Marshall Shepherd discusses climate, weather and “zombie theories”

By John Heniff

“Weather is your mood, climate is your personality.”

That was one of many gems that meteorologist J. Marshall Shepherd shared with his audience Mar. 19 as part of MU’s Life Sciences and Society Program symposium,“Confronting Climate Change.”

The University of Georgia professor and director of the campus’ atmospheric sciences program enlightened the audience with real-world connections to the changing climate.  His seminar, titled “Zombies, Cola and Sports: Implications for Weather and Climate Communication” debunked common arguments for denying the existence of climate change and discussed the very real implications of a changing planet.

J. Marshall Shepherd spoke at Monsanto Auditorium as part of the "Confronting Climate Change" symposium at MU. Photo courtesy of Bond Life Sciences Center

J. Marshall Shepherd spoke at Monsanto Auditorium as part of the “Confronting Climate Change” symposium at MU. Photo courtesy of Bond Life Sciences Center

One of the first slides of Shepherd’s presentation was a chart from a Pew Research Center survey showing the differences of opinion between the American public and a sample of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) members on a variety of scientific topics. For example, 87 percent of surveyed scientists agree with the statement “Climate change is mostly due to human activity” compared to 50 percent of U.S. adults.

Shepherd brought up what he called “zombie theories,” or theories that persist in public debate despite having been discredited in the scientific realm.  One example he gave was a slide titled “‘I have 20 inches of Global Warming in my yard.’ Cute tweet, but oh so scientifically wrong.” Shepherd urged his audience at the Bond Life Sciences Center that when discussing climate change with others to “have the unshakeable temperament that is necessary for times that you may be challenged.”

Marshall used several analogies to explain the difference between weather and climate. Weather is what’s happening now; climate is a long-term trend. He made a comparison: Basketball star LeBron James gets attention for his plays on the court, but former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt is responsible for the overall team strategy.

He also discussed the serious problems that will result from climate change. For one, the Coca-Cola company is becoming more worried about the business implications of droughts and worldwide water shortages. 

Shepherd received his doctorate in physical meteorology from Florida State University. He went on to work for NASA as a research meteorologist. He is also a host of the show Wx Geeks (Weather Geeks), which airs every Sunday on the Weather Channel.

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