People tell me things.
Sometimes I think it’s because I must have been born with a “you can trust me” aura. Maybe I look empathetic. Whatever the reason, the upshot is that strangers have always felt comfortable talking to me, sharing opinions or intimate details about their lives. Usually within about a minute of meeting me. This means that 1) I never had the “embarrassed” phase as a teenager. I’d heard it all by age nine. 2) Every time I travel it’s an exercise in sociological research.
Take the gruff fellow I met at the gas station yesterday. He was filling up his quad cab pickup, and very incensed over the cost. Bent my ear for fifteen minutes, on all things related to gas prices. “Global warming is a crock,” he huffed, “it’s effing freezing out here!”
That, for me, neatly summed up how scientists and environmentalists have blown the climate change debate.
The message for the past 20 odd years, you see, has been that we need to reduce pollution because it’s one of the chief causes of climate change. This message has failed for the following reasons:
The Scientific Method – Scientists fight amongst themselves, in public, over details. This would be fine if we had a scientifically literate public. This problem isn’t helped by the fact that this week’s science reporter was last week’s lifestyles editor. Consider the following scientific discovery headline cycle:
* Researchers suggest guar gum may possibly improve blood circulation if ingested on Sundays
* Studies link guar gum to improved blood circulation
* Better blood with guar?
* Chewing gum: Does it make you live longer?
* Major chewing gum manufacturers investigating guar, debating new product lines
* Cola bottlers announce plans for guar supplements in your favourite fizzy
* Nation gone guar crazy!
* Scientist at another institute says original guar study flawed; author forgot to carry the one
* Guar.com launched
* Original guar study author claims critic’s mother wore army boots. Did not forget to carry one
* Guar industry analysts worried
* Guar critic says did too, did too forget to carry the one
* Another new study: Guar linked to heart disease?
* Guar.com folds, 3500 IT employees now seeking work in India
* Year in review — Remember guar?
Vested Interests — The people concerned about climate change are researchers, volunteers, and environmentalists — you know, people who are happy to have enough spare change to be able to afford a fair-trade coffee sometimes. Critics of climate change research tend to be car makers, oil companies, and manufacturers – you know, people who are happy to have enough spare change to be able to afford a coffee producing country now and then.
Whither the weather? – The average non-scientific Joe on the street has difficulty believing long term predictions about climate, when we still can’t reliably predict if it will rain in Philadelphia next Thursday.
So what *should* the message have been? Air quality.
It’s personal: We all breathe. It’s scientific: We’ve got instruments that can tell us exactly what we’re breathing in. It’s immediate and health related: What was that about asthma rates again? It’s tangible: Even guys in pickup trucks know when they can see, smell, and practically chew the smog.
Plus it’s really, really tough to spin the benefits of smog: “Just look at that brown sky! Doesn’t it just make you want to… to… oh, never mind.”
One last ponderable: In most of North America, it’s now socially unacceptable to light up a cigarette. But it’s still okay to fire up a smoke stack.
I suppose I should be careful. Without these kinds of strange contrasts, I wouldn’t have any material for a column. And then I’d have to… ARGH!
Work for a living. Forget everything I just said! No, really…