e360 digest

Five Questions for Mario Molina
On Climate Science’s PR Campaign

25 March 2014

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific society, recently launched the “What We Know” campaign, designed to cut through the fog of misinformation about climate change and convey to the public the current state of climate science. Chairing that effort is Mario J. Molina, a chemist who won a 1995 Nobel Prize for his work on the threat to the world’s ozone layer. Yale Environment 360 asked Molina five questions about the AAAS campaign and why it might succeed where others have failed.

1. What prompted the AAAS to launch this public information campaign about climate change?

It was the recognition and information from the polls that the public in the United States is really misinformed and that many still think that scientists disagree, that it’s very controversial whether climate change is real. Some others believe that scientists are still arguing. The main point is to
Five questions
Five Questions for Mario Molina
Mario J. Molina
counteract the public relations campaign that has been very well financed to question the science of climate change.

2. What are the key aspects of your campaign?

We want to to convey several brief messages to the American public. The first is that there is a real consensus among experts in climate change science that climate change is happening and that it is very likely caused by human activity. The second is that it’s not just a worry for the end of the century, but we are already seeing changes in the climate. The third point is that, should society continue to use fossil fuels, we are concerned about the perhaps less likely but very risky possibilities [of abrupt climate change] that would be very damaging for society. We want to convey the nature of those risks. And the fourth point is that we can certainly do something about this issue — there is a misunderstanding that it’s far too expensive or that it’s too late to do anything.

3. How will this effort be different from previous ones that have had limited success in spurring public concern about this issue?

What is different is that this is hopefully a well-organized campaign. There hasn’t been a well-organized campaign like this one in which we also work with professional communicators. We scientists do not


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communicate well. We have done a poor job with society. We are not dealing with advocacy. We just want to communicate what is known about science, particularly the point about risks.

4. Why do you think the scientific community has so far failed to bring home the importance of this issue to the American public?

We make things too complicated. We are very cautious. The scientific community is very conservative, so it gives the appearance that we don’t understand what we’re talking about. That’s why previous efforts have not been very successful. Also, there are efforts from groups that are not scientists that appear to be just advocacy. We want to avoid advocacy or exaggerations. We want to convey what the real worries are. We think there hasn’t been a concerted effort to do this in a professional way.

5. What are the positive or hopeful messages that you would like to convey?

The main message is that we can deal with this problem. We have examples of big problems that society has dealt with successfully before. In this case it is a very serious and difficult challenge, but working with economists we know that we can take care of these risks at a relatively modest cost. It’s not incredibly expensive, as some of the deniers might want to stress. And the cost of dealing with the problem is most likely much less than the cost society will have to pay for the impacts. This will not harm the economy. On the contrary, if we do it well, in a creative way, we can favor economic growth.

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