The Journal of Extension -

February 2014 // Volume 52 // Number 1 // Commentary // 1COM3

Commentaries conform to JOE submission standards and provide an opportunity for Extension professionals to exchange perspectives and ideas.

The Merits of Separating Global Warming from Extension Education Sustainability Programs

Using the rhetoric of global warming to support the adoption of sustainable practices beneficial to society limits their adoption. Climate data are about to fall outside the models used to "settle" the global warming issue. Atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase, while temperature, since 1998, has decreased. The science is becoming unsettling. Is it time for Extension educators to reevaluate sustainability programming and de-emphasize climate and concentrate instead on the many other beneficial aspects of moving toward a more sustainable future at all levels of Extension programming—agriculture, natural resources, the environment, health, nutrition, and housing?

Richard V. Tyson
County Extension Director
UF/IFAS Extension Orange County
Orlando, Florida


Extension educators have embraced global warming and climate change programs over the last 20 years (Miller, 1990; Fraisse, Breuer, Zierden, & Ingram, 2009; Mazze & Stockard, 2013) and have incorporated those topics into sustainable living educational programs (Elliot et al., 2008). However, average global temperatures have declined for the last 15 years compared to the El Niño peak of 1998 (NASA, 2013), while carbon dioxide emissions continue their steady rise (NOAA, 2013). Global warming terms used in sustainable living education programs now raise more questions than answers. It's not the same as presenting data from a replicated crop variety trial with statistically significant winners and losers. Instead, we are discussing projections, models, predictions, and attempting to attach winners and losers to it. None of the current climate models predicted temperature would stop rising (Plimer, 2009).

Re-Thinking Climate Change

  • Historically, today's climate is within natural variations and is nothing to fear.
  • Climate is always changing, and civilizations thrive and expand during warm periods.
  • Increasing 20th century CO2 levels contributed to the Green Revolution's higher plant yields and will be a factor in feeding a rising world population.
  • The large diurnal surface temperature variations between daytime highs and nighttime lows leave one to seek the simplest explanation—the sun drives climate.
  • We are entering a cycle of reduced sun spot activity that may account for the halt in temperature rise and would mean cooler, not warmer temperatures ahead.
  • How many years must the planet cool before we can say it is not warming?

The Debate or the Facts

We can debate the positives and negatives of global warming, the difficulties and merits of using computer models for data collection. We can debate the many variables associated with climate science—the atmosphere, clouds, oceanography, the sun—and whether these and their relative weights are included correctly in the climate models used to set policy. But it would be a debate, not a presentation of hard facts backed up by replicated data collection through observation and measurement, based on the scientific method. The latter I can confidently present to my clientele groups and stakeholders. And they can confidently accept. The debate leaves us both confused.

UF/IFAS Extension Orange County is in its sixth year of sustainable living Extension education programs. Significant results for adopting sustainable practices have occurred without emphasizing climate as a motivating factor (Tyson et al., 2012). Because, frankly, it is easier to present just the facts. We can present the environmental and social benefits of reducing water, fertilizer, and pesticide use. We can save energy and healthcare costs by promoting healthy lifestyle changes. We can encourage support for local food production thus improving food security and healthy local economies — by just presenting the facts, please, just the facts!


Elliott, C., Hyde, L., McDonell, L., Monroe, M., Rashash, D., Sheftall, W., Simon-Brown, V., Worthley, T., Crosby, G., & Tupas, L. (2008). Sustainable living education: A call to all Extension. Journal of Extension [On-line], 46 (2) Article 2COM1. Available at: 

Fraisse, C. W., Breuer N. E., Zierden D., & Ingram, K. T. (2009). From climate variability to climate change: Challenges and opportunities. Journal of Extension [on-line], 47(2) Article 2FEA9. Available at:

Mazze, S., & Stockard, J. (2013). Evaluating the effectiveness of a sustainable living education program. Journal of Extension [On-line], 51(1), Article 1RIB1. Available at:

Miller, B. J. (1990). Global environmental change: Extension frontier for the 1990s. Journal of Extension [on-line], 28(4). Article 4FRM1. Available at:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2013). Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Surface temperature analysis. Retrieved from:

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. (2013). Earth Systems Research Laboratory. Trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide. from:

Plimer, I. (2009). Heaven and earth: Global warming the missing science. Taylor Trade Publishing, Landham, MD.

