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Failure to Frame: Faith Based Global Warming?!

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumAugust 7, 2007 7:58 PM


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One of my very best friends doesn't believe in global warming. Wait, what?! Believe? When did this become a faith based debate? I'm getting ahead of myself though, allow me to rewind a bit... I'm back in Maine. Land of blueberries, lobster, moose, and yes, the majestic sea cucumber. Though I'll always be 'from away', the people and experiences of my graduate years have provided the foundation that makes traveling north feel like coming home. It's been a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends eager to hear stories of what I've seen and done and so on. After listening to my adventures across the political divide and back again, my self-proclaimed big brother of the Pine Tree State Jake shook his head. 'I don't really understand the big deal about global warming...excuse me...climate change.' Now mind you, Jake's not a scientist, but he is a grounded intellectual. What struck me about this situation is that he's not the conservative standard we've come to expect doubting the science. Jake's not a republican, he's a registered independent who would be considered agnostic on his most spiritual day. I listened as he justified his perspective explaining he feels science is based on the principle of believing in something that isn't fact. 'Scientists don't prove anything.' To Jake, global warming sounds like another alarmist cause we don't understand and expects the earth has the capacity to mitigate our impact and recover. Simply put, he's dismissed the idea that we can change the climate as human hubris. RealClimate fans take note - we must recognize that naysayers do not universally fit a one-size-fits-all mold. Jake has no hidden agenda or strong political alliance, he's just decided independently that global warming is a lot of hot air. And he's not alone...lots of people who think critically for themselves don't buy the package science has been selling. Is Jake justified in doubting the environmental crisis? Of course. Freedom of thought is encouraged. But there are larger implications and he provides a valuable reminder that science might be failing to find messages that resonate with the public. However, I take comfort recognizing that the Jakes of the world are intelligent and generally still patient enough to listen. So we as scientists need to wake up a bit and be better prepared. The question is how do we arm ourselves with weapons in the form of words? Later this afternoon, I'll begin reexamining why communication has broken down and how we might come up with a better approach that appeals to a greater constituency than those already convinced.

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