Climate change and the perception of threat

2009-01-28

in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

Winter pigeons and bricks

This David Roberts post, over at Gristmill, discusses the relationships between public awareness of climatic science and the need to take action on climate change. In short, it concludes that the general public will not understand climatic science in the foreseeable future. The critical task is not to make them do so. Rather, what is critical is altering the answers they reach when they ask themselves the two questions through which they evaluate potential problems:

  1. “Is this a problem that threatens me/my family/my tribe? Is there an imminent threat? Is it an emergency?”
  2. “Do the proposed solutions to the problem threaten me/my family/my tribe? Am I going to get screwed?”

It goes on to argue that scientific reports and data will not change how people answer these questions. Rather, to get action on climate change, the following must be done:

  1. Greens, politicians, and other communicators need to get serious about calling climate change the impending catastrophe it is, with serious, dire consequences for people now living, certainly for their children. That means risking being called “hysterics” by conservatives and their dupes in the media.”
  2. “The same folks need to get better at showing the public the opportunities and benefits of action. It’s about expanding the winner’s circle and making damn sure everybody in it, or potentially in it, knows about it.” (emphasis in original)

This is a strategy quite different from climate change mitigation by stealth, but it does seek to respond to the same fundamental problems of selfishness and misunderstanding.

The critical flaw in thinking we can achieve a technocratic solution to climate change is a failure to appreciate the influence of those who will be harmed by effective climate change mitigation efforts (such as coal and oil sands producers), as well as their willingness to manipulate the public into demanding inaction. In order to counter the influence of such status quo powers, there does need to be a political constituency for effective climate change action. I think Roberts is basically correct in asserting that it will be through changing the public perception of risk and opportunity that such a constituency might best be constructed.

{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. January 28, 2009 at 2:44 pm

People are also obsessed with near-term threats and disinterested in long-term ones. Just look at how keen they are to take on massive government deficits to avoid immediate economic pain. Who will pay off those debts, I wonder?

Emily January 28, 2009 at 3:36 pm

I love that photo.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I agree that the public needs to perceive the risk, but I don’t see how this is separate from understanding the Science. No one understands the Science at a Scientific level other than the Scientists. Furthermore, since what the politicians act on is the Scientific Consensus, not some particular experiment, the understanding of the particular Science is not even what is crucial.

What is possible for the Public to understand is the Scientific Consensus – both the Logical Positivists, Logical Empiricists, and Khunians, and Edinburgh School, and Contemporary SSK have always advocated for was better public understanding of how Science works and how it should relate to public policy.

What’s frightening here is the idea that the public needs to percieve the risk directly – without understanding how it is related to the Science. This is akin to asking the Public to understand the risk of terrorism directly, without understanding how it’s related to blowback, to U.S. influence overseas, to poverty etc… Or, to understand the risk of domestic crime without understanding how it relates to structural poverty, organized criminal networks, etc…

Less information, in other words, almost always means a more domesticated public, one which can be mobilized by a small group of the elite towards any issue of the day. Asking the public to perceive the risk of climate change directly means equivalency in terms of logical basis between the statements “climate change is dangerous” and “climate change is not dangerous” – it is letting go of “truth” for “truthiness”.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 3:54 pm

From the linked Gristmill post:

As for educating the public on the science, guess what? The public’s kinda ignorant about science. Have you seen the polls on evolution, or ghosts, or aliens, or telepathy? They’re horrifying. There’s a lot to know these days, and most people don’t know most of it. Changing that is impossible a long-term undertaking we don’t have time to wait on.

So, if people are already “aware,” and a renaissance of widespread scientific literacy is unlikely in the next few years, what direction to take from these polls?

You have to start with plausible answers for why so many people refuse to believe in or prioritize climate change.

Start with this question: why don’t you ever see polls on public knowledge of the Standard Model in physics or valence bond theory in chemistry? Because frankly, who cares if the public understands those things. They need to understand science insofar as science impinges on their lives and calls on them to make decisions.

