A muddled message on solutions
This country’s public discussion about global warming desperately needs to move beyond the tiresome back and forth about whether it’s happening. We need to start discussing solutions — in many ways a more complex and difficult topic.
CNN’s Lou Dobbs offered just such an opportunity last night. He had on three climate scientists: Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, and Alan Robock.
Watch what happens. Here’s the first opportunity:
DOBBS: Well, if you all as leading scientists, with your best science, your best minds working in the field, agree that there is global warming and that greenhouse gases emissions are responsible for all or part of it, what can we do, Gavin, to deal with the issue?
In other words: Enough about science. We believe you. What should we do?
GAVIN SCHMIDT, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: First of all, we have to understand the physical basis for those changes. We need to understand the greenhouse gases, we need to understand the effects of ozone and black carbon. …
OK, right, science. We have to get the science. Check. But now that the science is in place …?
DOBBS: Well, what are we going to do? Let’s on this broadcast tonight, LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, this broadcast decides global warming is caused by emissions. That discussion is over here. Let’s talk about what we should do next.
All right, here’s the big chance! Solutions!
MANN: Well, you know, first we have to start — we have to stop the sort of the false debate that has been placed in the public discourse about the science. The science is agreed upon.
OK, right, science. The science in place. It’s happening. Got it. Now …
DOBBS: … I’m saying to you, we’ve moved beyond it. The false debate is over. We’re going to focus on what pitiful little people on this planet can do to change the outcome.
Luvagod, people, he’s practically begging!
So finally, finally, they talk about solutions. Here’s the sum total:
ROBOCK: This is a hard problem because it has to deal with our basic source of energy, coal and oil. But it’s a simple problem because we know what to do about it. We can develop new sources of energy. And we have to develop a lot of little things, it’s not just one solution. So we can use more solar power, more wind power, more biofuels — not just corn but also switchgrass. I mean, President Bush mentioned switchgrass in his State of the Union. That’s burning — turning cellulose into fuel.
ROBOCK: We need leadership from the top. The current budget is cutting research in these things, in energy efficiency and other sources. And they’re spending a lot of money in the so-called energy bill giving it to the oil companies.
MANN: You know, Lou, there are other simple things we can do. Our fuel efficiency. There’s absolutely no reason that we have to be driving around in SUVs.
ROBOCK: We can make save vehicles that are much more fuel- efficient if we developed them. We know the technology to do that.
Now, I don’t object to any of this on substantive grounds. But imagine that you’re Joe Sixpack, flipping past CNN. What a confusing, muddled, mixed, wanky mess! What gets through? What’s the take-home message? What would you tell your friends about it the next day? "They said we should do something solar, something, cellulose something, research, SUVs, something … uh …"
I don’t want to blame the scientists — they’re scientists after all. But if they want to be public spokespeople on this issue, they should develop a simple message about solutions, complete with a catchy slogan or two, and repeat it endlessly. Simplicity and repetition, however uncomfortable a fit for smart people, are the name of the cable news game.
We need the public united behind a few simple solutions. So let’s figure out what to focus on, and focus. Every media opportunity should be used to maximum effect.