Saturday, December 02, 2023

Opening channels of climate communication

We have a good-natured friend, a wildlife biologist from Charlo, who felt called upon to give a talk about climate change at the monthly meeting of one of our local political parties. He took this task very seriously, as he takes most things.

He spent months fine tuning a 20-minute PowerPoint that introduced the topic to around 30 people. He talked about the 19th century scientists who identified the theory of global warming. He talked about Exxon’s scientists in the 1980s affirming this theory and warning about warming temperatures.

With graphs and charts, he talked about the rapid growth of greenhouse gases over the last 30 years. And he demonstrated the direct consequences: mega-fires, warming rivers, drought, and more frequent weather extremes.

He talked about proposals to lessen greenhouse gas pollution and get us on the right track to facing – perhaps solving – the problem.

Then he paused and asked for questions. There were few questions and a lot of venting about not trusting our government. The leaders of the group, to their credit, emailed a copy of our friend’s PowerPoint to their whole database, accompanied by a document calling climate change a hoax.

“You are being lied to,” said the first sentence. Our friend, who writes science papers for a living, said every single argument in the accompanying document “has been shown to be faulty.”

What we have here in Lake County – and nationwide – are two competing stories, one filled with peer-reviewed facts, the other debunked conspiracy theories. Each of us must decide which to believe.

On one hand, there’s this tough story affecting the entire planet. There’s no escape.

Our friend used a medical analogy in his presentation. You were given a diagnosis that you have a disease that could kill you if you don’t get treatment. You decide to ask 100 specialists if the diagnosis was accurate. You get back 98 doctors who say, yes, it’s true. That’s the percentage of certainty among climate scientists that greenhouse gases are causing rising temperatures, which are causing the disasters we’re seeing.

These scientists also say that we have the money, the skilled workers, and the technologies to weaken climate change’s grip.

On the other hand, humans don’t like bad news. We will cling to information produced by the polluters. The polluters say we shouldn’t believe the lying scientists. It’s a hoax. It’s sunspots. It’s moon cycles. It’s a socialist plot to take your property! Don’t believe the message. Don’t trust the messenger. They’re out to get us.

We get to choose which story to believe. We encourage our community to choose on behalf of future generations. What kind of world do we want our future ancestors to experience 210 years from now? We are grateful for our wildlife biologist friend, who was willing to open channels of communication that are too often closed.

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