Tyson, R., Felter, E., Kennington, M., Mudge, D., Pehlke, T., Thralls, E., & White, C. (2012). Sustainable living educational expos build teamwork, community networks and adoption of sustainable practices. Journal of NACAA, 5(2).


Commentary Discussion

Views expressed in this Commentary and the accompanying discussion forum do not necessarily reflect those of the Extension Journal Inc. board of directors or the Journal of Extension editor. Journal of Extension Commentary discussion forums remain open through two issues of the journal. Anonymous comments are not permitted. All comments are screened before publication for derogatory content—disagreement is acceptable, but comments should reflect a respectful exchange about the relevant issue(s).

So, because you don't understand the science behind climate change, that means we shouldn't be including it in Extension's sustainability programs? Below are just a very few references from reputable sources addressing this "debate". Please, take your climate denial someplace else.
Submitted On: 02/24/2014

thank you!

Susan Erickson
Richard, THANK YOU for this article. I have been wondering for years, why keep beating the drum of global warming and climate change, when it continues to be a divisive issue among our clients? (We can even see the divisive language and labeling in Lee Stivers' comments.) As Richard says, we can accomplish the same results by addressing sustainability, pollution, energy efficiency, etc. without including the divisive concept of global warming and climate change. How is Extension programming enhanced by including the words "global warming and climate change"?
Submitted On: 02/24/2014
I can appreciate an argument that climate change has sadly become politicized for us in Extension to build programming around. While I don't agree, I can understand and respect that position. But to argue that a research-based organization should discount the peer-reviewed research literature of recent decades is indefensible. Does the author realize that oceans have warmed extremely rapidly during this period of slow surface warming? That the cryosphere as a whole continues to melt rapidly (also a manifestation of warming)? While there is still legitimate scientific debate about the speed and magnitude of expected impacts of climate change, this article is very mistaken about the core science of this topic. Just read the scientific journals--not blogs or position papers, but peer-reviewed papers in respectable journals.
Submitted On: 02/24/2014
Correction: "climate change denial" and I stand by the use of that label in this conversation. How is Extension programing enhanced by including the words "global warming and climate change?" By grounding what we teach in the most current, widely accepted scientific understanding of our world. Does this make people uncomfortable? Perhaps. But keeping our programs grounded in science is our mission.
Submitted On: 02/25/2014
Thanks for the reasoned response Lee, Lysenko would be pleased. The article does not deny climate change, only views it from a historical perspective where civilizations (and life) thrive under warm conditions. Thus, the status of current climate is nothing to fear.
Submitted On: 02/25/2014
As one raised on a family farm with decades of CES volunteering at the county/state levels and a stint as a County Extension Director within the Cornell System, I think this is the saddest piece I have ever read in JOE. It seems to suggest retreating from Extension’s mission – obligation – to provide science-based information to our constituencies regardless of their philosophical or political perspectives. One must question how a footnote citing Ian Plimer – whose discipline is geology – got by the editors as sound, scientific reference, since none of his peer-reviewed publications have involved climate change.
A professor of Mining Geology at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, Plimber is also a director of several mining companies, with at least two having coal interests. Coal mining would likely be negatively impacted by climate legislation, though Plimer claims his climate beliefs, which run contrary to climate scientists’ near-concensus, are based in "pure science." If you believe that, I have a bridge…
• Plimer states the rate at which climate change is occurring is the same as it was a billion years ago -- there is no change in the speed or scope of climate variation and thus no danger. He also claims that average global temperatures in the 20th Century were not abnormal. This runs contrary to findings of more than a thousand scientists working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body which shared the Nobel prize in 2007 for their work.
• Plimer asserts that more carbon dioxide is released annually from submerged marine volcanoes than from human activity. The U.S. Geological Survey has found that human activity produces at least 120 times as much carbon dioxide than volcanoes, annually.
• He wrote How to Get Expelled From School: A guide to climate change for pupils, parents and punters, an anti-Warmist manual for the younger reader. In the book, designed to encourage students to challenge climate science, Plimer offers 101 questions for students to ask their teachers about climate science. Plimer's answers were so grossly misleading that the Australian government published a document to answer his questions and to serve as a reliable resource for students. In the document, the government states: “"Many of the questions and answers in Professor Plimer’s book are misleading and are based on inaccurate or selective interpretation of the science. The answers [in this document] are based on up-to-date peer reviewed science, and have been reviewed by a number of Australian climate scientists."
• Plimer has also spoken at the Heartland Institute's International Conference on Climate Change. Between 1998 and 2010, the co-sponsors of this conference received more than $21 million in funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers, essentially to create doubt about relevant science and forestall federal and state regulations that might affect their petrochemical holdings and financial interests.
I understand that being transparent in topical areas where many CES stakeholders have existing beliefs can be problematic. As a County Extension Director, I moved beyond pesticide training largely influenced by industry to include presenters – often by Cornell faculty - grounded in the science of occupational and environmental health. Some farmers and applicators cried bias, while others wanted to know why they had not had more exposure to such in-depth information previously. But science often is not politically correct, and rural people deserve the plain, unembellished science, and that is the job of CES educators.

