A hand-drawn image of the globe. On the bottom half, the globe is covered with cars and factories spewing pollution. The sky behind the globe has an unhealthy green pallor. On the top half, young hands are erasing and redrawing the globe filled with greenery, solar panels, and windmills. The sky is blue with clouds.

Integrating NCA5 into Extension Programming: An Interview with Aaron Wilson

This interview features Aaron Wilson, Principle Investigator on the Climate Ready Midwest Project and Lead Author of the Midwest Chapter in the 5th National Climate Assessment (NCA5). Aaron sheds light on the significance of NCA5 and its application in Extension programming.

Q1: Who are you and what was your role in writing the NCA5?

I am Aaron Wilson, an Assistant Professor and Agricultural Weather and Climate Field Specialist with the Department of Extension, in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University. I am also the State Climatologist of Ohio and Research Scientist with the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center and the Principal Investigator on the Climate Ready Midwest Project.

I was the Chapter Lead Author of the Midwest Chapter of the NCA5. My role was to direct the day-to-day development of the chapter, work closely with other chapter leadership to select authors and technical contributors, delegate writing assignments, ensure we met deadlines, and lead responses to comments during our federal and public reviews. It was also important for me to ensure that our chapter tells a cohesive and compelling narrative.  

There is a jagged crack in the earth, due to drought, down the middle of the photo. The artist appears to have sewed the crack back together using red string.
Artist’s statement: Texas and much of the Western United States have been experiencing climate change-induced severe drought. This site-specific piece focuses on our collective climate grief. “Keep It Together” conceptually wills climate change and the drought to end by literally tying cracked earth back together. I wanted this piece to convey the desperate situation that we are in by mimicking surgical sutures or stitches with red string and nails. If we must resort to tying our world back together, we have nothing.

Q2: What is the NCA5?

NCA5 is the 5th National Climate Assessment mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990, whereby the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is obligated to prepare and submit to the President and Congress an assessment that:

  • Integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of USGCRP and discusses the scientific uncertainties associated with such findings;
  • Analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity; and
  • Analyzes current trends in global change, both human- induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.

It is also important to note that this assessment is:

  • An evaluation of a body of scientific or technical knowledge that synthesizes individual studies, data, models, and assumptions, and applies best professional judgment to bridge uncertainties.
  • A consensus-based view of the state of science.
  • Relevant for policy and decision-making but does not prescribe specific policy interventions or advocate for a particular viewpoint.
  • Fully compliant with the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) and other applicable laws and policies, making them authoritative, timely, and transparent.

Q3: Why write a new assessment?

The assessment serves as an update of the ongoing changes to climate and its impacts on the physical and social aspects of our lives in the United States. Director Allison Crimmins and the USGCRP team wanted the 5th assessment to go beyond previous assessments in being: accessible to a broad audience, creative in communication, about people, useful and usable, and an advancement of the climate conversation,

Q4: What materials from the assessment may be helpful for Extension educator’s programming?

There are numerous ways for Extension Educators to interact with and utilize the information in the 5th National Climate Assessment.

The assessment is made up of a number of different types of chapters, including:

  • Physical Science Chapters that update the observations and projections of climate change relative to the last assessment. 
  • National Topic Chapters that provide summaries of current and future risks related to climate change and actions that can be taken. Some of the national topics include agriculture, water, energy, transportation, and health. 
  • Regional Chapters that focus on the main discussions within various regions of the U.S. including the Midwest, Northern Great Plains, and Southern Great Plains. They also tell stories of how communities are building resilience to climate change. 
  • Adaptation and Mitigation Response Chapters that assess the science of adapting to climate changes, reducing emissions, and potential responses to climate change (the efficacy of these responses are not evaluated in the report). 
  • “Focus on…” features, which explore cross-cutting issues of our time and high-priority topics.
  • Appendices, which include descriptions of the scenarios, indicators of observed climate-related changes that support the report, and a glossary of terms.
  • Traceable Accounts, which describe how authors came to the confidence and likelihood statements based on the literature and also the gaps in our knowledge. 
  • Key statements that allow the Extension Educator to hone in on the main message from that chapter.

In addition to the assessment chapters, the NCA5 Art x Climate gallery highlights the numerous visual art submissions that were collected from the public as a way to use media to reach a larger audience and humanize the urgency of climate change (all images used in this post are from this gallery!) Additionally, there are supplementary resources available for Educators to use including webinars, podcasts, and an interactive atlas. 

An arial landscape painting shows about half green, forested land, and half deforested land being used for farming.
Artist’s statement: I record the landscape through paintings, drawings, photography, and mixed media, highlighting landscape form, process, texture, and natural patterns at varying scales. This work illustrates an aerial version of deforestation. Forests are home to wildlife, significant carbon banks, controls for flooding and erosion, and a source of filtration and clean air. Land use is a difficult topic, as farming is critically important to feed our growing population.

Q5: Why is it important to use materials like those found in the NCA5?

First, these materials are authoritative, timely, and transparent. The process of evaluating the literature and assessing the state of climate change and its impacts on society builds consensus among the authors who are writing it. The process is transparent; sources are clearly described and provided. It is the most up-to-date account of our changing climate. 

The report also provides decision-relevant information without prescribing policy. This allows Educators to share the information with key stakeholders and decision makers in their communities while maintaining that trusted position as a science-informed communicator. 

Finally, the report speaks the language of community. Scattered throughout the assessment of case studies and storms of how communities of all identity are taking climate action to build a more resilient nation. As an Educator, providing success stories can be an effective way of spreading the scientific message while promoting hope for a better future outcome. 

Q6: Where can educators find those materials?

Most materials can be found on the official NCA5 website

There are additional resources available for Educators to use including:

  • Chapter Webinars (Occurring January through mid-March 2024). The Midwest Chapter webinar will be held on February 20, 2024 at 2pm ET/ 1pm CT 
  • Interactive Atlas, which includes interactive climate data, maps, and stories of how climate is impacting communities across the U.S. 


Tune in to the Midwest Chapter webinar on February 20, 2024 at 2pm ET/ 1pm CT for further exploration of NCA5 and it’s implications.

A hand-drawn image of the globe. On the bottom half, the globe is covered with cars and factories spewing pollution. The sky behind the globe has an unhealthy green pallor. On the top half, young hands are erasing and redrawing the globe filled with greenery, solar panels, and windmills. The sky is blue with clouds.
Artist’s statement: In my art, I try to convey that we can help reverse the effects of climate change. One hand is erasing the pollution caused by industrialization the world over, and the other is redrawing actions to restore the Earth’s beauty. I have always tried to help out the Earth, through stream clean ups and more. I hope people learn from my art that they can help change the world by just doing simple things like driving less, not littering, and maybe even setting up solar panels or wind turbines. The effects of climate change are only in our hands, so we should do whatever we can to help.