contributed photo)

BASALT ” Basalt resident Susan Joy Hassol knows there is public skepticism and misunderstanding about global warming, so Thursday she will try to do something about it.

Hassol is one of thousands of speakers being featured across the country as part of Focus the Nation ” a “teach-in” at high schools and colleges designed to educate students about global warming and its solutions.

She will make a presentation at 7 p.m. at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School barn in Carbondale. Her presentation, as well as one by energy expert Randy Udall at 5 p.m., is free and open to the public.

Hassol is a “climate change communicator” whose forte is explaining complex scientific issues in ways an average person can understand. She also is a realist. She said the scientific community hasn’t done a good enough job of discussing global warming in a way the public can understand.

That is reflected in public opinion polls. While about 84 percent of Americans think global warming is probably happening, 56 percent “still think there’s a substantial scientific disagreement” about it, according to a 2007 poll by ABC/Washington Post/Stanford University. Only about 40 percent of respondents felt global warming is “caused mostly by things people do.”

Those results frustrate Hassol because she said there is no question among credible scientists that the planet is warming. It’s because of humans and it will keep warming if no action is taken.

The only remaining questions are how drastically temperatures will increase from human-induced emissions, and what are the most effective ways to reduce emissions to limit global warming, she said.

Hassol contends that the confusion over global warming comes from four sources: disinformation campaigns by elements of the fossil fuel industry; media coverage of the issue; widespread “science illiteracy” among the public; and poor communication by scientists.

Some people in the oil and coal industries are masters at planting seeds of doubt through a well-financed campaign, Hassol said. The only people who are challenging whether global warming is real and caused by humans are “contrarian scientists” bought and paid for by companies like Exxon Mobil, she charged. The industry parades their work to confuse the public.

“Their voices are magnified because they are pounding all the time,” Hassol said.

The media, at least until recently, played into the hands of contrarians by treating the issue as though there are two credible sides, she said, and since many people lack education in science, they can be misled into thinking global warming is an opinion rather than solid evidence. The scientific community doesn’t help the cause with jargon and an overly cautious tone that comes across as being “wishy-washy,” according to Hassol.

That’s where she comes in. Hassol was the lead author of “Impacts of a Warming Arctic,” a report that drew international attention to the work of 300 scientists in the Arctic and other areas. She also wrote HBO’s global warming documentary, “Too Hot Not to Handle.”

Hassol, who lives in Basalt when her work doesn’t require travel, is committed to helping educate the public on the real issues surrounding global warming.

“The problem is we’re running out of time ,” she said. “We need to make some decisions fast.”

More information about Thursday’s national “teach-in can be found at

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