I’m continually fascinated by the way people try to communicate climate science beyond simply “telling the facts”.
Yes, we can talk about rising temperatures, proxy data and tipping points.
But don’t we need to go beyond this?
Home Sapiens are storey tellers.
The Odyssey began as a collection of oral tales, collected and synthesised by Homer. But it is a story that tells us as much about human nature as it does about bronze age Greece.
W. H. Auden’s poem, “The shield of Achilles” was written 2000 years after Homer. But it reflects the power of words and narrative:
She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead.
A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.
Full text here.
Auden wrote this in 1956, reflecting on the two world wars, the totalitarian Nazi and Soviet states and history’s indifference to the individual.
I have read a great deal about 20th century history, however somehow Auden’s stanzas say so much more than the dry recitation of facts and dates.
Which is why I enjoyed the blog “The boy who denied wolf“. It is the blog of a reader – Richard Pauli – who recently posted a comment here, and I was suitably impressed.
The boy who denied wolf
Like all good stories it begins with “Once upon a time…”
Once there was a village surrounded by farms and a deep forest. The farmers would clear the forest-land to plant crops and tend their sheep – pushing back the edge of the mysterious forest further and further. One day the farmers thought they heard the inhuman and plaintive sound of howling wolves. It was a very faint sound, and they were not sure; then almost all the villagers started to hear them too.
I wont spoil it, so I suggest you go to Richard’s blog and read the story.
I tried a similar exercise with my “Parable of the Sceptical Cancer Patient“.
A doctor tells you have cancer, and that if you don’t act it could kill you.
What do you decide to do with that knowledge?
Take immediate action and seek treatment?
Or perhaps you are a “cancer sceptic”.
You believe the doctor is part of a global conspiracy to “alarm” people and force them into purchasing expensive medical treatments. You argue that cancer “isn’t real” and that there is considerable debate in the medical community about its existence (and have the blogs and web sites to back you up).
Which one is the rational response?
What is the most likely outcome?
I’ll leave that for you to decide.
The denial movement is built around a simple narrative: scientists/elites are wrong (or lying) in order to further their agenda.
Of course those objectives are the usual grab-bag every conspiracy theorist makes: “they” are seeking world domination, fame, fortune and groupies.
Always the groupies. What is it with these guys?
Not gettin’ sum?
Obviously Phil Jones and Michael Mann went into climate science “for the chicks”. Surely being a climate scientist is better way to meet “da ladies” than being a member of Motely Crue?
Symbols and allegory can be more powerful than facts.
How do we combine the two?
Question: does any else have a good analogy or story they frequently tell?