Sunday, October 17, 2010

Americans Flunk Climate Test

Dave Rochlin -

According to a new Yale study, most Americans are aware of climate change, but have no idea why it is happening. The Yale team claims that only 8 percent of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an A or B grade, while 52% would get an F. The grading was done by a school where grade inflation is an issue, and Dubya carried a C+ average, so these numbers are even worse than they sound.

The study found a generally poor level of understanding of such issues as how much greenhouse gas concentrations have increased in the last 100 years (a lot), the impact of livestock on global warming (quite large), and how long greenhouse gasses stay in the atmosphere (a very long time.) The last item is particularly alarming, since our near term inability to reverse the impact of emissions is what drives the urgency to take action now. Slowing climate change is more like stopping an aircraft carrier than turning a speedboat.

But most concerning is that most in the survey admitted that they don’t know all that much about the issue. The Yale team reports that only 1 in 10 say that they are “very well informed” about climate change, and 75 percent say they would like to know more. What exactly are people waiting for? The truth is out there.

I suppose one could argue that as long as scientists are on top of the issue, we’ll all be informed at the depth we need to, in order to make collectively prudent decisions. But I have started reading Naomi Oreskes new book (The Merchants of Doubt), which documents how frequently (and easily) science is undercut by manipulating popular opinion. It only takes a few influential deniers to mislead the public.

Perhaps instead of “no child left behind” we need a policy of “no planet left behind?”

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