Nothing New Under the Sun
Science in the days of John Tyndall, the man who in the mid 19th century identified the greenhouse gases (the greenhouse effect itself was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824) certainly had to deal with Deniers.
After all, it was a period of great scientific discovery, including Darwin’s Evolution by Natural Selection. Scientific discoveries that threatened orthodoxy and ignorance.
Tyndall knew the consequences of Denial and the measure of the people who wallow in it:
” It is as fatal as it is cowardly to blink facts because they are not to our taste.” ~ John Tyndall
He also knew how much point there was to presenting them with facts and reason in the hope that they would assess the facts fairly and objectively:
” Religious feeling is as much a verity as any other part of human consciousness; and against it, on the subjective side, the waves of science beat in vain.”
So it’s no surprise that Tyndall took the time to try and help educate a broader public about science and scientific matters (“Fragments of science for unscientific people“). Those were simpler times when gentlemen wrote books and gave public talks for other gentlemen. Now with dozens of different types of media and instant global communication that can potentially reach almost any inhabitant on the planet the art of communication has become mind boggling.
Actually it’s not particularly any more complicated or difficult than it ever was, it’s just more incoherent and bewildering. What could and needed to be done was easier to discern then, now it is not so obvious, but the fundamentals remain the same.
In an earlier post I spoke of the need for a coherent, proactive media strategy. It is not my intent to lay one out, but rather to talk about what a media strategy is and what some of the options might be for implementation.
Further, as I stated in another earlier post: “Granted the climate science community is a loose network of a broad spectrum of individuals and groups, with occasional nodes that might be described as coalitions and the like, so I am not suggesting a unified strategy. It’s not only impractical, it’s probably impossible.
Even so, it is possible for us to have a loose strategy that is constantly discussed and reviewed, and which many in the network implement in ways that are suited to their strengths and abilities.”
For the moment I will take it as a given that our goal is to, at a minimum, get the majority of the population educated about climate change, which would include understanding the need to take immediate action.
I do not want to be too cavalier in skipping this as I recognize that i) that is too minimal for many people (including myself), and ii) just what that means is open to a range of interpretation, but it will do for the moment.
Let’s start with “strategy” since I find that it is usually misunderstood. A strategy is is an overall plan for how one intends to achieve goals that provides guidance without dictating specifics.
A good strategy is chosen based on analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the respective sides and conducting a campaign accordingly. For example, a historical military commander might choose to use their superior cavalry to gather information for themselves while denying information to the enemy. A chess player might decide to play a cautious, strong defensive game if she knew her opponent was more prone to make mistakes while attacking. A politician might run a campaign emphasizing experience if they know that their voting record lined up well with the issues that concerned the voters in their constituency.
Note that none of the strategies spell out how a particular battle is to be fought. Instead they provide guidance for every situation about whether that battle should even be fought at all. If it should, it then provides guidance as to how. In the above examples:
- Given their superior intelligence gathering the commander would always seek to keep the enemy confused and then only fight battles when he was certain of victory; otherwise they would always retreat.
- Given choices of roughly equal value the chess player would always strengthen their defence rather than develop their offensive position, at least until the expected blunder happened and they could safely start attacking.
- In every speech or interview the politician would refer to their record in some way no matter what the question or issue was. Things like “the voters know from my record that I have always been strong on education, so it will be no surprise that …”
Thinking strategically can be as simple as thinking through how each of us expects our efforts to result in change. If I write a piece on methane clathrates, who do I think will read it and what will they do with that knowledge? How does my piece connect to actual change?
I can write so as to make that more likely, and by thinking it through I more likely to do so. It could be as simple as explicitly stating it at the end of the piece eg “So write to your representative and ….” or “Go to this link and support … .” If a writer fails to do so, informed commentors can always add it to the comment thread.
Too often we see this word and immediately jump to the assumption of “commercial mass media.” Mistake. Media is anything and everything we might use to reach the target audience. Social media, pamphlets, youtube comment threads, church bulletins and community papers, news sharing sites, the blogosphere, pirate radio, street art, poetry jams & open mic nights, billboards, street theatre, public talks, video sharing, organizational newsletters, etc, and even commercial mass media.
