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Global Warming

Global Warming Discussion Tactics

Global warming is one of the key topics I write about, as most of you probably know. (By the way, expect a weekly global warming news wrap-up in a few hours). HOW to write about it is an issue I’m constantly thinking about.

Three or four recent posts made me decide to not just think about it, but write about it today….

Topic #1: There is No Global Warming Debate

In the popular media, there is plenty of global warming debate — is it real, is it not real? But in the scientific literature and larger scientific community, that debate has long been resolved (as much so as nearly anything in science). So, the disconnect that those of us familiar with this issue have to deal with all the time is this “false debate” we see in popular media.

Unfortunately, as Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Executive Director Peter Lehner, writing on the Huffington Post, notes: over the last few decades, “Just as the science of climate change became more conclusive, the media became more fragmented.”

He referenced a recent article by science journalist Mike Lemonick in his piece that goes into this in more detail, where Lemonick wrote:

Thanks to pressure from climate skeptics, some journalists started adding dissenting voices in an attempt to add “balance” to their stories, even though scientific skepticism about climate change had largely vanished among true experts. It now lies with nonexperts like Freeman Dyson — scientists from unrelated fields who don’t know much about climate science but weigh in anyway.

The takeway point of all this for me is: spend more time debating the debate.

Truthfully, the scientific debate is for scientists in this field, in my opinion. Unless some massive, revolutionary theory breaking down the numerous confirmations from different areas of climate science confirming that climate change is happening and is largely due to humans comes out, and other climate scientists don’t show that this theory is a house of cards built in the eye of a hurricane, we’ve given more than enough attention to unscientific claims.

Topic #2: How to Tell People We’ve Had Enough of the Anti-Science Propoganda

Another piece that got me thinking lately was on Treehugger, “How Not to Talk Climate Politics.” Brian Merchant dug into Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Cynthia Tucker’s recent article, “The GOP is now a party of know-nothing flat-earthers,” in this piece.

Tucker started off her piece like this:

One of the greatest crises of our time is climate change, which threatens to create food shortages (as the Russians learned this summer), change geography, eradicate entire eco-systems and even wipe out cities and towns in coastal areas. (NOTE: If you are an anti-science know-nothing, don’t bother to comment. The clear scientific consensus indicates a warming climate caused by human activity.)

Some pretty strong fightin’ words there.

And further on she writes:

Many others have simply chosen to be ignorant anti-science flat-earthers. Alaska’s Joe Miller, who defeated incumbent Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, is an example of the latter category. He told an Alaska newspaper, “We haven’t heard there’s man-made global warming.” [Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 8/23/10]

Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is in the more sophisticated category, too smart to deny the science outright but unwilling to buck a tide of flat-earth voters and selfish businesses that don’t want to change their ways.

Again, I think Tucker isn’t looking to make friends here.

Merchant thought Tucker’s language and writing was too strong, too antagonistic, and counter-productive. I’m not so sure.

It’s true that some people not sure of where they stand on this issue may be turned off by such writing. Merchant may be right that Tucker would make more progress by toning it down a bit. But a key criticism of modern-day environmentalists and those who understand climate science more than others that I have seen pop up from time to time is that we are being too soft. We are acting too neutral. And we have failed to mobilize any sort of passion or social movement around this issue.

The passion like Tucker put into her piece, the refusal to play softball with anti-science disinformers who are bringing illegal email hacking and cherry-picking to the table is admirable to me. It reminds me of Joe Romm of Climate Progress‘ writing, one of the most well-recognized leaders in climate change blogging.

So, I have to say, I actually lean towards getting behind the kind of writing Tucker showed us, more or less.

Do I know which is really the better approach and which will be more effective in the end? No.

What do I choose to do in my own writing? I choose not to look for a fight (the way I could say Tucker seemed to do), but not to step up to anti-science folks looking for a fair and even-toned discussion when they have their boxing gloves on and just want to hit me in the face.

What are your thoughts on these issues?

Photo Credit: claudiogennari via flickr




4 comments
  1. Harrison

    You write:

    “It now lies with nonexperts like Freeman Dyson — scientists from unrelated fields who don’t know much about climate science but weigh in anyway.”

    And yet who has been the most outspoken voice in the GW debate? Al Gore. He’s not an expert, not even a scientist. He got a “D” in science in college.

    I’d be interested to hear more about this.

    1. Zachary Shahan

      @Harrison: Al Gore has not been the outspoken. He created an excellent film on the matter with the help of numerous scientists. He popularized the topic by creating a communication link between the scientists and the public.

  2. Tom Schueneman

    Hi Zach,

    Nice piece, and I agree. While I don’t think we should necessarily look for a fight, I think the “environmental community” (for lack of a better phrase) has completely missed the boat in the messaging.

    People are so misinformed and have had such drivel pushed into their heads that they don’t know up from down when discussing this issue. And that’s just how the deniers and misinformers want it. The Great PR Machine wins in the short term, but eventually reality will come up and bite us all in the ass.

    Okay, so I said I wasn’t looking for a fight, and I know my tone belies my frustration. While it may turn some people off to be overly antagonistic, it is time, I think, to take off our gloves and go after the James Inhofe’s et. al. in the world with the the full force of our conviction.

    Besides, as you must well know, the fight generally comes looking for us. I’ve been cursed to hell, called any manner of names, and all but had my life threatened – all because I publish a blog about climate change. Something is seriously awry, and if we’re going to get into this, we need to be prepared to fight.

    Willful ignorance is what our opponents strive for, and we must call it for what it is.

    My two cents…

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