Monday, 7 October 2013

Can we move on?

People argue a lot online about climate change and AGW. The 'Public Acceptance' of AGW fluctuates somewhat, but in broader terms, a majority accept that AGW is a reality and 'Something Must Be Done' about it, whilst a minority (which varies in size depending on variables such as demographics, geography, etc. but is not insubstantial) challenge this 'Conventional Wisdom'. I suppose many climate blogs exist precisely because their authors see a necessity/opportunity in engaging with what is potentially a sizeable audience of the 'General Public' and expressing/espousing/championing/defending their own point of view on the subject.

And now we have got stuck. The opportunity for developing a better understanding of the subject is more or less non-existent. You see, people just don't listen. Part of the fun of the blogosphere is that we can, as bloggers or commenters or trolls, have our voices heard. So much of the interaction between people is reduced to SHOUTING or having a dig at another (relatively) anonymous, absent person who can't really punch us because we're seven thousand miles apart and anyway he/she is an idiot...

The challenge that 'scientists must/should engage more actively' (or similar) in order to sway the balance of Public Opinion is commonly touted, but, honestly, there are a lot of scientists doing a lot of this and it doesn't seem to make a lot of difference.

The politicisation of climate science hasn't helped. It tends to polarise  - by design - discussion, turning it into (at best) Rhetoric and Sophistry or (at worst) Polemic. It has to be recognised that sophistry can be influential - people can be and are swayed by smooth arguments and clever manipulation of the facts. Polemic is just shouting, it frequently confuses and upsets people, but probably doesn't change their thoughts, opinions or inclinations, unless they are so frightened by the bullying that they simply withdraw.

And of course this suits The Media very well. The essence of News is conflict. The communication of AGW has firmly been been framed in terms of 'pro' and 'anti' and we, the masses, naturally tend to join in on the side with which we most readily associate (Us versus Them). There's no point in blaming the media for doing this - it is in the nature of the beast itself to be thus - but that doesn't mean conversely that we should sit idly by while the flim-flam men and snake-oil sellers rip off our neighbours...we should (and often do) speak up and expose these people for what they are.

All of which leaves us in a dark place; the possibility that no matter what you do or say, that majority/minority is unlikely to change its mind in less than a generation, at least. There will always be a differencing, the problem with it is that, as it stands, it encourages politicians and decision makers to believe that the status quo is an acceptable state of being, so that important, difficult, potentially world-effecting decisions do not actually have to be made; they can sit on the fence and fudge it, avoiding the risk of becoming unpopular and thereby losing their mandate.

Is there no hope? Of course, there is always hope (thanks, Pandora). I have a couple of ideas about how interaction between science and the public can move forward in such a way that we, the masses, can look at our own uncertainties/opinions/obsessions/prejudices and question them, that we can actually change our minds. And I'll give you a clue - it isn't via Pedagogy. More on this later.