However, just saying “commercial mass media” still leaves you choosing from among paid ads, editorials, educating journalists, letter writing to the editor, documentaries, talk shows, news cycle piggy backing, magazines, newspapers, TV, independents vs chain, and so on. You get the picture. Which are chosen and how they are utilized depends on the strategy.
Choosing that will in turn require refining the goal somewhat. Just who are we targeting? Everyone? the Deniers? (bad idea) the undecided? Progressives? labour? women? middle class? rural poor?
Having decided a particular target audience informs which media to use and how.Targeting the rural poor with editorials in high end magazines is obviously a bad idea. Far better to start looking at what media the rural poor do get their information from and analysing how you could start engaging them.
Recognizing that your target is the rural poor may mean that writing an article for the local rural newspaper about crop yields in a changing climate will have far more impact than another blog post about arctic ice or CO2 levels. Maybe it would be good to develop a relationship with the editor or one of the journalists (if they have more than one).
As noted, a strategy has to provide guidance without dictating specifics. Everyone has to go with their strengths and resources. In this example I might not start investigating local rural papers, but I might blog more often about the impacts of climate change on the rural poor in the hope that someone else could use it in the manners described.
Equally, just because a loose strategy of emphasizing the use of machinima has been chosen does not mean that everyone should start producing machinima to educate about climate change.
Obviously someone who is influential in their faith community should use that strength and opportunity, but they might do so by using the communities newsletter to point people to particular machinima as opposed to reiterating the scientific argument in print.
Quite a few in the climate science community are proactive in the sense of putting the scientific facts out there in the first place. Some proportion of us even craft our message for specific communities such as nature enthusiasts or the classroom. To a more limited extent some of those dealing with the Deniers do so by documenting their funding sources (hence pro-active).
For obvious reasons most of us tend to be more reactive in that we respond to Denier posts by exposing their frauds and hoaxes. The limitation is obviously that the response is always after the fact, and never reaches everyone it should.
For those whom it does reach it only has value in that they have to be aware of the fraud before the rebuttal makes sense.
For the broad issue of climate change science and given the goal of educating the public, which communities would we target and with what strategy? As a sub-campaign of that, what would the answers be for the goal of exposing the Deniers?
Paradoxically we could even have a strategy that is proactive in responding to the Deniers. A simple pro-active approach would be to use the existing, considerable documentation of Denier lies and errors and get more pieces in the general media discussing the Denier reliance on frauds and error to make their case.
Another example, the Deniers have organized efforts at cyber-censorship whereby articles posted to news sharing sites such as Digg, Reddit etc are systematically and blindly voted down to prevent people from seeing them.
A well organized community could vote good articles up before the Deniers strike, or in such numbers as to overwhelm the Deniers. Naturally the pro-science crowd should not behave as the Deniers do, and instead actually read the articles in question to ensure that they are deserving of support. This would have the added benefit of promoting more education on climate issues for the participants themselves as well as the broader public.
It’s not that we are incoherent per se, at least not in the sense that our individual posts or efforts don’t make sense. What I mean is that as a collective we have not, as far as I am aware, even had the broader discussion of who we are targeting and what is the best approach to reach them.
As such there is no coherence to our collective approach. My hope is that by discussing strategies we can start to coordinate better and respond more effectively. If the core science bloggers understand that the more general bloggers are targeting a particular demographic then they can do more posts that speak to the relevant issues.
So let’s start the conversation about what would make for an effective media strategy. First we need some loose agreement on the core questions:
- Is the goal described above sufficient, or does it need to be refined?
- What demographic should we be focusing on?
- What are our strengths and weaknesses?
- What are the Denier’s strengths and weaknesses?
For obvious reasons a good strategy would NOT refer to the greenhouse effect as the “Tyndall Gas Effect”, nor would it confuse the greenhouse effect with anthropogenic climate change as some Deniers try to do. The use of the term here was merely a device to honour a great scientist and early champion in the fight against the organized ignorance that is climate change Denial.
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
It is worth knowing and abiding by whether you comment on this blog or not.
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