[Coral-List] Public perceptions about climate change

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Wed Oct 28 07:44:27 EDT 2009

In my opinion, we also have another broader question:  scientific illiteracy in the US.  That is one reason we have such an issue with the process of evolution, with the credibility about vacines, etc.  I heard a nurse on TV doubt the efficacy of the (any) flu vacine, and another person saying that the vacines were a product of the US government trying to control the people.  With that kind of general ignorance, and mistrust of everything government, climate change is just of many issues that the American public has difficulty understanding.  In my opinion, we are doomed...

Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Professor of Marine Biology
Coral Reef Research Program, Center for Marine Science
University of North Carolina Wilmington
5600 Marvin K. Moss Lane
Wilmington NC 28409
Tel:  (910)962-2362; fax: (910)962-2410;  cell:  (910)200-3913
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml..noaa.gov] On Behalf Of John Bruno [jbruno at unc.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 6:31 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Cc: Richard B. Aronson
Subject: [Coral-List] Public perceptions about climate change

As Steve Mussman posted about a few days ago, nearly 20% fewer
Americans belive in AGW than just three years ago.  I think there are
complex social issues than underlie this trend, but I also think this
is happening because people are being misinformed by the media, even
by otherwise reliable outlets like the New York Times and the
Washington Post.

Not to suggest that this will be the last word on this, but the AP
released an article today for which they hired four independent
statisticians to analyze (blindly) the 130 instrument temperature
record and the 30 year satellite record.  The statisticians were asked
to look for trends over time.  Did they find any recent cooling?  No.
They found, like NOAA, NASA and the MET, that the earth has continued
to warm over the last decade.  No cooling.  No plateau.

You can read the AP story here:  http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=3350

But there are already many recent newspaper stories, published peer-
review papers and easily accessible online articles debunking the
recent "global cooling" and "warming pause" myths, e.g.:




So why are we loosing the public? They clearly are not being convinced
by evidence.  There isn't any in support of the cooling/pause
arguments.  I suspect that it is (in part) because the media is
saturated with skepticism about AGW. Fox News commentators and New
York Times science writers are spreading the myths there is a recent
cooling or a plateau in warming.  George Will, who is read by tens of
millions of Americans, wrote yet another op-ed in the Washington Post
a few weeks ago arguing the earth wasn't warming.  I responded with an
op-ed in the local Raleigh News and Observer (which you can read here: http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/columnists_blogs/story/134115.html
) but I doubt I changed many minds.  And the editor cut the most
direct criticism of the complacency of the media in this in general
and of newspaper editors in particular:

"Given the clarity and relative certainty of the science and the scale
of the potential social and economic impacts, why do newspapers
publish articles denying climate change is happening? Social
commentators like George Will certainly have freedom of speech and a
general license to express their opinions on the editorial page. But
would newspaper editors publish essays denying other major threats to
humanity? Imagine an editorial arguing that cancer, poverty, HIV-AIDS
or genocide don’t exist and are merely the product of a well-
orchestrated scientific hoax"

I don't know what the solution is.  Grassroots education is important,
but I sense we are getting drowned out by skeptics and even
misinformed science writers with much large megaphones than any of
us.  I have written every journalist I have seen publish an inaccurate
piece about climate change and many of their editors and not one has
responded.  Perhaps we need to employ the weight of our major society,
the ISRS.  The word "climate"  does not even appear on the ISRS
website (http://research2.fit.edu/isrs/).  I know we have position
papers on various threats to reefs posted, but perhaps we could be
more proactive and begin writing journalists and  columnists (and
their editors) when they get it wrong.  The Ecological Society of
America has been very active in such correspondence (http://www.esa.org/pao/policy_positions.php#letters
) as has the AGU and many other major environmental sciences
societies.  And back in February, when George Will wrote another silly
article about global cooling, a number of NGO heads co-wrote a letter
to the publisher and editor of the WaPost.   Note I don't in anyway
mean this as a criticism of ISRS or of any of its officers.  I am just
throwing out a few ideas.  I don't think we have done this sort of
thing with the society in the past and we likely lack the resources to
do it on a large scale.  BTW, is the ISRS sending representatives to


John F. Bruno, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Marine Science
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-330
jbruno at unc.edu

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