January 6, 2014

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Originally published in it’s entirety at Sightline Daily, by Anna Fahey. Edited by Mission Blue.

Reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) can be daunting, even for science and policy insiders. The full Physical Science Assessment, the first installment of the Fifth Assessment Report(pdf), released in manuscript form earlier this year, is over 2,000 pages long.

And even the Summary for Policymakers, rather optimistically referred to as a “brochure,” is a dense 27 pages.

What if we could communicate the essence of this important information in plain language and pictures? Well, that’s just what one Northwest oceanographer has done. He’s distilled the entire report into 19 illustrated haiku.

The result is stunning, sobering, and brilliant. It’s poetry. It’s a work of art. But it doubles as clear, concise, powerful talking points and a compelling visual guide.

How did it come about? Housebound with a rotten cold one recent weekend, Greg Johnson found himself paring his key takeaways from the IPCC report into haiku. He finds that the constraints of the form focus his thoughts (He told me that he posts exclusively in haiku on Facebook.), and described the process as a sort of meditation. He never intended to share these “IPCC” poems.

Johnson’s daughter, an artist, inspired him to try his hand at watercolors. On a whim he illustrated each haiku and shared the results with family and a few friends.

When I got wind of it, I had to see it. And I’m glad I got the chance. I immediately wanted everybody I know to see it too!

Condensing to this degree is not how scientists typically operate. But, as Johnson proves, scientists can also be poets. Still, he’s quick to caution that this is his own unofficial artistic interpretation and that it omits all the quantitative details and the IPCC’s scientific qualifications.

Therein lies the beauty; stripped of the jargon and unfathomably large numbers, the limitations and the scales of confidence that confound and distract us laypeople, it is an arresting and informative entree into the science—not, of course, a substitute for the full report.

We are delighted to share Johnson’s beautiful meditation here (Also as a PDF, DIY booklet, and video slide show for personal or educational nonprofit use.)

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Sightline Flashcards are messaging memos designed as short, scannable tools for sharing effective communications strategies. Our strategic communications team digests piles of public opinion research, transcripts from speeches, expert advice, and academic studies—from cognitive linguistics and neuroscience to political science, sociology, and psychology—distilling best practices in messaging. Flashcards often focus on values-based communication: strategies for talking about important policies or issue solutions in terms of shared values.

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