It’s not that people need to appreciate risk with no awareness of science, per se. That being said, the perception of risk is more important than the level of understanding, if what we care about is avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Milan,

With all due respect, you don’t understand the Science – your training is almost purely in the humanities. We need to distinguish between the kind of awareness the public should have of Science, and “understanding science”. We also shouldn’t take the public perception of Science as neutral – it’s produced through such non-neutral institutions such as the media and public education.

To advocate for the public perception of the risk, without an understanding of what a scientific consensus is or how we should react to it, is I believe on a part of asking the public to be scared without reason – in other words, what political extremism is made of.

Alena January 28, 2009 at 4:57 pm

How would you do this in a practical way? Let’s take milk that has hormones in it and whatever else that is not good for your body. Would you say, “If you want your daughter to have breasts at the age of 6, serve her the milk you find at the local grocery store. People believe that Canada has food safety standards and thus everything that is in the store is “safe.” The people who know that it is not always safe, may choose to go to Whole Foods or somewhere else. The people who cannot afford that will buy regular milk and hope for the best. To tell them that it is a threat to their children just makes them feel bad or angry. Would it not be better to change the Food Safety standards and not to frighten people who are already worried enough?

Milan January 28, 2009 at 4:58 pm

With all due respect, you don’t understand the Science – your training is almost purely in the humanities. We need to distinguish between the kind of awareness the public should have of Science, and “understanding science”. We also shouldn’t take the public perception of Science as neutral – it’s produced through such non-neutral institutions such as the media and public education.

People should be scared because climate change poses a massive and demonstrable threat to humanity. The response to that must be working to produce a zero-carbon global economy, not intellectual masturbation about the nature of scientific consensus.

This may be a situation where having training in philosophy makes you a bit useless for actually dealing with real-world problems.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 4:59 pm

To tell them that it is a threat to their children just makes them feel bad or angry. Would it not be better to change the Food Safety standards and not to frighten people who are already worried enough?

Arguably, people need to be dramatically more frightened before we will have enough political momentum to deal with this problem (though seeing opportunities is also important). As long as people think that gasoline prices or tax cuts are more important than cutting greenhouse gas emissions, we won’t get the policies we need to curb climate change.

. January 28, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 0: The alternative is humanity’s self-destruction

What happens if we fail to take the following actions to reverse emissions trends starting in 2009?

1. Start a cap-and-trade system that sets a serious price for CO2.
2. Launch most of the 14 to 16 major mitigation strategies (wedges) described here.
3. Begin a global effort to ban new coal plants that do not capture and store their carbon, an effort that quickly brings in China and other developing countries.

Failing to do that, we are headed to 800 to 1000 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The idea of stabilizing at, say, 550 or 650 ppm, widely held a decade ago, is becoming increasingly implausible given the likelihood that major carbon cycle feedbacks would go into overdrive, swiftly taking the planet to 800 ppm or more. In particular, the top 11 feet of the tundra would probably not survive 550 ppm (a point I will be blogging about soon) and two other key carbon sinks — land-based vegetation and the oceans — already appear to be saturating. That said, even if stabilizing at 550 ppm were possible, it would probably bring catastrophic impacts and in any case requires implementing some 10 wedges starting now.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 5:15 pm

“The response to that must be working to produce a zero-carbon global economy, not intellectual masturbation about the nature of scientific consensus.”

Again, I’m perplexed by your anti-democratic tendencies. The options are either (a) the public is scared and uninformed, and mobalizes behind a political force that pushes for mitigation of climate change, or (b) the public is correctly concerned and informed, and mobalizes behind a political movement that treats them as citizens rather than consumers, and moves towards addressing the real problem of climate change.

if (a) proceeds, we really have no reason to assume that climate change would even be addressed – all the public there is requiring for the continuation of support is enough rhetoric to make them believe they will be made safe. There are plenty of examples of this, but I’ll name an uncontroversial one – crime. There are plenty of political movements that use fear of crime to support “anti crime” legislation to make people feel safe, but we all know this legislation is at best neutral and at worse encouraging of crime.

“This may be a situation where having training in philosophy makes you a bit useless for actually dealing with real-world problems.”

