Amber C. Kerr

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Climate change and agriculture in the media

As an American, a scientist, and a parent of young children, I have to say that 2019 has certainly had a lot of discouraging moments so far. But one bright spot is that the tide of public opinion is slowly starting to turn in favor of recognizing climate change as a real problem that needs to be urgently acted upon.  Little by little, the American public is absorbing not only the scientific evidence (which has been plentiful for decades), but also the personal stories, the real-world losses (which are quickly starting to mount up), and the pleas to make this a world that future generations want to live in. I believe that digital media, divisive and biased though it can be, deserves a lot of credit for helping to amplify the voices of climate activists like Greta Thunberg and Katharine Hayhoe – and for gradually helping to change people’s minds.

This year, I’ve been glad to be able to contribute to media coverage of climate change in two small ways:

(1) I was honored to join the panel of reviewers at Climate Feedback, a non-partisan and non-profit website that swiftly fact-checks articles about climate change in the popular press. Some of the articles I’ve recently reviewed have been off the scale in the direction of apocalyptic doom-and-gloom, such as this ill-founded New Yorker piece by Jonathan Franzen claiming that it doesn’t matter how much we overshoot 2°C because we’re all going to die anyway. Others have been off the scale in the direction of “Everything’s fine, climate change is good for us,” such as this European letter signed by 506 supposed experts… of whom only 14 seemed to have any credentials in climate change or meteorology.  In any case, it is always exciting to get a new review request from Climate Feedback in my inbox.

(2) To my surprise, my 2017 Climatic Change article on California specialty crops was cited in a feature story by the New York Times on climate adaptation challenges in agriculture worldwide. It was a thorough and well-done story overall, written by award-winning science journalist Marla Cone. I was initially chagrined to see that the NY TImes headline writer had chosen the wording “In a Race Against the Sun, Growers Try to Outsmart Climate Change” (the Sun has nothing to do with it!) but fortunately, after writing to the editor and author, I was able to get the title changed to the less evocative but much more accurate “In a Race Against Warming.”

Back when I started university, I wanted to be a science journalist, and it wasn’t until after two years of taking and really enjoying science classes that I decided to become a practicing scientist instead. Science writers have a crucial role to play, and my unending appreciation goes out to everyone who helps bring the methods and results of science to the general public – especially in this hyperconnected era where we struggle to separate information from knowledge and knowledge from wisdom. I’m glad to be able to contribute to the public conversation whenever I can.


Coast fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii) growing between rows of almond trees at Tallerico Farms, Manteca, CA, March 2019. This photo was from my fieldwork for a 2018-2019 research project on almond orchard biomass recycling at UC Davis’s Agricultural Sustainability Institute.


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