Monday, February 22, 2010

Why we lost

Those of us on the side of the debate who believe:

1.) the earth is warming;
2.) this warming is caused by increasing CO2;
3.) this increase in CO2 is being caused by human activity; and
4.) this warming will be bad for us and for many species;

have lost the debate, at least in the short term, and that may well mean that we have lost it for the long term - at least for the sake of the suffering of many people and many animals.

Why did we lose?

People often talk about people like Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, and wonder why we cannot come up with climate science communicators of their calibre. The problem here is not really to do with the calibre of the people - there are some excellent communicators of climate science; you do not have to look far to find them. The problem is to do with the comparative difficulty of explaining and selling - yes, it is about selling -cosmology, evolution and climate science.

Cosmology and evolution can both in their own ways be inspiring. They are answers to deep questions at the core of what it means to be human. They are able to be built as powerful and, more importantly, positive myths - even more powerful because they are true. Who has not looked up at the stars in wonder? Who has not thought about the diversity of life on this planet of ours and wondered where it came from? With these powerful stories as a base, a skilled communicator can move the world.

But climate science does not connect with humanity in the same fashion. We are not the end point in the story - we are star stuff and we are an endpoint of billions of years of the evolutionary process, but we are not 'climate stuff'. There is no place in the climate story for humans ... except as the villains of the piece. And there is the nub. Humans do not want to be the villains. We want to identify with the good guys; we want to be inspired.

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