Aside from this being provocative and insulting, I actually think it’s deeply incorrect. Wanting the public to understand what the scientific consensus is, and what a scientific consensus is, seems to me the only way to avert an “anti-crime” approach to the problem of global warming. And, furthermore, the only way to approach global warming in a way that we should even expect that politicians “keep their promises” rather than just keep up appearances.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Tristan,

One important thing to consider is the issue of timing. Action on climate change needs to begin very soon. We don’t have time to educate the majority of the population on the science involved. Furthermore, doing so is made very difficult due to all the entities that create misunderstanding or confusion, whether intentionally (climate change delayers) or unintentionally (a confused and sometimes gullible media). We are in a year where dramatic action needs to begin taking place, but in which it would still be politically controversial to mandate the inclusion of climate science in high school curricula.

I agree that a world in which the voting population understands the radiative forcing properties of greenhouse gasses and the nature of the carbon cycle is superior to one that does not. That being said, waiting for such a world to emerge before starting comprehensive climate action will probably ensure that this world will be short-lived. Waiting for a world where voters in general understand the philosophy of science will take rather longer, especially if we are to expect them, on average, to understand it better than the other commenters on this blog, who you frequently accuse of being entirely in the dark about it.

On the issue of keeping politicians active, it does seem that this will remain a relatively elite activity for now. Even among those with the understanding, there must also be the will to monitor and engage. Eventually, we might hope for a mass of voters that is vigilant about rejecting politicians who do not undertake genuine action. For the moment, we really need to get things rolling.

In short, there are two courses of action: pushing action before very harmful effects of climate change begin to manifest themselves, or waiting for things to become so self-evidently bad that people with no understanding of science nevertheless see the threat. Of course, by the time the latter situation exists, it may be far too late to reverse course.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Incidentally, the crime analogy is quite a faulty one. Anthropogenic climate change is not a similar problem to crime. For one thing, crime can never be permanently dealt with. While we will eventually need to worry about climate changing due to natural phenomena like orbital changes, the kind of climate change we are discussing here can actually be addressed on the timescale of centuries.

Secondly, crime is not a threat to society. Even if it became dramatically, dramatically worse than it is now, people would still survive in some kind of social and political arrangement. Since climate change has the potential to make the world unsuitable for agriculture, it is a far more grave threat.

Thirdly, climate change involves much longer lag times than crime. Institute a new criminal policy and effects might be seen in months or years. Most of the effects of our climate policies (and our continued emissions) will not be felt for decades. As such, there is much less scope for learning-by-doing. Only long-term planning and preventative action can allow us to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 7:22 pm

The differences you point out between climate change and crime have nothing to do with the way I was using it as an analogy. The similarity is not how climate change and crime are actually a threat to a population – the similarity would be in what way is the perception of the threat similar (i.e. created by fear mongering rather than careful consideration).

“Action on climate change needs to begin very soon. We don’t have time to educate the majority of the population on the science involved.”

It’s not as if the population has not been being educated for ages – Al Gore seemingly has made educating the population about climate changed his life project (prior to the film he gave his slideshow in a huge number of towns).

It’s strange to me that you are willing to play this game of appeasing to the two legged beasts we call the people. The people are only stupid because they are produced as stupid. To call for action on climate change which is dependent on the stupidity of the population is to call for the continuation of the political regime which produces and treats them as consumers. The reason why I think this is irrational for you to do is not that political achievements can’t be made this way – but that climate change is almost certainly not something which is in the elite’s interest to mitigate, or at least, not as much as it is in the interests of the throes of two legged beasts. It seems to me the only way we could even have serious action on climate change is if the interests of those whose interests are not currently being considered, were in fact considered.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 8:10 pm

The ongoing phony debate is actually a pretty good demonstration of how difficult it is to teach climate change science through mass media. On one side, you have organizations like the science academies of the G8, China, and Brazil. On the other, a few hacks who used to argue that tobacco doesn’t cause cancer alongside a few genuinely confused individuals. The fact that one side hasn’t won this debate decisively, in the eyes of the general public, shows that people cannot authenticate who is providing good data and who is not.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Note also how climate change is polling dead last in a recent Pew poll on the priorities of Americans.

