Virtually all people everywhere enjoy the innovations of science but often without any appreciation of what it took to develop that innovation. We rely on and love our technology, but many people don’t seem to understand that the same scientists who bring us technology are the same ones who are telling us about the effects of humankind on global climate change. In some cases, our technological advances are creating adverse effects, while in others, the advances help mitigate those effects.
Science agencies like U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, USEPA and NOAA and the work that they support are often misunderstood at best or ignored at worst. In 1994, the Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey Contract with America planned to eliminate the entire budget for USGS. Gingrich and Armey did not appreciate that our understanding of weather, rainfall, earthquakes and other catastrophic events is dependent upon researchers in USGS, NOAA, NASA, USEPA and other science agencies.
Recently I read an article about Dr. David Scholnick of Pacific University. He takes the credit for putting shrimp on a treadmill, one of the many research projects that has come under fire by legislators and the public for wasting taxpayer dollars. He reports that it cost only $47 for the shrimp treadmill (out of his own pocket), not the 3 million dollars in taxpayer funds claimed in 2011 political campaigns. His research grants were not about getting shrimp to work out. Instead, they supported work to understand how shrimp react to infections in estuaries. This is critical to survival of important seafood sources and reflects ecosystem health in general. If you’ve ever eaten seafood of any kind, or spent time in the ocean, or understand that ocean waters cover three-quarters of the planet and have an impact on how the entire world functions, this research matters to you.
Eighty-year old Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is soon to become Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He is also author of the 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. This top Congressional science official will encourage us to plunge our heads deeper into the sand, ignoring the obvious threats of climate change and our impacts on it. The divide between scientists and climate change deniers has never been greater.
The effort to help people understand global climate change is too little and too late so far. Sometimes the available information is simply too scientific and over the heads of the average citizen or elected official. We have a global crisis in UNDERSTANDING but no real emerging global effort to improve the situation. If the political will to act on multi-national climate change strategies across all political lines is lacking, how do we as a society change that?
We need a broad national strategy to help the public understand the growing impacts of global climate change. We are hammered by national ads for political candidates, the need to drill for more oil and support for a pipeline. Big money is behind the acceleration of global climate change, yet very little is spent to help people understand their role in the acceleration rate and future impacts of climate change. An investment in science interpretation is long overdue. We need more science interpretation, national ad campaigns, and cross-agency collaboration to make it happen. It’s never too late to slow the rate, but much of the damage is already done. We each need to keep encouraging our elected representatives to do more in support of science education and interpretation. The future of our grandchildren depends on it.
– Tim Merriman