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Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte

Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte

Posted: May 25, 2010 11:41 AM

Addressing Climate Change: Bring on the Powerhouse Communicators

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Okay, if you're reading this, you're probably part of the choir - you understand climate change is real, probably manmade, and serious. Indeed, scientists and policymakers have compared its threat to that posed in World War II, and say we have to act with as much single-mindedness, urgency and wholehearted devotion of resources to address it. But where are the masses of voters that put climate change as the top priority on their list of issues? Where is the overwhelming majority of Americans that should at least understand that climate change is real, and man-made? At last count, they had decreased to 36% of the population, down from a not much higher percentage of 47% a year ago.

What's gone wrong? Although almost all scientists understand that climate change is a serious man-made threat, and excellent communication lines exist, the message has yet to substantially penetrate through the fog of other information and messages out there. Our preoccupations with trivia drown out planetary warnings of the collapse of our life support systems. We watch American Idol and Survivor as climate change starts to slowly snowball.

What mobilized our parents to participate in World War II was a constant flood of information surrounding its threat and the solutions needed to win it. It was the number one topic for four years on radio, and in newspapers, magazines and movie theaters. Every household understood rationing, and the need to volunteer and collect scrap metal for guns. Similarly, we must collectively recognize that climate change is a threat and the need to make real changes. We must use less energy and switch to truly clean sources of it as fast as possible -- cut coal and come clean.

How? We must continuously permeate all lines of communications with the news on climate change and its solutions. Doing so means getting all powerhouse communicators on board. Case in point: Rupert Murdoch. This media mogul stated in 2007 that climate change is a serious threat and recognized the money to be made in going carbon neutral. Yet he allows Fox News to degrade climate change as a hoax. This is like saying back in 1939 that the Nazis are a threat, but he's not going to tell anyone else about it. The Sustainable Education Network now has a petition out urging Murdoch to walk the talk -- to regularly report on climate change and mute the "climate hoax" talking heads on his media outlets. Ready to sign it and spread the word?

The next natural communicators to target are TV weathermen, who are in a daily position to educate the public about climate change, but only half of whom even understand that global warming is occurring. Educating these educators should be a top priority for the American Meteorological Society. Even more, every radio and broadcast station in America should have at least one news headline as a daily fixture devoted to and specifically mentioned as climate change, be it about its causes, consequences, or solutions. Besides our free online book on climate change and its solutions, one of us produces a series of 90-second downloadable audio podcasts weekly, the Climate Change Reports, free for broadcast. And a good place to broadcast climate change news is right next to the sports -- because it's the most dangerous game we are playing with ourselves, and right now, we're losing.

For those who don't think that global warming is occurring, we now have powerful visuals to prove it by a noted wilderness photographer and former climate change skeptic. James Balog has captured on film the incredible loss of glaciers and ice sheets from global warming. In one particularly spectacular short sequence of an event, a massive glacial area collapses into the Arctic sea, something that happens often now. What was the event? Three square miles of glacier, roughly 3000 feet tall, disintegrating into the sea in 75 minutes. That's right, minutes -- not hours, not days. In volume, it's like watching about 3,000 US capitol buildings go bye-bye beneath the waves in a little over an hour. And the sea continues to rise as we write.

The good news is that we can win this game. At least 56% of Americans think we should be setting standards for addressing climate change, and half of Americans believe we must limit greenhouse gas emissions. But we've got to up those percentages far higher. We've got to organize our public relations, and our team, soon. And start to pitch fast balls.