Since there are now 1000 posts on this blog, I thought I might write another with some reflections. We’re also about to go on holiday for a few days, the last before my daughter heads off to university, so there probably won’t be much activity here for a while.
Overall, I think engaging in discussing this topic publicly has been a mostly positive experience. It’s forced me to think more about the details of the topic, about the scientific process in general, and about how to engage publicly; I’ve learned a lot. However, I think I’m also more negative about things, while – at the same time – caring less about this. The latter is more a survival mechanism; I don’t have the energy to be as passionate about this as I was once.
The reason I’m more negative is mostly because of the general tone of the discourse, and I don’t just mean between those who accept that climate change is a problem worth addressing, and those who don’t (or who mostly don’t). Even amongst those who mostly agree about climate change, the discourse can be pretty poor. There seem to be never-ending turf wars between those who mostly agree about climate change, but have different ideas about the optimal way forward. There’s cultural cognition versus consensus messaging, there’s nuclear versus renewables, there’s social scientists versus physical scientists, and there’s conflicts about framing and narratives.
I think it’s one thing to criticise what someone has said (i.e., if it’s incorrect), but another to criticise the way in which they’ve chosen to frame things. There are many valid ways to frame a public discussion about a complex topic, and I don’t think anyone has some right to decide what way is the correct way to do so. There may well be cases where publicly criticising the way something has been framed is appropriate, but I sometimes think it’s more about someone promoting their own preferred narrative, or their position, than about improving the public understanding of this complex topic.
To be fair, I think there is a better public awareness about the seriousness of climate change than there was a few years ago. However, my sense is that we’re still going to spend the foreseeable future having these turf wars, where people who agree that something should be done, spend their time fighting over details. People are, of course, free to criticise whoever they want, whenever they want, but it’s (in my view) worth considering the consequences of doing so, and why you’re doing so. Is it really to improve public understanding, or is it mainly about promoting your preferred narrative over that of someone else?
My own view is that this is bigger than any individual, or any group. Ideally, we would like there to be a better understanding of what is an important topic that will require us to do things to address it. I think it would help if people’s default position were to be supportive of those whose underlying intent is to inform, even if the manner in which they’re doing so isn’t necessarily how you would do so yourself. I think it’s unfortunate that this isn’t always, or even often, the case.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that I always got this right, get it right now, or will always get it right in future, but my goal is to try. I may even be wrong to be negative about this; maybe these conflicts are an important part of developing the way forward. In fact, since they’re likely to continue, I hope this is the case.