[Coral-List] Public perceptions about climate change

Sherri Hitz sherri at alum.mit.edu
Thu Nov 5 14:10:46 EST 2009

I would like to add another $0.02 to the conversation about the lack of public understanding of global climate change (and thank John Bruno, especially, for his impressive efforts in disseminating accurate information about AGW to the public). 

I currently teach marine biology and biology at Florida Keys Community College (have been teaching for over 15 years, if you count my graduate teaching assistantships), and I think there is an underlying issue that no amount of "hitting them over the head with data" is going to surmount:

*****The general public is AWFUL at even the simplest critical/analytical thinking, math and interpretation of graphical information.*****

OK, so admittedly, my conclusion is based on anecdotal evidence, but when I put images or videos up in a powerpoint presentation in lecture, I see appreciation on my students' faces for what they are seeing.  But when I show them a simple graph, or explain how they can calculate their current course grades, or ask them to deduce something from a set of observations... I see confusion and consternation, almost universally.  (The students actually admit this of themselves, as well.  Our education system has really failed them...)

So, forget all the (Mauna Loa, etc.) graphs, (atmospheric [CO2], etc.) numbers and logical arguments based on the evidence.  The public just does not GET this stuff... so it is wasted on them.  I really think this is the crux of the problem: telling them AGAIN, showing them MORE evidence... it's just not going to get through, because the information is still in the same form, which they do NOT understand. 

What they need is visual information that requires very little analysis or interpretation (or that is narrated for them, so they understand what they are seeing).  Perhaps the reason for the sharp jump in AGW "naysayers" is that Hollywood hasn't cranked out another "Day After Tomorrow" (2004) and Al Gore hasn't produced another "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006) in the past few years.  I think the public needs compelling visual imagery to keep them focused (convinced) on the issue of global climate change and all the risks it poses... and it needs to be delivered in a format that is at least mildly entertaining, so they will pay to go and see it!

Does anyone have a friend in Hollywood?  ;)
[Actually, I have an acquaintance there-- Randy Olson--, whom I just contacted and it turns out he has just produced a docu-comedy called "Sizzle" about the AGW debate!  Not in theaters quite yet, but soon...]
Cheers to all the coral-listers!
Sherri Hitz

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