Those of you who know me know I've spent quite a bit of time in the past fifteen years worried about climate change - it is one of the few high impact high probability events I know of that can be mitigated, so focus seems appropriate.
I've tried a variety of approaches and have largely failed to make any impact. At first education seemed right as it is something I believe in, but you need a stable and sufficient base on which to build and I was assuming that the scientific literacy of the American public was much higher than it was. I still work at it and have tried several approaches, but the overall response ranges from crickets to a negative reaction. Of course this is giving me a strong signal on my abilities relative to the challenge and others who are much better communicators have had also had little or no impact.
I sometimes use this qualitative chart in my talks. If anything the think tank bump should be much smaller, but you get the idea. The media does not cover the dominant scientific view and tries to balance opinion - the issue is there isn't any opinion in largely settled science. Science is about confidence levels and for the likelihood that climate change is taking place, being influenced by us, and will have a large impact, the confidence levels are high.1
Storytelling is another mechanism that might work. Several people are trying to exploit that path and some are trying a combination of education and storytelling. That seems like it might be a viable approach, but one is up against pseudoscience, a natural bias in the media and a very well funded anti-science campaign. I'm not a good speaker or storyteller, but I've been working a bit to support those who are.
The result is my views on what to do are shifting from worrying primarily about mitigation and moving more towards adaptation. It is ultimately much less efficient and much more expensive than mitigation, but there is a lot of potential optimization and it seems like a rich area to study. I'll still be thinking about mitigation a lot - particularly conservation and efficiency, but staying focused there may be a fool's errand.
Even though the state of the American response to climate change is on the depressing side it is fascinating and poses several interesting questions about everything from our social systems to how our minds work. In thinking about these sometimes it is useful to step back and think about other historical challenges.
And that brings us to a line and a circle...
Take a look at any modern ship. Down near the waterline you'll see a circle with a line through it. The line where where the hull of a ship meets the water is the Plimsoll Line and the little circle-line is technically called the International Load Line and indicated the legal limit to which a ship can be loaded.2 An extremely useful graphic - getting on a ship with water above the load line strikes you as something not entirely sane.
When you see a name as unusual as Plimsoll, you suspect a story.3
In the 19th century transatlantic shipping had become common. Shipping disasters happened, but the introduction of insurance made them much more likely. A shipper could load his vessels past their design limits and make quite a bit of extra coin on the voyage. Should the ship be lost it and its contents were insured - often at more than 100% - and he would also come out ahead as ship building meant he could quickly replace his loss. The only real loss was one many shippers chose to ignore - perhaps a hundred or so crewmen. The practice was so common - nearly a thousand were dying each year - that merchant seamen called this overloaded and insured ships "coffin ships".
Samuel Plimsoll was a MP who crusaded for the rights of the seamen- often against great odds as the ship owners enjoyed a tight relationship with the government. He is vilified in the House of Commons, but he became something of a folk hero with popular plays and songs written about him and the coffin ships.4 This grass-root support grew to a point where it nearly brought down the Disraeli government. Finally there were sweeping reforms that probably saved tens of thousands of lives. One of them - in my mind the most dramatic - was a simple little graphic that allowed you to understand if the ship's load made it unseaworthy.
I want - I think we need - a Plimsoll Line for climate change.
1 There is a lot of normal scientific dispute on the details of how great the impact will be and how this will play out, but that is like people going over a cliff in a car wondering how many times the car will bounce on the way down and if it will burn when it finally hits. People tend to confuse the normal debate that takes place in science with the fact that some of the results are extremely likely ... it's just the details we're hazy on.
2 There are a few other markings that account for the different water densities. Sea water density depends on salinity and temperature.
3 I first heard about it in college during a visit to a large ship visiting Manhattan. Much later I ran into a book on the subject and recommend it - The Plimsoll Sensation by Nicolette Jones.
4 John Storey sings a modern version based on some of the ballads
This one is very easy to experiment with and surprisingly good. A really good yogurt and olive oil are key.
Quinoa, yogurt, fruit and nuts
° 1 tbl cleaned dry quinoa - red quinoa is particularly good
° a dozen shelled and chopped pistachios (raw or salted and raw)
° a dozen chopped almonds (I used unblanched, but blanched would probably work)
° 350 - 400 grams of whole plain Greek yogurt (I use Fage)
° 4 medjool dates, chopped and pitted. I've also tried other dried fruit, so experiment.
° some lemon zest
° uniodized sea salt - a finishing salt like Maldon is best
° a tbl or more of your best extra virgin olive oil
° Start the oven heating to 350°F
° Put the quinoa in a small pan over medium heat and toast it until it starts to pop. Then pour it into a bowl and cool.
° Spread the pistachio and almond chunks onto a baking pan and toast for five minutes in the oven. Then remove and cool. Alternatively you can do this in a pan over burner, but you need to be *very* careful to not burn them.
° Spread equal amounts of yogurt onto two plates and sprinkle on the dates, nuts, and quinoa. Sprinkle on a bit of lemon zest and salt and finally drizzle on a bit of olive oil