So today I wanted to talk about climate change, specifically the discussion behind climate change. Thanks to any number of things (politics mostly) any discussion about climate change always starts the same. Whether it is real or not… whether it is natural or man-made… or whatever ‘us vs. them’ argument of your choice (I’m partial to angry spirits vs. magic myself). Ask the average media personnel and they’ll reference an interview between a scientist and climate change denier. With media coverage framed like this obviously scientists are split down the middle as to whether climate change is a real thing or whether it’s just make believe right?
Well….actually no. The debate is not 50-50. Now there are multiple documented sources; that indicate that a vast majority of people and organizations with qualified opinions believe in the components of climate change. Skeptical Science (the third link) were the ones who coined the 97% figure often thrown out. Is that a true and accurate number? Ummm…who knows? The point is a vast majority of qualified people do understand climate change and that’s the important part. So why does this 97 vs. 3 non-issue seem so contentious? It kind of reflects the core principles of this country. The minority is supposed to have an equal platform to the majority. Yes the same system that promotes bureaucratic gridlock is the same system responsible for climate change denying ‘experts’. The core problem is also a feature of the system. A really loud minority is shouting just as loud as the majority. Yes, those who deny climate change despite the evidence otherwise are entitled to their opinion. However we’re dealing with a scientific consensus, I’d go so far as to say a scientific certainty, not something that you can really have an opinion on. It is like the kids table at a family reunion. You put the kids there so the adults can have a conversation. The kids might have opinions but honestly we don’t want to hear them right now. So what do you do if someone you know and love is a climate change denier? Well, I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t want to throw down the climate change gauntlet yet (but it’ll happen). Instead I want to looking at what it means to discuss climate change.
The Global Warming Error
Let’s face it, the marketing of global warming really set the climate change movement backwards. It’s difficult to convince someone of ‘global warming’ when we here in the Northeastern part of the US have just endured one of the roughest and at times wildest winters in recent memory. Saturday APRIL 2nd, we had a couple of inches of snow (by we I mean where I live in Pennsylvania, though presumably we weren’t the only ones). This week we’re experiencing record cold temperatures for this time of year. Obviously all this cold and snow proves global warming a myth! If you have ever heard of or watched An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore you’ve heard all the terrible things global warming will bring. As a marketing strategy global warming was a huge mistake. They took just one of the many effects of climate change and threatened everyone with just…one. What if the whole global warming thing doesn’t pan out perfectly? Where does that market go?
I know it’s weird I’m talking about marketing in a blog that is supposed to be about science, but here’s the thing. One of our responsibilities as scientists is to make the facts palatable to the general public. Giving the public doomsday scenarios is not the way to bring about change. No one likes to hear bad things are going to happen to them, and credit the human psyche…we are stubborn when it comes to admitting bad things to ourselves. Just think about how many things you don’t like about yourself, how many secrets you keep from the world, and what inconvenient facts to the way you live that you ignore on a constant basis? It’s alright you’d be crazy if you were thinking to yourself “I don’t do any of that.”
‘Doomongering’ to the public (one of my favorite made up words) isn’t going to accomplish anything. People are incredibly stubborn when it comes to changing their opinion. Just think of how many wrong opinions you have had over the years? How hard was it for you to admit it? How difficult was it for you to change? Certainly humanity is the ultimate creature of habit. Global warming threatens the status quo in a way that people don’t want to think about, in a way that makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes terminology is important. When it comes to talking about climate change I am ‘That Guy’ who will immediately correct anyone who dares mention the phrase ‘global warming’. It’s a meaningless phrase that isn’t at all representative of the problem at hand. The idea of climate change isn’t just the idea that the planet is going to get hotter. Sure that’ll happen. However climate change can mean many things for different people. Some places will get wetter, some places drier. Some places will have more extreme weather events. Some places won’t see any substantial effects. Some places are more resilient to climate change that others. To blanket this complex issue as just an issue of temperature rising is just wrong. Don’t do it. In fact the next time you talk about climate change (because I know everyone talks about it as much as I do) be ‘That Guy’ (or Gal) and correct any mentions of global warming. Remind them that the issue of climate change isn’t so simple.
I will probably talk about climate change a lot from here on out, because it’s what I do. When I talk about climate change, especially to a climate denier, I start with two basic principles. A) Climate change is real and B) There are real problems associated with climate change. This is my jumping off point. A discussion without these two facts in mind can never be a productive discussion. With A and B I am not asking anyone to do anything. I am not asking anyone to go live in the woods, or donate to some worthy charities, or take any sort of personal action. Instead I am putting forth a premise to facilitate thought but I am not challenging anyone. You can recognize A and B and be unwilling or unable to do anything about it. I know there are other problems in the world, poverty and world hunger for example. I also know that there are very knowledgeable people on the subject working on those problems. Just like those people know I am a knowledgeable person working on the climate change issue. It is a trap to get caught up in the argument that states “you don’t care about problem X so why should I care about climate change?” (problem X though, that’s a dousey, good luck!) Or “you’re not doing enough of Y so you can’t really care about climate change.” Everyone has a role to play. For those of you on my side on this, don’t get discouraged! I might not be able to invent the hottest new carbon capture technology, but hey I can start a blog. For those of you not on my side? Well I mean the kids table is probably comfortable enough.
Hey so you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisatGnG