by Judith Curry
As the global warming debate increases in its intensity we find both sides deeply entrenched, hurling accusations and lies at one another in an attempt to gain the upper hand. This divide within the scientific community has left the public wondering who can be trusted to provide them with accurate information and answers. – James Stafford
Earlier this week, I was interviewed by James Stafford of oil price.com: The Kardashians and Climate Change: Interview with Judith Curry. Excerpts:
Oilprice.com: You’ve talked a lot about the role of communication and public relations in the climate change debate. Where do scientists fail in this respect?
Judith Curry: Climate science communication hasn’t been very effective in my opinion. The dominant paradigm seems to be that a science knowledge deficit of the public and policy makers exists, which is exacerbated by the Koch-funded climate denial machine. This knowledge deficit then results in the public failing to act with the urgency that is urged by climate scientists.
This strategy hasn’t worked for a lot of reasons. The chief one that concerns me as a scientist is that strident advocacy and alarmism is causing the public to lose trust in scientists.
Oilprice.com: What is the balance between engagement with the public on this issue and propaganda?
Judith Curry: There are two growing trends in climate science communications – engagement and propaganda. Engagement involves listening and recognizes that communication is a two-way street. It involves collaboration between scientists, the public and policy makers, and recognizes that the public and policy makers don’t want to be told what to do by scientists. The other trend has been propaganda. The failure of the traditional model of climate science communication has resulted in more exaggeration and alarmism, appeals to authority, appeals to fear, appeals to prejudice, demonizing those that disagree, name-calling, oversimplification, etc.
There is a burgeoning field of social science research related to science communications. Hopefully this will spur more engagement and less propaganda.
Oilprice.com: You’ve also talked about the climate change debate creating a new literary genre. How is this ‘Cli-Fi’ phenomenon contributing to the intellectual level of the public debate and where do you see this going?
Judith Curry: I am very intrigued by Cli-Fi as a way to illuminate complex aspects of the climate debate. There are several sub-genres emerging in Cli-Fi – the dominant one seems to be dystopian (e.g. scorched earth). I am personally very interested in novels that involve climate scientists dealing with dilemmas, and also in how different cultures relate to nature and the climate. I think that Cli-Fi is a rich vein to be tapped for fictional writing.
Oilprice.com: How would you describe the current intellectual level of the climate change debate?
Judith Curry: Well, the climate change debate seems to be diversifying, as sociologists, philosophers, engineers and scientists from other fields enter the fray. There is a growing realization that the UNFCCC/IPCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change/Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has oversimplified both the problem and its solution. The wicked climate problem is growing increasingly wicked as more and more dimensions come into play. The diversification helps with the confirmation bias and ‘groupthink’ problem.
Hopefully this diversification will lead to greater understanding and policies that are more robust to the deep uncertainties surrounding the climate change problem.
Oilprice.com: You’ve also talked about the “Kardashian Factor” … Can you expand on this?
Judith Curry: The Kardashian Factor relates to a scientist’s impact in social media. There is a growing disconnect between scientists who impact within the ivory tower, as measured by publications and citations, versus those scientists that are tweeting and blogging. While some of the smartest people on the planet are university professors, most of them simply don’t matter in today’s great debates. The use of the term ‘Kardashian Factor’ is designed to marginalize social media impact as shallow popularity.
Social media is changing the world, and academia hasn’t quite figured out what to do about it. On issues relevant to public debate, social media is rivaling published academic research in its impact. Social media is leveling the playing field and democratizing science. The skills required to be successful in social media include good writing/communication skills and the abilities to synthesize, integrate, and provide context. Those who are most successful at social media also have a sense of humor and can connect to broader cultural issues – they also develop a trustworthy persona. These are non-trivial skills, and they are general traits of people that have impact.
Oilprice.com: Does the current debate seem to lack ‘layers’ that get lost in the politics and socio-economics?
Judith Curry: The debate is polarized in a black-white yes-no sort of way, which is a consequence of oversimplifying the problem and its solution. Although you wouldn’t think so by listening to the Obama administration on the topic of climate change, the debate is becoming more complex and nuanced. Drivers for the growing number of layers in the climate debate are the implications of the 21st century hiatus in warming, the growing economic realities of attempting to transition away from fossil fuels, and a growing understanding of the clash of values involved.
Oilprice.com: How does the media take advantage of every major — or even semi-major — weather event to make dire climate forecasts or support one or another polarized side of this debate? Can you give us some recent examples?
Judith Curry: The impact of extreme weather events in raising concern about global warming became apparent following Hurricane Katrina. The psychology of immediate and visible loss is far more salient than hypothetical problems in the next century. Hence extreme weather events have been effectively used in propaganda efforts. This is in spite of the assessment of the IPCC that doesn’t find much evidence linking extreme weather events to global warming, other than heat waves.
Oilprice.com: Where should energy fit into the climate change debate, and how much of a concern to the climate is the energy resources drive? Does anyone really know?
Judith Curry: It has never made sense to me for climate change to be the primary driver for energy policy. Even if we believe the climate models, nothing that we do in terms of emissions reductions will have much of an impact on climate until the late 21st century. Energy poverty is a huge issue in much of the world, and there is no obvious way to reconcile reducing CO2 emissions with eradicating energy poverty. Again, this conundrum is evidence of the wickedness of the climate change problem.
My previous interview with oil price.com can be found at The IPCC May Have Outlived its Usefulness – An Interview with Judith Curry.