Anyone who wants to understand the science has plenty of excellent resources available, from IPCC summary reports to popular books. Given that, it seems incorrect to say that the major problem is that people do not understand the science.

The general public – like policymakers – needs to understand the implications of the science, rather than the specific techniques or data being used. The implications they care most about are probably the ones outlined in Roberts’ post. As such, those wishing to convert science into personal motivation to support good climate change policies need to work on drawing connections between good science and implications that concern people directly and in a psychologically poignant way.

Sarah January 28, 2009 at 8:23 pm

I agree with Tristan that people need to understand the nature of the scientific process and how consensus emerges, otherwise ‘teach the controversy’ will continue to win out in schools and the media. Unfortunately, I think that the public in the US (especially) and much of the rest of the world are sufficiently ignorant of science that talking about climate change in terms of scientific evidence will not produce the needed action. On the other hand, I’m not sure we can get the needed action anyway due to problems like the human propensity to favour short-term over long-term benefits and the disproportionate political and economic influence of old people – ‘I don’t care, I’ll be dead!’ (If you doubt that this wins out in politics then look at the UK and US pensions situation)
Moreover, I’ve tried raising point 1 in a graduate public policy class and everyone disagreed with me, arguing that such claims are depressing, make people feel powerless and convince them to ignore you (cognitive dissonance – people reject unwelcome information). So, unfortunately, it seems to me that people may only be willing to accept that climate change is happening if we tell them it isn’t a big terrifying thing that will involve major disruptions to their lives. Between rose-tinted ‘technological fix’ glasses or denial, I fear we’re doomed either way.

Anon January 28, 2009 at 8:35 pm

One significant source of cognitive dissonance here is probably teleological thinking. Anyone who thinks that humanity has a destiny, in a metaphysical sense, will probably have trouble believing we could be snuffed out by a technicality.

“Gasses released from special rocks, fluids, and gasses we burn threaten to make the planet uninhabitable? Sorry, but unless you frame that in terms of sin somehow there is no way I can believe it.”

Milan January 28, 2009 at 8:39 pm

I’m not sure we can get the needed action anyway due to problems like the human propensity to favour short-term over long-term benefits and the disproportionate political and economic influence of old people

That reminds me of this prior post and discussion:

Brief survey: the value of humanity
MARCH 28, 2008

. January 28, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Pushing the mushy middle
NYT’s Revkin seems shocked by media’s own failure to explain climate threat
Posted by Joseph Romm (Guest Contributor) at 3:34 PM on 26 Jan 2009

“Who determines the set of ideas the public is exposed to — and how they are framed? The national media.

The media’s choices are especially important in a decade when the Executive Branch — the principal force for setting the national agenda — was run by two oil men who actively devoted major resources to denying the reality of climate science, ignoring the impacts, and muzzling U.S. climate scientists.

Yet the national media remains exceedingly lame on the climate issue, as a searing critique by a leading U.S. journalist details (see “How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics”). The media downplay the threat of global warming (and hence the cost of inaction). And they still hedge on attributing climate impacts to human action.”

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Humanity is almost certainly a destiny – it can hardly be interpreted a pure contingency that the relations between entropy and energy should produce some arrangement that contemplates and articulates the relations between energy and entropy.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Actually, the anthropic principle is a pretty convincing way of explaining how the existence of life doesn’t show the universe to be anything more than a random combination of physical laws and materials.

That said, if I had to vote on “conversational item most likely to push this conversation onto a largely unrelated side track” the teleological or non-teleological character of human destiny would be near the top of my list.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 9:15 pm

So, unfortunately, it seems to me that people may only be willing to accept that climate change is happening if we tell them it isn’t a big terrifying thing that will involve major disruptions to their lives.

I think what you need to have is an unvarnished account of the likely costs of inaction, as well as a convincing description of how an alternative outcome could be brought about. To achieve the latter, you basically need to show how deforestation and fossil fuel use can be phased out, as well as how the overall efficiency of all human undertakings can be significantly increased.

Given the choice between the very real possibility of utter destruction and the need to make sweeping infrastructure changes over the course of decades, there seems to be reason to hope that people might back the latter.