Submitted On: 02/25/2014
Jill Heemstra
An article advocating that we avoid a topic simply because it is controversial does a huge disservice to our profession and to our clientele. As extension professionals it should be our goal to help people become better consumers of science and to push ourselves to become better communicators of controversial topics. Extension is no longer the gatekeeper of knowledge--new information is available to people without our help. There is, however, a desperate need for guides and for reasonable voices to help people construct their filters for evaluating the information with which they are bombarded. It is absolutely our job to help our clientele evaluate the current state of the science and consider differing views and bring the two together for the purposes of:
1) making decisions that improve lives
2) inform the next stages of the science
If extension abdicates any role in controversial scientific topics, we will be relegated to irrelevance.
Submitted On: 02/25/2014
Thanks Richard for having the courage to put forward a most unpopular position. I suspect it's one shared by many Extension educators, particularly those that serve at the local level.

Those who do not agree that the "science is settled" are often ridiculed, taken out of context, ignored, or silenced. I expect this from the general public, but when did this become acceptable behavior among Extension colleagues?

Perhaps my interpretation is at odds with other readers. I understand your position to be that you are uncomfortable with discussing projections, models, predictions, etc. and would prefer to present verifiable facts - not that you want to avoid controversial topics. To me this is completely reasonable.
Submitted On: 02/26/2014
The article is an opinion piece and in no way reflects the position of the institution I work for, but rather reflects my personal experience teaching agricultural sustainability topics. Its easier to move clientele from point A to point B by showing them concrete benefits like reducing inputs without a decrease in yield. That can be found with replicated trials based on the scientific method.

I have found in my 25 year Extension career that growers will often do what you teach them. If I am teaching them a topic that I am unsure about, then that is a disservice to them and not professional conduct on my part. If a professor of earth sciences is not qualified to write about climate as Bo suggests, then that certainly disqualifies me as well.
Submitted On: 02/26/2014
"denial" and "denier" are offensive terms equating those who may take an objective and critical view of the climate change science to holocaust deniers. Not quite in line with goals surrounding being an inclusive organization. Besides aren't all scientists taught to be skeptical and not to just accept what is "popular"?
Submitted On: 02/28/2014
I would be very interested in a reading a study comparing Extension education sustainability programs, either with or without a climate component. I would be interested to see whether the politicization of the topic impacted the audience's perception of the education simply by including climate change as a motivating factor for sustainable living/farming/etc. Perhaps then the merit could be more accurately addressed.
Submitted On: 02/27/2014
Laura Hoelscher
Response to Hans Schmitz: Hear, Hear!
Question for all: Are there any other implications from this discussion to think about or to pursue?
Submitted On: 02/28/2014
Susan, we need to inform our clientele about this issue because many of them live in coastal counties and already are experiencing the impacts of sea level rise, including regular flooding at high tide, and a regional flood control system in south Florida that no longer functions effectively because it was built in the 1960's and designed for gravity discharges of water at much lower sea levels. There now is a much higher level of flooding risk of inland developed areas in the lower east coast. As for people being able to adapt in the past, perhaps so Richard, but it was much easier when people were hunters and gatherers than it will be today when we have our major cities built right on the coastline. Richard you must not read the scientific literature on global warming, or else you would know that in the last decade because of ocean circulation patterns nearly all of the increased heat energy has been accumulating in the deep ocean below a depth of 300 meters.
Submitted On: 02/28/2014
You are correct Karl, according to the 2013 IPCC climate report, the pause in atmospheric warming is due to ocean warming and a downward phase in the solar cycle.
Submitted On: 03/01/2014
The Merits of Educating Florida’s Stakeholders about Climate Change through Extension Programming at the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

