Amy Ridenour's National Center Blog: The Global Warming Argument: Win It, Don't Spin It (If You Can)
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Monday, April 16, 2007

The Global Warming Argument: Win It, Don't Spin It (If You Can)

A for-profit public relations agency sent me a link and an excerpt to the story "Thanks for the Facts. Now Sell Them" by Matthew C. Nisbet and Chris Mooney in Sunday's Washington Post, with the suggestion that I might like to blog about it.

The authors (who appear to assume all scientists share the same point of view about human impacts on climate and President Bush's decision to limit the amount of federal funding on embryonic stems cells) call upon scientists to spend less time explaining facts and more time engaging in public relations.

For example:
Global warming is another issue on which scientists continually fail to reach key segments of the public. The real inconvenient truth here is that scientists aren't doing a good job of packaging what they know. No matter how solid the science gets, there remain "two Americas" on the subject: A strong majority of Republicans discount the science and the issue's urgency, while an overwhelming number of Democrats believe the opposite. Once again, the facts aren't driving opinions here. Instead, selective interpretations -- delivered via fragmented media and resonating with the public's partisan prejudices -- are winning out.

Thus, despite ever-increasing scientific consensus, prominent GOP leaders such as Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma still use conservative media outlets to describe climate science as too "uncertain" to justify action. If scientists and their defenders seek to answer such charges by explaining how much we know, they become enmeshed in the technical details (for instance, does climate change really contribute to more intense hurricanes?). And this only creates new opportunities for Inhofe and his flat-earth friends to sow doubt.

So once again, scientists and their allies would be better off shifting their emphasis, as well as the messenger. For example, church leaders can speak to the evangelical community about the necessity of environmental stewardship (a message that's already being delivered from some pulpits), even as business leaders can speak to fiscally oriented conservatives about the economic opportunities there for the plucking if Congress passes a system for trading carbon dioxide emission credits.
Two observations:
1) I think it is odd that these global warming theory advocates claim the science backing their point of view is "solid," and yet argue that scientists shouldn't spend time educating people about its alleged solidity. If their case is as strong as they pretend, presenting it should be a winning hand, not an "opportunit[y] for Inhofe and his flat-earth friends" (of which I am pleased to be one) to "sow doubt."

If you guys can win the argument, win it, don't spin it.

2) If the authors truly believe fiscal conservatives are intrigued by the notion of a federally-mandated carbon market, and/or are likely to be seduced by "business leaders" who want to exploit a carbon-trading system for their own personal and corporate profit, they don't have the slightest inkling of what fiscal conservatives believe.

In reality, corporate sell-outs nauseate us. Nausea is bad way to start to a seduction.
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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:05 PM 

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