You know what? I’m tired.
I’m tired of people yelling at each other from opposite sides of the fence. Pick a side! Pick a side! I’m right! You’re wrong!
It doesn’t matter what the issue is these days. Everyone has an opinion whether or not it is well-informed, and that opinion is chained to the concrete slab in the ground that defines an issue. And, like dogs protecting a house, the barks are loud. Intimidating.
The chances of breaking that chain or moving the concrete are slim. So, how do you stop the barking? Drown it out with barking of your own? Adding to the noise just increases the din that drowns out reason.
Do you keep walking past the house until you can’t hear the noise, until the barking stops on its own? Just being there provokes the dog’s angry response.
So, what do you choose? And, why?
This past week, I asked Twitter whether or not people thought the public’s interest in global warming had cooled. I had just read a NYT article reporting on polled data suggesting such a trend. The responses I received were quite interesting.
Now I know that Twitter is by no means a random sample of people. Most of the individuals on Twitter are tech savvy information junkies, which slants the population right off the bat. Secondly, the wording I used was meant to get peoples’ attention. Using ‘global warming’ instead of the new, less evocative term ‘climate change’ immediately catches the eye of the opinionated.
My first, entirely unscientific result was that the population within Twitter who responded to my question paralleled the poll results. People are much more concerned about the economy and job stability these days than whether or not the ice sheets might melt someday. This all seems to jive quite well with the human “hierarchy of needs” developed by a guy named Abraham Mazlow, wherein physiological needs must be met before people can attend to their psychological growth. When we were in times of economic plenty, people had more time to consider global issues like the environment and climate change, and to potentially make changes in their lives according to a certain perspective. Now, with jobs on the line, people are more self-interested, and less likely to be concerned about global issues.
However, the season could also be a factor in the waning climatological interest. Most places are too cold right now for people to be thinking about the more generalized (and less extreme) warming trend that has been measured around the globe. Also, with the economy and the US Presidential transition taking up time/space in the media for the past few months, it may just have fallen off of peoples’ radar.
The second result of my request was an onslaught of anthropogenic global warming deniers. What people believe wasn’t even part of my question. Yet, here they were telling me in no uncertain terms that human-induced climate change is a bunch of hogwash. Maybe in their own way, they were answering my question in the negative. Obviously, the issue has not cooled for some.
Working in science communications, I think it is very important to tell a correct tale, and to help people understand what is going to affect their lives. Somehow, the climate issue has been compounded beyond reporting the facts as they appear into an emotional and politically divided issue. There doesn’t seem to be a way to discuss the science anymore without triggering someone’s hot button.
The scientific debates of the climatologists have expanded into battles that include the meteorologists, the geologists, the pundits, and Joe Blow. The media hasn’t helped. There is a glut of misinformation, and misleading and politically biased content, which makes discerning the accurate reporting more difficult than it should be. Who do you turn to when the path isn’t clear? Who do you trust? It seems that most people turn to their ideological roots. They go home.
Home is comfortable and safe, making it a difficult place from which to move people. People resent the attempt to move them. Do you know many people who react well to being told that they are wrong? It’s hard to even find that quality among scientists.
So, how do we stop the reactionary defense of an ideological stance?
I suggest that we change the topic entirely.
Shall we leave the science of the climate to the scientists, and get to work on more pressing issues? This is not a new idea. It has already seen some success in redirecing peoples’ energies. Suddenly, climate change has been replaced with topics like energy independence and transfer of renewable technologies to developing nations.
By changing the climate change topic, which has an arguably pessimistic, end-of-the-world tone into a more positive, results-based discussion, the din has softened to mere clamour.
Where else can the topic be changed, and how?