That said, I remain very aware of the possibility that this problem may simply be too big for humanity to solve, based on its present political institutions and modes of thinking.

Magictofu January 28, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Without wanting to add too much to a discussion that is evidently going in a weird direction, there is a difference between understanding something with your mind and understanding it with your gut. There has been quite a few interesting things written on the importance of emotions in social movements recently which in my opinion reflect the main idea in this post. In short, you do not have to understand all the ramifications of an issue to know that something wrong needs to be addressed… and often we are more compelled to act on something when we can emotionally relate to it. And fear is not the only emotion that matters here.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 9:17 pm

“I remain very aware of the possibility that this problem may simply be too big for humanity to solve, based on its present political institutions and modes of thinking.”

This is exactly the impetus to new institutions then! Onward! Reform (not right wing vanguard led revolutions) is only possible when the people feel existing institutions inadequate! That’s why reform of existing institutions always needs to happen first.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 9:30 pm

How do you create new political institutions to deal with an issue when it is the one people seem to care least about at the moment?

Milan January 28, 2009 at 9:34 pm

and often we are more compelled to act on something when we can emotionally relate to it. And fear is not the only emotion that matters here.

I agree. Perhaps the spirit that needs to be conjured is that of conservation, in an old sense of the word: basically, maintaining and protecting what our ancestors passed on to us, and which our successors have the right to inherit in good order.

The article discussed in this post makes a good case that a conservation ethic of that kind has some roots in political conservatism.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 9:35 pm

“there is a difference between understanding something with your mind and understanding it with your gut”

I agree with the Tofu, although I think there is also something to be said for the role of the subconscious in things we presume to understand.

But, there is also a lack of a means to action for those who believe in climate change and want to do something about – knowing full well that ethical consumerism has almost zero effect, and possibly a net effect of increased CO2 if it turns out that the ethical consumer movement weakens political pressure to increase regulation.

It’s at times like these where it’s extremely obvious that we don’t live in a democracy – political parties are not forums for people who care about the issues to have their voices heard, letter writing is a joke. The best you can hope to do is help campaign for the NDP, perhaps, believing that a coalition would take CC more seriously, but there is no guarantee of that because the NDP, like all other parties, simply do whatever they think will gain them the most votes in the next election.

The best example of the failure of Canadian politics to be democratic, although it might be a success of Canadian politics to be representational, is the current “Conservative” budget – which is in effect a Liberal style budget. We could go on and on about how it was produced through compromise and it’s an example of at least more fair representation of Canadian views, and it probably is. My point, however, is that it’s just what’s possible given the need to garner political support – it in no way follows from some set of “ideas” which we might “vote” for.

It’s almost as if politics is not a game where actors have ideas and try to sell us on them, but rather, politicians take the ideas we have as given, and try to construct a set of them such that garners the most votes. The fight for the centrist vote is a race to the bottom.

But anyway, I am far off track, probably.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 9:42 pm

On the issue of subconscious thoughts, it seems especially important to keep working at debunking bogus arguments that nonetheless resonate with what people are prone to believe. Ordinarily, for instance, it makes sense to assume that problems are less severe than their most active advocates argue. Similarly, it often makes sense to think that there must be a good side and a bad side to everything.

One reason climate change is so challenging is that it is not well suited to analysis through our standard heuristic mechanisms. The earlier aside about human destiny speaks to that.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 11:07 pm

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=xEvIDiVheys&feature=related

Go to 14:00 for a relevant fact about the relations between public support for climate change mitigation (specifically Kyoto protocol) and what administrations actually do.

Sarah January 29, 2009 at 1:08 am

Magictofu & Tristan have raised some important points. On the emotive versus rational thing, I think a lot of what we find emotively important is picked up subconsciously from our peers and surroundings, even in stuff like body language. That implies that climate change needs to be related to what people experience.

