Live Well, Do Good

Who Tells the Best Climate Change Stories?

Brandon Sun, September 30, 2019 - David McConkey

Which of these two stories would you like to read about? “More than 15,000 scientists issue warning to humanity about climate change”? Or how about: “One scientist says global warming a hoax, world will soon start cooling”?

I’m with you. Let’s look at the second story.

Bill Gray is a climate scientist with over 50 years of experience. He is a world renowned expert on hurricanes.

“Few people know what I know. I've been in the tropics, I've flown in airplanes into storms,” Gray tells the Washington Post. “I don't think anybody in the world understands how the atmosphere functions better than me."

And what about global warming? “One of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated,” Gray says. He predicts that soon – “in just three, five, maybe eight years” – the world will begin cooling again.

Gray does not hold back criticizing Al Gore and others perpetrating the climate “hoax.” Gray says that “Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews.”

Denial and delay has driven the climate change narrative over the past three decades. They are the best stories! Having to think about climate change is annoying. Better to heed a more comforting message.

Gray’s critique of Al Gore is especially effective, because it doesn’t rely on facts. The best way to argue a point is to ignore science and rational thinking. Instead: appeal to emotion with a personal attack.

And the best form of personal attack is to compare someone to Hitler! And Al Gore deserves to be compared to Hitler. The nerve of Gore (and David Suzuki, etc.) telling us how to live our lives!

We don’t want to think about the catastrophe that scientists say is coming if climate change continues. Worse fires, floods, droughts and all that. We look for stories that tell us we have nothing to worry about.

Why did we switch from saying “global warming” to saying “climate change”? The new wording was engineered in the early 2000s by Frank Luntz, the political spinmeister for U.S. President George W. Bush. “Climate change,” Luntz figured, sounded more comforting than “global warming.”

Climate denial can even be a lot of fun! We can enjoy indulging in the conspiracy theory that climate change is a hoax. We can feel superior as we tut-tut about what terrible hypocrites Al Gore, David Suzuki and other climate activists are. And we can merrily agree that we would rather not pay carbon taxes. There, that was easy!

Mocking scientists, activists and political leaders is great fun . . . until it isn't. Online trolling of Canada's environment and climate change minister Catherine McKenna was one thing. But people have taken to screaming abuse at her when she and her children are seen in public. McKenna had to hire security.  

Now, what about that prediction that the world will soon cool down? Gray made that prediction in 2006. He was wrong, of course. The last five years were the hottest on record.

Bill Gray told a good story. (He died in 2016 at age 86.) And stories are the way we humans have communicated for thousands of years. The problem today is that complicated issues like climate change are hard to communicate by stories.

And here's one more thing. Remember Frank Luntz, the Republican operative who got us to switch from saying “global warming” to “climate change” so we would think the situation was not so bad? Well, Luntz now admits he was wrong. He now wants to help us understand the severity of the problem of global warming and to do something about it.

In this regard, Luntz suggests that the recent trend of saying “climate crisis” may not be wise. It is hard to think of something as serious when so many other things are also a “crisis.”

To take effective climate action will be a challenge. Even to describe the issue will be a challenge. But we can look for descriptions that fit with science and with societal realities. We can look for descriptions that go beyond simply comforting us or confirming our biases or mocking those we disagree with.

As a start, maybe we should eschew both of the terms “climate change” and “climate crisis. ” Maybe time to go back to “global warming”?

* * * 

See also:

Reflecting on Big Questions

Why Such Slow Action on Climate Change?

A History of Struggling to Grasp Climate Change Reality

More Than Ever, Words and Ideas Matter

Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Stories

How Can We Learn to Think and Argue Better? 

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