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Archive for May 2019

Climates of Opinion

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Although I’m a member of the Green Party I’ve done little to educate myself on environmental matters. Now, spurred on by the recent protests, I’ve enrolled in a FutureLearn MOOC: Climate Change: The Science (University of Exeter). Apart from the persistent exhortations to ‘upgrade’ for £42, I like the flavour of this MOOC. It is basic and that’s what’s needed when a fair number of participants don’t have a scientific background. I may chortle when a poet expresses surprise that water can actually exist as a gas but then I’ve been baffled trying to interpret poems in a literary MOOC. There’s even a climate change sceptic (denier?) informed enough to bait and draw out ‘expert’ participants. Although I have a scientific background my knowledge on climate change is deficient so I’m happy to learn from anyone.

In general, I believe Open Education can play an important role in preparing human populations for the drastic lifestyle changes necessitated by climate change. The evidence is as solid as science can make it but unfortunately is not accepted by everyone, including important political powers in major polluting countries. In the US, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), an American politician has proposed the Green New Deal, a stimulus package that aims to address climate change and economic inequality. She narrates a video I found featured by Bryan Alexander on his blog. In Bryan’s words;

It sketches out a scenario of what the world could look like if certain things come to pass – in this case, if some form of the Green New Deal came into being. It combines both large-scale trends (policy changes, ecological transformation) and personal details (our heroine’s career). The details give us enough grounding to imagine not only this possible future, but ourselves within it.


Whether you think the chain of events portrayed is realistic or not, it is an impressive narrative, rightly lauded by Bryan Alexander and the comments on his blog but go to the video on YouTube for a different story. Here the ding-dong battles between the believers, the doubters and the out and out deniers is in full swing and frequently descends into rant and ridicule. Sadly, retaliation in kind by those capable of informed discussion is not unusual and contributes to a downward spiral of debate and a polarisation of opinion. Recent election events, not to mention the junk that arrives in my spam folder, shows that social media and the Internet in general, is now widely recognised as a powerful tool for opinion forming. Vast resources are available for influencing attitudes, often for questionable purposes, by posing impossibly simple solutions to complex problems.

But climate change is not questionable. In many ways it is a complex problem but the basics are not and raising awareness is surely just as amenable to the arts of persuasion as anything else. I’d be happy to see my spam folder full of digestible, factual, persuasive info on climate change. I’d love to see an army of informed commenters taking on the YouTube deniers, not by feeding the trolls but accurately and diplomatically challenging misapprehensions and having the strength of character to simply move on without retaliating in the face of hostility. Perhaps it’s too much to deploy benevolent swarms of artificially intelligent Twitter bots to fight fire with fire – but you get the idea! If not checked climate change threatens the very existence of life on earth. Would the end justify the means? A fundraising campaign brought in pledges of over €1 billion to restore Notre-Dame Cathedral. Could massive resources not be found to combat climates of opinion as well as climate change itself?

Written by Gordon Lockhart

May 21, 2019 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Mooc