Dr. John Hollins, past CACOR Chair, writes:
Global warming is old knowledge — What should CACOR do with it now?
Joseph Fourier, science advisor to Napoléon Bonaparte, calculated in the 1820’s that, given its distance from the sun, the earth should be considerably colder than it is. He was right; we now know that the temperature of the moon, at the same distance from the sun as the earth, but whose gravity is too weak to hold an atmosphere, varies widely and is some 35°C colder than the earth.
But Fourier lacked one piece of knowledge to prove his hypothesis. The missing piece was delivered in 1896 by Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish physicist, who measured the infrared absorption spectrum of gaseous carbon dioxide. Arrhenius proved that some of the infrared radiation emitted towards space by the earth is returned to earth. It adds to the heat arriving directly from the sun and warms the earth as well.
The combustion of fossil fuels since the invention in 1776 of the first efficient steam engine by James Watt, a Scottish inventor, has increased ever since and continues to do so. On a human timescale, it has taken a long time for the industrialized world to raise the temperature of the earth by 1°C, but the warming is accelerating. If ever emissions are controlled and reduced, it will take much longer for the earth to cool.
So students of science have known for 122 years that burning coal — and any other fossil fuel — leads inevitably to warming of the globe. But very few electors and politicians have known or know now. And for those political leaders who have known, it has been at the top of the agenda only briefly.
Global warming has reached the top of the agenda in Canada from time to time. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was the first to sign the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, at the time of the Kyoto Protocol to that Convention in 1997, was apparently keen to match the political commitment of the United States. The primary task for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2018 and 2019, as is the case for all elected officials, is to get re-elected. His grasp of this issue is constrained — the Government of Canada is not equipped to provide systemic analysis of the energy options — and the distraction of the breadth and urgency of many other issues precludes consistent attention. None of the prime ministers have likely grasped the full enormity of the issue, an issue that puts the existence of humankind and most other species at risk.
So the most important audience for advocates is both current and budding electors — it’s the same audience at all levels of government, which perhaps simplifies the task.
Business leaders at the Energy Council of Canada understood this in 1999 when they launched an innovative program of Action By Canadians on climate change, which established that individuals and families are able to reduce their emissions.
If CACOR seeks to make even a modest difference In 2019, it needs to find its audience, The task is substantial because our audience is probably with Linus, Pooh, and Piglet:
Why worry about the future when the
present is more than most of us can handle!
Piglet: Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?
Supposing it didn’t, said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this…
The Republican communications guru, Frank Luntz, in my view got it right in ‘Words that Work’:
For anyone aiming to persuade, education must
precede motivation and even information.
My recommendation is that CACOR, with its cast of experienced communicators and educators, and its ability to secure original systemic analysis, make education job one:
- starting with our broad existing knowledge, tailored to the audiences we select;
- supplemented in due course by the unique insights that will stem from the systematic research that we secure.
Opportunities to address political audiences may well stem from this approach.
2018 September 26