Monday, May 11, 2009

Public Understanding of Climate Change

Nate Silver gets at the heart of the problem with convincing people that climate change is happening.

When it is hot outside, people think global warming is happening. When it is cold outside, people think global warming is a hoax. Or at least the numbers change in pretty profound ways depending on the weather when people take the surveys.

There are many problems here. A lack of science education is a major one. Bigger I think is our nonexistent national memory. We don't seem to be able to think beyond our current experiential perceptions. This might have to do with climate, but it might also have to do with history, health, gas prices, political issues, foreign policy, or myriad other things. Hell, we've already forgotten about swine flu! The high gas prices of a year ago were immediately forgotten when the economy collapsed; for those who could buy cars, demand skyrocketed for SUVs. Once Americans stopped dying every day in Iraq, the conflict no longer received almost any coverage on news networks.

I have no useful suggestions on how to combat this national voluntary amnesia. But it's a huge problem that we face.