Our Benevolent Seed Overlords have published an article by ScienceBlogling Chris Mooney about the need to reframe the global warming debate in language that non-scientists are more likely to respond to positively. While I don’t disagree (who would argue that scientists should intentionally alienate people?), I wonder if that’s the real problem. I would argue the problem is that the solution to the problem hasn’t been clearly defined.
I’ve learned from my work on antibiotic resistance that if you simply state a problem and don’t provide an answer to the problem, people get frustrated. After all, without a solution, all you have done is someone one more damn thing to worry about–and it can’t be fixed.
But wait Mad Biologist, there’s lots of proposed solutions. That’s the problem. Not only is there a cacophony of solutions, but there is often serious disagreement as to whether they would be effective (e.g., ethanol, wind power, CO2 sequestration). People get frustrated and just move on to something else. I don’t think the problem is ‘framing’ as much as it is the lack of a coherent strategy.
Wait, are you trying to suggest that substance is just as important as style? I don’t understand!
Despite the Cacophany, in reality the solution to the CO2 emissions can be simply stated as:
Reduce, Recycle, Eliminate.
Things such as hybrids, reduce but not eliminate.
Things such Wind, Solar, Eliminate emissions.
The third way is recycle, that is we only release CO2 that has been taken out of the atomsphere in the first place. Ethanol is such a solution.(With some what caveats) The plants remove CO2 from atomsphere, when they are processed into fuel, it release the same CO2 back into the atomsphere.
Certainly Recycle is more preferable to Reduce, and Eliminate is more preferable to Recycle.
I think as a slogan and a summary of the strategy to controlling CO2 emissions, Reduce, Recycle, Eliminate is pretty good
This is a reply to Jianying’s comments:
Solar and wind power are great for eliminating emissions, but they are horribly inefficient, and of course, if we’re talking wind power, could potentially make serious alterations to local ecology.
Hybrids are not the end-all solution because they still leave us with CO2, after eliminating all of the other greenhouse gases.
Recycling CO2 has potential, but I’d be extremely cautious about the move to ethanol fuel. The reason for this caution is that corn is an important agricultural crop for animal feed as well as food source. Lets face it, it’s more profitable to grow corn for fuel than it is for food. To supply “most” of the kyoto-retifying country’s cars would mean a significant drop in corn as a food source, and if I remember right, would put some countries in short supply.
The problem with reduction of CO2 emission is not the matter of reduce, recycle and eliminate. It is the fact that sometimes it doesn’t matter what people do, the end result is that it didn’t make a difference. Just look at the figures: the Chinese can produce, in excess, the same amount of emission in 3~4 months as Canadians can produce in total in a year. People get tired of hearing about what they can do to make a difference because it doesn’t – global warming is still a problem after, ohh, a good 5 years of debates on the issues, and countless solutions being put on the table, each of them more economically insane than the ones before.
Short term, most of the solutions put forth look economically insane. Long term, I think people will look back at the world’s political leadership from the 1970’s until now as having the same kind of hubris as the crew of the Titanic. The current US political administration is starting to admit there is a problem, but only after 6 years of denial and cutting funding to study the issues. Yet it’s been common knowledge since the 1970’s that this thing called global warming was at least a possibility. Unfortunately, few people want to look beyond next year’s annual report at the long term economic consequences of not doing anything about global warming. I am highly critical of what the Bush administration has done to avoid doing anything, but, more broadly, the failure to come to terms with global warming is a failure of GLOBAL political leadership.
At the risk of being a lil’ stinker, KC’s response highlights the point of the post…