Peter Preston, an opinion writer for the Grauniad, has noticed that lots of people don't believe global warming is real, or manmade, or serious. And he knows exactly who's to blame.
It isn't hard to collate the factors that drive disillusion. Professors with a colloquial touch writing "awful" emails; a recession so tough that it blows future shock away; a cold, cold winter the Met Office didn't forecast; scientific angst about swine flu revealed as way over the top; dodgy figures, dodgy reporting, dodgy issues way up to UN level.Note that the denial industry and the media that cater to it are conspicuous by their absence. Scientists must take most of the blame for public disbelief: this sort of "disillusion" is what naturally happens when experts treat influenza as a dangerous disease, or fail to reckon with the cold hard reality of winter.
Preston is very upset about all this, because global warming is a damned serious business, dash it all, and something bloody well needs to be done about it...as long as it's OK with "voters."
Voters have to clamber on board when sacrifices are required. They have to see the need for pain, to sense the danger of doing nothing. They have to lead their leaders as well as follow....How do we get voters to sense danger and lead their leaders, as they did when they found out that Saddam's stormtroopers were tipping Kuwaiti babies out of their incubators? Good question! "Re-examinations of existing evidence" are useless, it seems, because no one's going to listen to professors now that
More jaw and Gore from politicians can't cut it. They have come to seem secondhand sources, merely parroting a frail scientific thesis. That goes, alas, for journalists, too – and for pressure groups issuing lurid warnings or staging angry demos....Journalists, op-ed writers, and their editors can't help (presuming for the sake of argument that they actually want to). And "pressure groups" can't help either, because the public strongly objects to anger and lurid warnings unless they're directed at Al Gore or Phil Jones or the IPCC or the concept of taxation. And that goes double for pressure groups comprising climate scientists:
[M]ore of the same is exactly what we seem to be getting. More re-examinations of existing evidence, monitored by the people who failed to monitor it last time. More supposedly transparent attempts to say precisely when Himalayan glaciers will melt. More United Nations panels, flying lugubriously hither and yon in the cause of consensus. More declarations signed by hundreds of scientists on behalf of a notional "scientific community"....As the person who may very well have coined the term "concern troll" (over at Eschaton, roughly six years ago), I think I'm qualified to say that Preston is a concern troll par excellence. He ignores the existence of a well-organized denialist movement. He ignores its ongoing support from a variety of business interests, including the media. He downplays the extent of scientific consensus. He reinforces any number of denialist narratives while claiming to be worried about declining belief in AGW. And he treats attempts to set the record straight -- the record, that is, that he himself goes out of his way to misrepresent -- as shabby, dishonest, and ultimately pointless.
So what's his solution?
[T]he plain fact is that we surely need a prophet, not yet another committee. We need one passionate, persuasive scientist who can connect and convince – not because he preaches apocalypse in gory detail, but in simple, overwhelming terms. We need to be taught to believe by a true believer in a world where belief is the fatal, missing ingredient.In other words, we need someone who can serve as the public face of Scientific Non-Lurid Semi-Alarmism. We need someone whose personal credibility will represent the integrity of climate science, so that both can be pulled down together once he or she is accused of profiteering or preaching apocalypse or what have you, just like every other scientist who has played this role, intentionally or otherwise.
And you know what would be really, really clever and not at all self-defeating in any way? To describe this person in advance as some kind of charismatic, quasi-religious figurehead: an "eco-prophet," if you will. That's just the sort of sensible rhetoric that's been missing from this debate!
I suppose that once this new prophet has been demolished, and his or her "followers" stand revealed yet again as doomstruck cultists, Preston can write a column demanding a new and better figurehead...one who's not so prone to Scientific Angst and Lurid Warnings.
Because the alternative would be to "plod across the wastelands of borrowed time" without ever achieving anything. And that would be a real shame, given what's at stake.
(Illustration at top via Media Matters.)