[Coral-List] Public perceptions about climate change

John Bruno jbruno at unc.edu
Tue Oct 27 18:31:14 EDT 2009

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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