What are some of the challenges that climate experts have encountered over the years as they work to try to educate people about the potential effects of climate change?
“It’s funny. You start to think, why am I even talking about this? People tell me what they think it means, what the science is, and what the facts are, and what the evidence is and what it’s going to mean in the future. The climate is important to me because there’s a real threat that it may get out of control. People are focused on that, but they’re not interested in whether it’s in control or not. They don’t understand, like me, what it means. I think it matters because when we do something on one level, but then we do something on another level, and then we don’t do something else on another level, it can lead to our own destruction.”
Can you think of a time when a major media story on climate changed the way people felt about something?
“This is all I know about science – I’m at a university. I can’t tell you what someone heard from Al Gore or what they heard from somebody who’s a non-scientist. I can’t tell you how that mattered because this is the world we live in. What matters to us in two or three days is not what matters in 15 years, and what matters in 10 years is not what matters in 10 years.”
Do people still pay attention to what they learn online?
“Everyone says you’re just an idiot, but I never said that. The minute they say that, they don’t want to listen. What’s exciting about what we’re trying to do is all these people are talking to each other. They’re all starting to understand that they have to engage with each other, that they have to work together to solve this problem. But in this era of media and information on the internet – because everything’s now taken over by that – people are not going to learn anything in an hour from that. They don’t remember what they heard in 30 seconds. They’re just passing on what they’ve heard or what they’ve seen on Facebook. They’re just not interested in that information. And they’re not interested in the fact that, you know, some guy’s body has a name. So I was talking to this guy’s girlfriend’s sister or somebody who’s really invested in that. They told me, ‘I don’t care what the scientist said in the last 10 years, I don’t care what the environmentalists say. They’re just wasting my time. When are you going to write the story about me?’ And they’re just interested in themselves.”
How has your outlook changed over the years?
“I’ve become less cynical. I was always cynical, but people taught me a lot. The first chapter of my book is about having learned everything from my dad. And my dad, whatever he was doing, I wanted to do it well, not to waste my time. But I think as I’ve gotten older, when I’m dealing with the journalists who make up your elite, who are telling you a different story than that of reality, I’ve started to embrace my doubts and cynicism and second-guess my feelings. I know I’m just a hundred miles away from 90 per cent of what I said in the book, but they’re saying something that I think is just false. And maybe I’ll just start looking at reality and not just accept what is told to me. I need to say, ‘You know what? There might be something in here that I didn’t even know existed.'”