It seems crazy to me that we as a society spend more time thinking, reading and writing about things like Tiger Woods’ extramarital affair, than we do climate change. Who Tiger Woods shags is really none of my business and what he does on or off the golf course (while superficially interesting) will not affect me in the long-term. Climate change on the other hand, could mean devastation for us and future generations.
In an article published in Science Daily, researchers found that climate change news has a hard time getting traction with the public, even when it’s been covered by the media:
Researchers found that negative media reports seem to have only a passing effect on public opinion, but that positive stories don’t appear to possess much staying power, either. This dynamic suggests that climate scientists should reexamine how to effectively and more regularly engage the public.
I agree that climate scientists need to reexamine how they engage the public, but I don’t think this applies just to climate scientists, but to all scientists. Here are a few things I’ve noticed about how we communicate about science and climate change.
It’s just a theory
I seriously think we need to change the word ‘theory’ when it’s connected to science. Too many people don’t understand the difference between a scientific theory and a theory as it pertains to everyday use. Many people just throw out there that things like evolution are just a theory.
However, a scientific theory isn’t something we should scoff at. What a ‘theory’ means in this context is:
A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. If enough evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, it moves to the next step—known as a theory—in the scientific method and becomes accepted as a valid explanation of a phenomenon.
As you can see, a theory in science means it has undergone extensive testing, and the scientific community considers it a valid explanation of a phenomenon.
For example, gravity is just a theory.
Faith is superior to evidence
I think we put far too much stock in what ancient manuscripts have to say about how we live our lives. People seem to be able to accept talking snakes and flying horses because they’re mentioned in what they consider to be Holy Books, but they won’t accept evidence based science because of what they believe in ancient mythology.
For example, some people believe that god granted us this planet to exploit. This might lessen their concern over climate change. Some people believe that evolution isn’t backed by a mountain of evidence, and people are taught that science should take a backseat to faith. This is dangerous thinking in my opinion, and we have to start being honest about how this type of thought process can lead to serious (perhaps fatal) consequences, such as devastating climate change.
Considering we’re surrounded by the fruits of science, you’d think more people would get behind science than their choice of myth.
We need better science education
I think we need a culture shift that includes better science education. We need more shows like Cosmos, that help put science into terms the common person can easily understand. We need to make science fun.
If I could wave a magic wand, scientists, thinkers, teachers etc would be the new rock stars of our society.
We need more urgency
The original study stated:
For instance, he said, climategate had the same Internet half-life as the public fallout from pro-golfer Tiger Woods’ extramarital affair, which happened around the same (but received far more searches).
A public with little interest in climate change is unlikely to push for policies that actually address the problem, Anderegg said. He and Goldsmith suggest communicating in terms familiar to the public rather than to scientists. For example, their findings suggest that most people still identify with the term “global warming” instead of “climate change,” though the shift toward embracing the more scientific term is clear.
Concern over climate change should far outstrip our concern over who Tiger Woods is sleeping with. We need to realize that climate change is urgent. It’s not something that is going away.
I think part of the problem is we can ignore climate change right now. Sure, there might be a few weather anomalies, and we might see a few news story about the shrinking ice, but we still have our air conditioning, two cars in the garage and Netflix to keep us occupied during our downtime. By the time we start suffering detrimental (or commonly lethal) effects from climate change, it might be too late. There might be no turning back and we could cause our own demise as a species.
We need to muster political will, and we need to do it quickly.
Change the conversation
Even if someone doesn’t believe in climate change, they can hardly argue that dumping pollutants into the air isn’t a bad thing. We need to develop and manufacture clean energy solutions.
We need to stop listening to big oil companies that have a vested interest in keeping us blind and ignorant to the situation. We need to stop paying attention to what their spin-doctors and paid cronies have to say, and start paying serious attention to the scientific community.
We’ve seen how public pressure and social media can change the world. Let’s start putting those tools to good use when it comes to something as important as climate change. Our very future depends on it.