Excerpt from an article on Vox, published on June 1, 2017 – the sixth installment of Climate Lab.
When scientists struggle to communicate with the public, they often respond by doubling down: more data, more charts, more lines of evidence. But sometimes you don’t need more science; you just need three minutes with the pope in a parking lot.
Veerabhadran “Ram” Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has been publishing on climate change for more than 40 years, dating back to the early 1970s when he discovered the greenhouse effect of CFCs. But his finest moment in scientific communication was not in a prestigious journal or a global climate conference.
In 2014, at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome, Ramanathan learned that he was going to have a brief audience with Pope Francis. He quickly crafted a statement, tried to memorize it in Spanish (which he doesn’t speak), and headed to what he assumed would be a formal meeting in some ornate receiving room inside the basilica. Instead, as he was walking through the parking lot, he saw a familiar, pope-shaped man climb out of a Fiat and walk toward him.
“I completely panicked — it was a panic attack,” said Ramanathan of the moment he realized it was Pope Francis.