Communicating Climate Change: "The Glenn Beck Approach"

Greg Craven, of youtube fame (google him), gave a speech, or more accurately, a rant, at the AGU conference in December about becoming more effective at communicating Climate Science to the public.  Once he arrived onstage, Craven changed from his planned topic.


In a nutshell, he said climate scientists should stop trying to present climate change "scientifically" and start talking about it PASSIONATELY- as in, "if we don't do anything now, we are screwed!". 


Essentially, take the "Glenn Beck" emotional approach - but using science to back it up.


Here is the first paragraph from Craven's rant:


"This is not a talk. This is a primal scream. For help. For salvation. For the lives of my children. And I will not apologize. I will not yield. I will charge the stage and scream my message if I must. I am in the zone. I am over the edge. I am gone. I am enlightened. I am maniacal. I am insane. I am terrified at what I have just become. All of my life has been to serve this single moment. And you may need to forcibly remove me to the hospital, screaming like a madman. But you will not stop me. For I have revelation to bring."


Further on, he says:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And I'm sorry you have to hear this, but it's best to come from a friend. You have become insane. You have brought them information when they needed emotion. What you must bring them now, as a citizen, as a father, as a mother, as an aunt, as a grandparent, who knows better than anyone else what the physical world will bring in the future, you must give them yourself.


Craven's rant continues here


I follow a number of climate science blogs and found more than a few climate scientists that agree with Craven - both on the impact of climate change, and the need to ratchet up, WAAY UP, the communication efforts - Get Fired Up!.


I am not a scientist, but I do read about climate science and stay up to date through the blogs/podcasts that I follow.


Two questions:

  • Is Craven right about how to communicate the impact of climate change?
  • Are we really as screwed as Craven is indicating?

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For some people, Craven is correct.  Those people react best to emotional context.  There is another contingent that are turned off by emotional presentations.  Good science has little to do with politics, and Craven is discussing politics, not science.


     Is man made (i.e. anthropomorphic)  climate change really as ominous as as Craven suggests?

I don't know.  A  majority of those who have studied the data seem to believe it is a very serious problem.

Nevertheless, I find myself skeptical because of analogous "sky is falling" situations in the past that have happily simply dissipated.  (One example, in the 1950s most scientific organizations, including the National Science Foundation, agreed that a population crisis was certain within the next 25-40 years, there being no way that massive famine could be avoided.  Then the Monsanto introduction of triploid rice increased the worlds grain production by a factor of 2.5x in a period of 10 years!).

Skeptical though I am, if forced I have to go with the majority who are expert in the field - because skepticism is an emotion, driven by gut instead of cerebral cortex.


Crystal Balls remain rather cloudy, even in today's world of 8 core CPUs.


Do you think the NSF population/famine prediction of the 50's is an equivalent comparison to scientific consensus on climate change today?  Would you not tend to give today's doomsday predictions more credibility to those of 60 years ago? 


I get that we can not be sure about the consequences of climate change (although I could argue that we can by VERY sure that we will have climate change - it's called physics), but should we not at least take out a modicum of insurance to limit the potentital for catastrophe?

Your initial question related to the effectiveness of reason versus emotion in convincing the public of disastrous climate change. Now it seems that you've changed the focus to you trying to convince others.

I'm not sure if the 1950s era prediction of famine was more or less validated than today's climate change concerns. The NSF seemed quite certain that wide spread famine was inevitable in the near future, stating that there was no possible way that China's huge population could survive it. Climate change is very complicated and there are quite possibly more poorly understood or unknown variables related to predicting it accurately. I agree that climate change is inevitable. The climate has always changed. I'm typing this in central Ohio at a spot that was covered by approximately one mile of ice 40,000 years ago. Near a house I'm building in the Colorado hills, dinosaur bones were found last year from a period where that now dry 8500 foot altitude spot was a low lying tropical wetland.

There is a great deal of evidence that suggests that atmospheric carbon released from fossil remains by human activity is a significant factor in an almost 2 degree average temperature increase in the last 100 years. It is far from obvious that we can do much about that. We believe that a factor of three reduction in CO2 emissions would not be enough to change this trend yet the raising living standards in China and India are bringing 2.5 billion new consumer/CO2 producers on-line. In 1950, the world population was somewhere near 2.8 billion - then an all time high. Today its around 7.5 billion and headed towards an projected 9 billion in 2050. By far, the single greatest burden a person can place on the environment is having a child. The resources consumer by one middle class first world person's life are enormous. Given all of this, the best policy could be to adjust where we live to new weather conditions - it may not be effectively within our power to significantly slow climate change.
Trying to slow or reverse climate change will be enormously expensive. Since our wealth and other resources are limited, expending that effort to reduce climate change will reduce the resources available for other pursuits, i.e. it will reduce our standard of living in other areas. Because of that, we should try our best to optimize how we spend those resources.

There are some things each of us can do if we feel the need. The boring, seemingly trivial stuff is quite cost effective - things like reducing the use of incandescent lights, gas-guzzler vehicles, adding insulation to our homes are cost-effective and guaranteed to work.
If one is really serious, he could become a vegetarian, since raising meat use lots of energy and releases huge amounts of methane gas. Methane is 30 times more of a greenhouse gas than CO2, on a pound-for-pound basis.

Insurance is always a compromise. We buy it and hope that we're wasting our money and will never need to use it. Every year several hundred people in the US die in their bedrooms from fires. A fire extinguisher costs $12, a folding window ladder less than $100, yet probably few of us spend that small amount because we feel the probability of needing them is small (and it is - but when we need them, we REALLY need them).

Emotional rants tend to be appropriate to the Glenn Beck diminishing audience but I don't think they have legs with people that actually think.
The general population and (maybe) the political “leaders” will react when, and only when, the shit hits the fan (if it does). Our ability to believe that disasters won't happen so there is no need to prepare will bite us in the ass – as it has done before.

I suspect the only way people will pay attention to him is if he does a lot of drugs, moves in with 2 porn stars / goddesses, and goes on talk shows telling everyone he is a god.  It might work.   I personally suspect the earth we are leaving the next generations will be a much less pleasant place, biologically less diverse, more hazardous to humans and other life, but I don't think the human race has the will to change its direction.  (what a pessimist)
If we're going to use "the Glenn Beck approach", we should compare those who don't believe climate change is occurring to Hitler and show how the Global Warming mythists are trying to take over the world by killing most of the population.
where's the street level in that? must be nice living up on the gold throne of boringville; what part of pollution from petrol does a person not understand? no breeze, no breath with the disgusting biproduct of smoke and tainted ground... oil, petrol, booze, bad modified crap food, chemical laden tabacco, 'x100' soda pop your brain into submission... yeah there's issues and denial is hard to let go of especially when there's $$ involved with keeping the denial strong.




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