Matthew C. Nisbet tells the depressing story of how the IPCC report was released on Friday to thunderous … silence, failing to break through "the juggernaut narratives of Iraq, the 2008 election, and the weekend’s SuperBowl."

I can't hear you

One thing Nisbet doesn’t stress enough is that there were numerous extremely good pieces in print media. The report could not have asked for clearer, stronger coverage in the major papers and newsmagazines. But it failed to seep into the larger public consciousness. Nisbet notes that it was all but an afterthought on cable news (read the painful transcript at the bottom of his post). You couldn’t pay me enough to watch cable news, but I keep pretty close watch on the political blogosphere, and I can testify that it didn’t even rise to the level of afterthought there. It received at best one token post from most of the blogs I track. Even that coverage mostly focused on the old-and-moldy story of AEI offering $10K to writers who would cast doubt on the report.

Some blame for this goes to the green community, which as usual had no coordinated, savvy media campaign planned. But in the end, there’s no way around the fact that global warming just isn’t the kind of story we’re built to pay attention to.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

You simply won’t get a more thoroughly tested and reviewed, more credible and definitive statement on any scientific issue than we’ve just gotten on global warming from the IPCC. This is something of a reductio ad absurdum of the deep conviction among progressives that "getting the facts out" is the primary challenge around climate change. The facts aren’t gonna get any more out than this.

It’s time we all learn and internalize the lesson that’s been beating us about the head and shoulders for years: by themselves, facts are inert.

Knowing and understanding is not a passive process of absorbing facts. It’s an active process. Facts must be sticky; they must have hooks that connect them to our lives and passions. To truly absorb them we must be able to actively engage them and fit them into the skein of narratives and background understandings of which our worldviews are woven.

The facts are out about global warming. But most people aren’t engaged, not really. That leaves two options:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

  1. Find some way of engaging people with a problem that’s long, slow, invisible, intangible, and immune to near-term solutions.
  2. Find some way of getting good policies in place without a groundswell of popular support.

Most people reflexively assume we have to do the first. I’m beginning to incline to the second. Much more on that in a later post.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.