So it turns out we aren’t as think as we smart we are. Longtime environmental scientist/advocate/UBC prof David Suzuki ran some focus groups seeking to find out just what people actually know about global warming, and whether or not they care.
Suzuki, a well-known face north of the 49th parallel from several natural-history and environmental programs he’s hosted on the CBC, is worried. On one hand, a majority in his groups accepted that global warming was a serious problem. On the other hand, though, most folks’ understanding of what caused global warming was dominated by misconceptions. Many believe the ozone hole lets too much sun in, and that extra sun is warming the earth. Some thought it was also caused by cars, or aerosol cans, or planes, or something else. (Did anybody say spotted owls? Because that was my guess.)
Why does it matter? Well, those who don’t understand the root of the problem can’t help fix it, nor can they hold politicians accountable for good or bad policies. He urges people to spread the word on what it is (too much CO2) and what it isn’t (it’s not the ozone hole, or oil spills, or the decline of FM radio, or the rapture).
The one point he misses (and I think lots of others miss it too) is that most of the global-warming messages are absorbed by those who already care about environmental issues. That’s fine; we greens could always be smarter, and in the absence of any political party support (ahem, Democrats), every pep-talk counts. But the real need is to push the message outside of environmental groups and beyond the safe boundaries of like-minded people. When the Economist* runs an article portraying global warming as a serious problem, it’s more valuable to the cause than 20 articles in Sierra or Mother Jones. When CNN (or even Fox News, one day) takes the same perspective, that’s the most effective of all.
Suzuki’s commentary, on ENN.com, is here. He’s a regular contributor; check out the other posts too. Also, check out his foundation’s Nature Challenge. The rest of the site is solid, too — good information, with effective visual presentation and a minimum of density that could turn off any casual visitor.
*kudos to this mag for following up its special report on global warming with two science-section stories on green tech the following week. Here’s hoping the editorial board has made a long-term commitment to keep this topic on the journalistic front burner.