September 8, 2008

What’s Hotter Than Sarah Palin? Global Warming.


On August 23, I attended a panel discussion entitled: Communicating Energy and Climate Change Challenges: Is Anybody Listening? Well, other than the father of a newly-arrived CU student whose head was arched uncomfortably, it seemed, on the back of his chair with his mouth agape, at least this small crowd was. A young woman in front of me was studiously taking notes and the man next to me, hunched forward, chin propped on hands, had a similar expression to the teenager I saw last week trying to get his head around McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate—“She could be our Vice President? Really? She’s hot.”

You want hot? Then take our planet, which brings us back to the main point—how to communicate global warming to the rest of the public and how to get an informed citizenry to act.

According to Dan Glick, a freelance writer for National Geographic Smithsonian, the majority of scientists agree that humans (and our five hundred kabillion houses, cars, livestock and factories) are a contributing factor to global warming. And the public is not far behind. Results from a recent poll conducted by ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University suggest 80% of Americans believe global warming is taking place. Americans are indeed getting the message—no small feet considering the polarity of American media (if you’re a Republican, chances are you watch Fox News and if you’re reading this, you’re more than likely a Democrat). 

Politics is about opportunity, exploiting events and society’s reaction to these events for personal and party gain. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, climate change gained heightened attention due to the fact that the the severity of the storm was largely attributed to global warming. Climate change was no longer solely the concern of tree hugging earth worshipers. While the devastation was real, the science behind the idea that global warming was the cause of Katrina was not. Keith Kloor, a panelist and CU-Boulder Scripps Fellow, cautioned that climate change is subtle and it makes for bad science to attribute the cause of a single event to global warming. Never the less, that was the perception. Scientists and environmental journalists didn’t do much to squelch this notion. After years of writing and preaching to the choir—the readers of  Audubon Magazine don’t need to be told twice to throw their empty bottle of organic pinot noir into the recycling bin—it must have been somewhat cathartic to have mainstream and right-leaning media knocking at their door and, hey, they can exploit an opportunity just as well as Karl Rove and Dick Cheney—well…never-mind. Sadly, all the attention that had the Republicans looking green with envy at the Democrat’s energy saving light bulbs and their quaint hybrids went out the window with four dollar per gallon gas and cries for the reduction of greenhouse gases have been replaced by shouts of ‘drill baby drill.’ The logic that the solution to global warming, through fuel and energy conservation, will directly lead to the reduction of gas prices is somehow lost on the public and pushed aside for political agendas. Until there is a direct and discernible impact from climate change and its consequences are felt significantly in the pocket book, the majority of Americans won’t be willing to make even the most trivial sacrifice. Peter Dykstra, a panelist from CNN, acknowledged that the story receiving the most website hits on their home page in the week preceding the symposium was the supposed finding of Big Foot. You can shout all you want but people have to be ready to listen. 

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