In terms of how to change things, I think peer pressure at the local level may be the way to go. There was a great New Scientist article recently about the influence of one’s friends and their friends on mood (e.g. whether you’re happy) and behaviour (e.g. whether you become obese) and it seems these things are hugely significant. They conclude:

“Five tips for a healthier social network
1. Choose your friends carefully.
2. Choose which of your existing friends you spend the most time with. For example, hang out with people who are upbeat, or avoid couch potatoes.
3. Join a club whose members you would like to emulate (running, healthy cooking), and socialise with them.
4. If you are with people whose emotional state or behaviours you could do without, try to avoid the natural inclination to mimic their facial expressions and postures.
5. Be aware at all times of your susceptibility to social influence – and remember that being a social animal is mostly a good thing.”
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126881.600-how-your-friends-friends-can-affect-your-mood.html?full=true

That implies to me that people need to make changes in their lives & thinking at the group not individual level, which also strikes me as the basis of most successful political action. Maybe the “Don’t Fly This Year” campaign (with both lectures and parties, in an Emma Goldman “if there’s no dancing it ain’t my revolution” sorta way) really needs to be started in Canadian towns and cities?

Tristan January 29, 2009 at 8:57 am

Milan,

Please approve my comment which was caught in the spam filter.

Milan January 29, 2009 at 10:23 am

Comment recovered. I also softened the effect of the filter that examines the ratio of link text to non-link text in comments.

Emily January 29, 2009 at 10:26 am

My experience, which has largely been in big cities, is that people are scared. People are aware, and people feel helpless. How do you draw a people forward towards a carbon-neutral future that they can’t even imagine?

I think we really need some enticing imagery for a carbon-neutral future. Instead of the grim “DO THIS OR DIE”, perhaps interested parties would do well to put their imaginations to use to “create” what a carbon-neutral, low-energy future would look like. Small neighbourhoods with passivhaus’s, people riding bicycles, solar panels on people’s roofs, forests being replenished by agencies subsidized by the government.

I think if we could create an enticing image for a better future, rather than focus on the fire and brimstone of The Facts, perhaps people would respond more positively.

I’m not being critical here, I think the facts are crucially important, but if we’re talking about motivating people, I think presenting positive imagery with change, rather than negative imagery with no change, could possibly be more effective.

Milan January 29, 2009 at 10:34 am

Emily,

You are quite right that opportunity needs to be stressed as well. Recall the second of the two quotations above:

“The same folks need to get better at showing the public the opportunities and benefits of action. It’s about expanding the winner’s circle and making damn sure everybody in it, or potentially in it, knows about it.”

The biggest benefit of all is that, once we have made the transition to a low-carbon and renewable energy basis for society, we will be able to keep using it forever. This may be an expensive and difficult transition, but it is also a one-off progression into a new mode of societal operation.

That is, of course, a pretty abstract benefit with which to convince people. Showing how low-carbon industries and technologies can be personally beneficial is a lot more immediately accessible.

Emily January 29, 2009 at 10:40 am

In fact, I have been thinking about how popular projected images draw us forward. How when we become enamoured with a technology in Star Trek, we put millions of dollars behind creating it in real life, or how Robinson Crusoe served as a kind of reference book for the enlightenment, or how the bible has been preaching the End of Times forever, and the image is ingrained in people’s minds to the degree that it is accepted as a matter of course, an inevitability.

Milan January 29, 2009 at 10:42 am

Maybe the thing to do is start writing glamorous science fiction, based around zero-carbon technologies.

. January 29, 2009 at 10:55 am

The climate of our discontent
As meanningful as his presidency is, Obama will not act fast enough on the climate crisis
Posted by Ken Ward (Guest Contributor) at 10:03 AM on 29 Jan 2009

R.K. January 29, 2009 at 2:04 pm

One element that seems to arise out of this is the importance of scientific education for members of the general public. As such, perhaps it is unwise to let students opt out of it so early. While it makes sense to allow people to choose which areas of knowledge they want to specialize in, the basic toolset that everybody gets needs to be sufficient for dealing with the situations we all encounter as citizens. Certainly, having a population that understands concepts like efficiency and the laws of thermodynamics would make it a lot harder to dupe people.

There are still a pathetic number of cases in which people are led to believe that a system can be more than 100% efficient.

Emily January 29, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Maybe the thing to do is start writing glamorous science fiction, based around zero-carbon technologies.

Sure.

One element that seems to arise out of this is the importance of scientific education for members of the general public.

