I also recently saw the new climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth. I was really impressed by how well Gore knows his science. He taught some critical concepts in oceanography (thermohaline circulation, sea-ice melting), and he made them accessible to the public. At a recent meeting on oceanography there were plenary discussions on the difficulties on presenting science to the public and yet how it is so important that we do so. In particular, it was pointed out that we scientists will tell the facts, but also talk about the uncertainties. We talk about the uncertainties, even if they are minor components of the debate (e.g. climate change is real and happening, but how will component X respond…) because that is where much of the exciting research is – and hence that is where our intellectual energies are focused. But the public misunderstands this, and conservative thinktanks exploit this to create doubt. Gore describes the cutting edge science with nice detail, but avoids embroiling the audience in our current areas of scientific inquiry. Now I understand why all of the initial reviews on this movie say Gore will be our next president. And as an Earth scientist who knows that the factor that is holding the US back is public motivation, I wonder: maybe Gore losing is what we needed in the long term to give our public the kick we need to have the gumption to take on a global environmental problem. He has had years to hone his speech and scientific understanding, clearly through direct interaction with leading climate change scientists. And we (the public) have had years to realize what a mistake the course we’re on is. The discussion I have seen many scientists studying has moved on to include a more sobering reality: climate change is happening and conservation will probably not be enough. What is the best way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere with minimal ecological impacts? I find this change in thinking remarkable, and I can only hope the public becomes aware and can initiate action in time.
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