Now We’re Talking!

Another batch of private emails from climate scientists has been leaked/hacked/stolen/whatever. These ones, though, are very different than the last.

It’s a thread of emails from the NAS, and these guys are mad. They are mad about vested interests skewing the discussion. They are mad that journalists have sat and lapped it right up without checking their facts. They are mad that the public is suddenly more confused than ever about a field of science that is more united than ever.

They want to get hundreds of scientists to sign a declaration that yes, the anthropogenic combustion of fossil fuels is still causing the Earth to warm, and print it in newspapers like the New York Times, using only NAS money. They want to start a prime time science program on PBS. They want to have dozens of public lectures communicating climate science. They want a concise assessment report by the NAS written in layman’s terms. They want a nonprofit group to bridge communication between scientists and the public. They want “nothing short of a massive publicity campaign to educate the citizenry about what our best science is saying and why.”

“We will need funds to make something happen,” says Paul Falkowski, and by February 27th, about 15 NAS scientists had pledged $1000 each, out of their own pockets.

“How can we sit back while many of our colleagues and science as a whole is under attack?” writes Paul Ehrlich.

William Jury describes public presentations he’s given since the CRU hack, and how a common question is, “If the recent charges by anti-warming people aren’t true, why is nobody coming forth to prove it to us?”

And why not? All of us here have done our part, but it’s still not enough. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s felt pretty powerless over the past few months. It’s incredibly obvious, to those who have all the context, that the theory of AGW is as rock-solid as ever. But truth is not enough, not when we’re up against the most effective spin machine in history. I feel like no matter how much work I put into the communication of real science, this machine will always be ten steps ahead.

Reading this string of emails gave me the most hope I’ve felt in months that we might actually be able to steer public opinion in a more accurate direction, so that we can get to work on fixing this problem. It was exhilarating to read that so many scientists are ready and willing to mobilize public communication when we need it the most. I wanted to jump up from the computer and wave my arms around and shout in joy. If I hadn’t been in the school library, I probably would have.

There has long been a stigma against communication in science – for example, Stephen Schneider faced demeaning remarks from his colleagues in the 70s for even speaking to the newspapers about his work. Couple this with the big difference between these two sides fighting for public opinion: one academic, the other political/industrial. When our academic institutions get money, they’ll spend it on research, not on public communication……while the lobby groups and oil companies are hard at work on advertising like this. (Worth a watch, it’s hilarious.)

The amount of public communication and education proposed by the NAS scientists is enormous, but it’s never been more justified than now.

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10 thoughts on “Now We’re Talking!

  1. Science needs to be communicated better. So the plans laid out in the emails are a good sign. We need to get science on TV, the internet and books. Explained in a way that is palatable to all.

  2. Kate, could you get a message to Paul Ehrlich, Schneider and the others in these hacked/leaked emails (I’m hoping you might have access to their email addresses) telling them to plug Greg Craven’s way of communicating with the public.

    As you know, it’s probably far more effective at getting through to ordinary people than a high falutin’ scientist saying “trust me”… We, who were associated with the book, were hoping that it would have “gone viral” but so far this is not happening.

  3. Last time Paul Ehrlich put his money on the line for environmental issues, he lost a bet with Julian Simon about the future of metals prices.

  4. I’m still somewhat pessimistic. Why? Because most people are still merely talking about what should be done. Instead of, well, actually doing something.

    There are, of course, isolated cases where someone actually went out and did something, and succeeded:

    (1) There’s Tim Lambert’s recent debate against Monckton, which can be said to be a success because none of the usual ‘fair and balanced’ inactivist outlets dare to report on it.

    (2) The recent move to put John Cook’s “Skeptical Science” on an iPhone is another example.

    (3) The Guardian‘s recent exposé of the dubious procedure behind the Institute of Physics submission to the UK Parliament on “Climategate” is yet another.

    We need more of the same — lots and lots more. And we need it right now. Plans for non-profits and stuff are nice, but meanwhile, we need to start doing stuff already, rather than talking about doing stuff.

  5. Sometimes Frankbi I’m amazed in the UK what is being done!
    Not so much on the education front, but plenty more on infrastructure etc.

    It’s slow progress, but it is still impressive that anything is done at all given the negative attitudes expressed in the media in the last few months.

    This week in particular has seen the announcement of 1.2GW of tidal and wave energy farms in Scotland, along with today Nissan committing to build the electric Leaf car in Newcastle. The UK is showing a lead when it comes to marine and offshore wind energy.

    At the end of last year we had the announcements of some 30GW of planned offshore wind farms. I know a lot of environmentalists get frustrated with the slow pace. But the total amount of renewable energy plants of all kinds in the UK, planned for the next 10 to 20 years, far exceeds the pace of post WWII expansion in UK electricity generation, or anything before it.

    It’s going to take at least a decade before a lot of this becomes reality. But 5 years ago I was having discussions about this sort of thing at it was purely theoretical.

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