I wonder if there’s a way to organize a cross-Canada group of volunteer professors or climatologists, or people in the know, who could spare a few hours a week for a couple of weeks to offer free courses on climate science, preparation for possible climactic disasters, and a guide on the transition to a low-carbon, or carbon-neutral economy.

Emily January 29, 2009 at 6:09 pm

climatic*

Milan January 29, 2009 at 7:17 pm

There aren’t that many climatologists around, and quality control would be an issue.

That said, mass education campaigns make sense as a medium-term strategy.

Emily January 29, 2009 at 8:08 pm

They wouldn’t need to be climatologists. The information for the sessions could be standardized. Grad students in earth and ocean science, or climate-related sciences, or even political science students who are in the know could give lectures too.

Even an open session just for Canadian policy-makers (across all departments) in Ottawa might make a small difference.

Tristan January 30, 2009 at 12:36 am

I’d agree that in general what we have is a deficit of imagination – we can’t imagine things different enough to fit solving climate change into it.

I’d really wish someone would check the video reference I made and respond to it. It really questions how much public opinion matters, if a majority of Bush supporters actually believed Bush was for the Kyoto accords.

Milan January 30, 2009 at 8:55 am

Some low-carbon societies are pretty easy to imagine, at least in the developed world: massive numbers of new nuclear power plants and renewable generation facilities, a new grid, electric transport in urban areas, much more efficient buildings, and biofuels for long distance travel, for instance.

It is conceivable that all that could be brought about without radical societal and political changes. Of course, it may not happen quickly enough.

. January 30, 2009 at 10:43 am

2009 Will Be a Year of Panic

From the fevered mind of Bruce Sterling and his alter-ego, Bruno Argento, a consideration of things ahead

“Clearly the millions of people embracing fundamentalism like to make up their own facts.

Standards of scientific proof and evidence no longer compel political and social allegiance. This is not a return to the bedrock of faith — it’s an algorithm for ontological anarchy. By attacking empiricism, the world is discarding all of the good reasons to believe that anything is real.

If science is discredited, why should mere politics have any intellectual rigor? Just cobble together a crazy-quilt mix-and-match ideology, like Venezuelan Bolivarism or Russia’s peculiar mix of spies, oil, and Orthodoxy. Go from the gut — all tactics, no strategy — making up the state of the world as you go along! Stampede wildly from one panic crisis to the next. Believe whatever is whispered. Hide and conceal whatever you can. Spy on the phone calls, emails, and web browsing of those who might actually know something.”

. January 30, 2009 at 10:44 am

“The climate. People still behave as if it’s okay. Every scientist in the world who isn’t the late Michael Crichton knows that it’s not. The climate is in terrible shape; something’s gone wrong with the sky. The bone-chilling implications haven’t soaked into the populace, even though Al Gore put together a PowerPoint about it that won him a Nobel. Al was soft-peddling the problem.

It’s become an item of fundamentalist faith to maintain that the climate crisis is a weird leftist hoax. Yet, since the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, an honest fear of the consequences will prove hard to repress. Since the fear has been methodically obscured, its emergence from the mists of superstition will be all the more powerful. Unlike mere shibboleths of finance, this is a situation that’s objectively terrifying and likely to remain so indefinitely.”

Milan January 30, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Here’s an opportunity story:

The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States.

Wind industry jobs jumped to 85,000 in 2008, a 70% increase from the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday from the American Wind Energy Association. In contrast, the coal industry employs about 81,000 workers.”

Tristan January 30, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I have just the smallest sense that working for wind power would be more pleasant than working in a coal mine.

Milan February 3, 2009 at 4:57 pm
. February 5, 2009 at 11:36 am

U.S. Energy Secretary: Calif. Farms in Peril Over Warming
2009-02-04 07:14am

“I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen,” Chu said. “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California,” adding, “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.”

Anon May 10, 2009 at 11:34 pm

There was a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode involving climate change. “A Matter of Time,” the ninth episode in season five.

Anon May 10, 2009 at 11:36 pm

The episode is not very realistic. It portrays the full effect of adding CO2 as happening almost instantly.

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