I know what you’re probably thinking, “Here we go, another science communicator trying to change people’s minds that don’t agree with them.” I can assure you that’s not my intention. I want to highlight an issue that has allowed so many people with no background in a complex scientific field to come to the conclusion that their opinion matters. SPOILER ALERT- whether you think Climate Change is real, or a hoax, does not matter. Let me elaborate…
There have been many polarizing issues similar to Climate Change throughout the ages that have divided many a family at the Christmas dinner table. Some of these issues include Smoking, Lead, Vaccines, GMOs, Asbestos etc. However, all these issues usually have one thing in common- they were/are making businesses and their employees money, and we all know that almost everyone has got their price.
In respect to fairness, and rightfully so many in opposition to the environmental movement ask “What about organisations like Greenpeace and stars like Leonardo DiCaprio? They’re probably making money and gaining publicity for their actions” and to that I’d say “Yes. I agree with you.” Leo gets to make a film and be in everyone’s face, and Greenpeace get to refrain from cutting back on staff and growing their organisation.
We’ve seen time and time again organisations and celebrities yell from the rooftops at politicians and society to look at what the Science says on Climate Change, only to turn around and contradict their very own actions when it comes to another issue like GMOs or Vaccines. But I’ll get to that later in the post.
When I was doing research at UNSW I approached a PhD student named Cameron who was an atmospheric scientist. I asked him “What’s the one thing you say to someone who thinks that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a bunch of baloney?” – not knowing that his response would completely change my outlook on debating, and also science communication. He sat there looking at his computer screen, and then turned towards me in his squeaky chair and responded “We’ve all moved on from that debate. We’re now concerned with the finer details; like how Climate Change is going to affect this or that coastal region, or this specific type of weather system?”
Cameron’s comment stuck with me more than any lecture, celebrity endorsed documentary series, or advertisement. This was the first time that I realised that the experts had moved so far away from the simple black and white issue of ‘Is Climate Change real or not?’ and had left the laymen to wrestle with each other in the muddy waters of scientific illiteracy and the misrepresentation of studies via the cherry picking of headlines and a single graph.
So if the scientists have moved on then why are we still debating this Climate Change on social media sites all over the globe? Why is it that we need celebrities to tell us what scientists have known for decades? In short, I don’t know. However, it does reflect very poorly on us as a society, in that we would rather listen to a celebrity (or read this blog post) than listen to an actual scientist explain their field of expertise. An area of study that they have spent years meticulously looking through countless amounts of data- forming a better insight into the beauty and complexity of one specific issue. Yet, we as a society are still not satisfied. We need Justin Bieber to tell us to put down our mobile devices when driving, P-Diddy telling us to ‘Vote or Die’, or Bono to inform us of world poverty.
This is exactly what has happened with the issue of Climate Change. Many have pushed their responsibility to critically think onto opinionated news presenters, activists and other celebrities. Many have not bothered to improve their own understanding and just get the information fed to them from organisations or people who often go against the scientific consensus. It does not matter what John Oliver, Fox News, or The New York Times tells you about Climate Change. That will never change the reality of the issue. For example, if your name is published in a newspaper incorrectly- it doesn’t mean that your name has suddenly changed from Peter to Peta. You know based on your birth certificate and your parents that your name is Peter. So then why base your acceptance of climate change on what a newspaper, blogger, radio host writes? The more the public demands factual and evidence based information from the media the sooner they will provide it.
It is not uncommon for a person to turn around and say that the IPCC (the largest body of knowledge in relation to Climate Change) is corrupt. This is usually the case with conspiracy theorists; The Anti-Vaxxers have the CDC and WHO, the anti-GMO activists have Monsanto, and the Apollo Moon Landing deniers have NASA. These claims will always be a cry of desperation from one trying to hold on to a belief in the face of strong counter evidence.
However, all hope is not lost for the layman wanting to yell from the rooftops about Climate Change. There are still many issues we need to debate and discuss, such as mitigation, the funding of research, the level of emission reductions, alternative energy technologies and how we best deal with the information that experts are presenting to the public.
This is where your opinion does matter.