The percentage of people who believe in the science behind global warming is lower now than it was in 2006. Given the frigid temperatures and record snowfalls experienced throughout much of the country this winter, it’s likely that number may dip further in 2014. It’s clear that climate scientists have a growing public relations problem. To combat that problem, scientists who study global warming need to start communicating directly with the public; they need to go social.
It’s easy to see why there exists such skepticism concerning global warming. The science is based off of long-term warming models due to man-made emissions, and much like the proverbial frog in the pot of warming water who doesn’t notice that it’s slowly being boiled alive, we humans register our environment in real time and don’t notice the warming that’s occurring from year-to-year. We are creatures that gain perception through tactile experiences so if it’s cold enough outside to freeze the hair in our noses, don’t tell us the planet is warming.
In 2005, a Gallup poll showed that 65 percent of Americans believed global warming was happening and was mostly due to man-made emissions. In that same 2005 poll, three percent did not believe global warming was occurring and 29 percent were unsure. Flash forward to 2013 and though it has risen steadily from a 2010 low of 52 percent, only 62 percent of Americans believe global warming is occurring and mostly due to man-made emissions, with six percent not believing and 29 percent still unsure. To ensure that the number of people who believe global warming is happening continues to rise—or at the very least remains static—climate scientists need to explain their research directly to the public via social media sites.
This sentiment was argued in the most recent issue of Nature Climate Change by researchers from the University of Reading, the University of Bristol and the Met Office. Bristol’s Dr. Tamsin Edwards and his colleagues suggested that presenting climate change research directly to the public and having open conversations with them concerning global warming would be the best way to educate the public about the issue. They see the way in which the public currently receives the information second hand from media outlets as over-simplified and often polarizing.
Since Dr. James Hansen first proposed the notion of global warming to the U.S. Congress in 1988, the topic has been controversial to say the least. Much of that has to do with human nature. It’s understandable that we are skeptical of those who claim to know what’s right for us, but at the same time are not accessible to us; that doesn’t work well in a democracy. So climate scientists need to come to us and directly discuss global warming. The best way to do that is by using ubiquitous social media platforms. They need to get on Twitter and Facebook. They need to start their own public blogs via Tumblr and the like that can serve as an open forum for frank discussions that they take part in. They need to discuss their findings directly with the public and explain what the science behind climate change means in lay terms.
Why is this important? Because the more people who believe that global warming is happening and is largely due to man-made emissions, the better chance we have to make the changes needed that will ensure future generations will have a viable planet to live on. However, the changes that are needed may require that we change our lifestyles considerably, which will require a concerted discourse by people with opposing views.
For public opinion to sway considerably and for people to start understanding the science behind global warming, we need to stop hearing second-hand about research published in a journal that we either don’t have access to or likely wouldn’t comprehend the scientific jargon even if we did. Global warming scientists need to go social and educate the public in a person-to-person manner using social media platforms. They need to meet us on our level, since we can’t meet them on theirs.
Opinion By Scott Merrow