By Kristin Marshall
A few weeks ago, in response to my first post on this blog, I received the following message from an old high school friend (printed with permission):
I saw your post about your ecological blog. Curious, what is your thought on global warming. I’ve never asked anybody, so this is really just a random question. I’ve not done any research on my own. Are we (humans) really slowly making the earth’s temperature increase, and is this a bad thing?
I had two simultaneous responses after reading this. First: wow, it’s awesome that people are reading this blog! Second: Groan. It’s time to have “the talk”… AGAIN. I think I might loathe the climate change talk almost as much as parents loathe the sex talk—you know you have to do it, but you really don’t want to. And, YOU certainly don’t want to bring it up, but you want your kid to know that it’s ok for them to bring it up whenever they want. Super awkward.
This is how I often feel when talking about science with non-scientists. Don’t get me wrong; I think communicating outside of the scientific community is really important. But I still need more practice, and it isn’t always comfortable. First, I feel like I have to walk a fine line—yes, I’m a scientist, but that doesn’t mean I’m an expert on all things science, and I don’t want to present myself as something I’m not. Second, I don’t want to bore people with details they don’t care about. But, I also want them to care about the things that I care about, so there is a certain amount of persuasion to be done.
I’m sure all of our ecologist/scientist readers have been sitting around the dinner table at some point and been subjected to the question from Aunt Edna—what’s all this global warming about anyways? Aren’t we in the middle of a blizzard?? In situations like these, it can be really hard to remember that the things we, as ecologists, take as fact (e.g. global climate change) and think about every day, are things that other people (outside our science bubble) don’t know about, don’t care about, or don’t accept.
It’s easy to be incredulous of people that are uninformed about or skeptical of global warming. It’s easy to blame them, our education system, or the media for the lack of widespread public acceptance of what 97% of the scientific community considers fact. Clearly, SOMEBODY isn’t doing their job here. It’s much easier to place blame on others than it is to accept some of the responsibility for the mis- and dis- information about climate change ourselves. But, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here at the ECE blog – take responsibility for making science accessible to everyone. So, dear readers, the buck stops here.
Communicating the facts of global warming can be complicated because the audience is complicated—there are at least three big reasons people don’t believe climate change is a huge problem for planet earth. Perhaps you’re just uninformed. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, but don’t remember back to your basic science classes from school and don’t feel like you can judge the data for yourself. Or, maybe you know a ton about climate change but you’re skeptical because you’ve also heard climate change deniers given a lot of airtime on cable news networks (or even in the Senate). Or, maybe you agree that global climate change is happening, but you don’t think it matters because you think it doesn’t affect you directly since you live in, say, Chicago.
We’ll target each of these groups in our series of posts. Later today, we’ll cover global warming for beginners and the best pieces of evidence that the global climate is changing. Tomorrow, we’ll focus on addressing the skeptics, and share our experiences of what works and what doesn’t. We’ll wrap up the series with a post that focuses on the apathetic crowd and try to convince you why you really should care.
Our goals with these posts are two-fold. First, we want to put some information out there for our non-scientist readers (hi, Mom and Dad) at a time when you may have some influence on environmental policies in your local area (election day is Nov 6– no matter what your beliefs are, please VOTE). Second, we hope our posts and the great websites we link to will be a resource for our fellow ecologists. As the holidays get closer, it may be helpful to brush up your arsenal of arguments (ahem, I mean tactics? facts? strategies?) to prepare for the inevitable holiday conversations with Aunt Edna around the turkey.
So stay tuned over the next few days, and as always, let us know what you think.