As we celebrate 100 years of Extension throughout the country we are reminded of the mission of Extension: to provide science based information to stakeholders and citizens so that they can make informed decisions for themselves, their families, and for future generations. Extension educators should not shy away from hard complex issues. Our society is froth with complex issues to be addressed now and for the future: water quality and quantity, food safety, food security, GMOs, obesity and wellness, education systems, transportation systems, energy and the list goes on and on. Extension has an obligation to teach the most current science available to our public. We need to be pro-active on issues facing society.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science sent a statement on climate change from 18 scientific societies to the US Senate stating; “Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.” The underlying facts are that CO2 has increased dramatically since the 1950s and the CO2 is a heat-trapping gas that results in more heat being trapped in our atmosphere. Because of the complexity of the Earth system, there are a lot of uncertainties about how much this effect is and will cause climate to change. But, the science is improving as we speak.

It is imperative that all our educational programs be based on science without personal biases. Science is not absolute. There are disagreements among climate scientists regarding how much temperature will increase and how fast the climate will change in response to the documented increases in atmospheric CO2. That is part of the scientific process. However, in educating the public and users of the information, it is imperative that we cite the best science available. We have an obligation to educate what the science indicates we know and what we do not know. Our personal biases should be checked at the door. UF/IFAS Extension will continue to lead by providing educational programs on climate variability and change and on agricultural and natural resources response options that lead to economic and environmental benefits in Florida.
Submitted On: 03/25/2014

The "real" debate

Maggie Clifford
I think there is a real debate about how to frame climate change for the best results in Extension. There is not, however, a scientific debate about whether anthropogenic climate change is occurring and whether average global temperatures are increasing. The NASA webpage cited in this article corroborates this point. And Mr. Tyson's claim that the graphs here show a cooling trend since 1998 elucidates a phenomenon called cultural cognition (Kahan 2010). In short, we seek and more readily find/accept information that aligns with our previously held notions and with our worldviews. We are all prone to this tendency, no matter our education level or political leaning. It is our job, as communicators of science, to become aware of our own limitations and biases. Through this process of rigorous self reflection we can be (more) sure that we are appropriately and ethically serving our audiences and collaborators.
Submitted On: 01/06/2016

Tyson completely misrepresents

Paul Lachapelle
Tyson completely misrepresents the official positions of US National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science (the world's largest general scientific society), and nearly all of the major scientific academies, professional associations and societies around the world that have issued official position statements on the causes and consequences of climate change.

If JOE Commentaries (reviewed by the editor) are stated to “Offer challenges or present thought-provoking opinions on issues of concern to U.S. Extension by expressing positions that are clear, specific, and rational,” Tyson and the Editor missed on all counts.
Submitted On: 06/17/2016

GISS Temperature Adjusted

Interesting psychological analysis! The NASA GISS temperature record showed a declining 5 year running mean when the article was published in February 2012. GISS has since adjusted the entire temperature record going back to 1880 and continues to make periodic adjustments. Does anyone have a screenshot from February 2012?
Submitted On: 07/21/2016
I should not have referenced the NASA/GISS temperature record since they keep torturing the raw data to suit their cultural cognition! This more accurate satellite record shows the decline I referenced from 1998 thru 2014 but a recent uptick in temperature indicates little change has occurred over the last 18 years so perhaps we are both wrong!
Submitted On: 08/12/2016
The NASA/GISS temperature record you see today is not the same graph I viewed in 2013 due to the recent El Nino spike in temperature smoothing the 5 year mean and other changes to the data by NASA. Go to this link for the satellite temperature record showing the referenced decline in the commentary: (significance level is +/- O.15C for the global monthly temperatures). Looking between the 1998 and 2016 El Nino spikes which were not statistically different, little change in temperature over the last 18 years has occurred in the lower troposphere where rising CO2 concentration effects on temperature should be the most pronounced.
Submitted On: 08/19/2016
Recent and historical changes to temperature data collection methods affecting the GISS record are discussed in this article and its references - Karl et al., 2015, . Given the flux in this record, we should use the more stable satellite record when discussing temperature changes over the last 37 years to avoid confusion
Submitted On: 09/15/2016
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