Public opinion: 1988 vs 2012: How heat waves and droughts fuel climate perception -- 07/30/2012 -- www.eenews.net
On a stifling day in June 1988, climatologist Syukuro Manabe stood by a whirring projector, shuffling through transparencies, as a room of sweating Congress members shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Close by, James Hansen of NASA was waxing to the apex of his testimony.
The timing of the testimony was no accident. Wirth had been arguing for action on global warming for several years. Hansen had already testified before congressional committees in 1986 and 1987, drawing little public attention, and with the summer drought, he and the scientists recognized their opportunity to reach the public.
As an aide for Wirth would later tell Grist Magazine, "We did agree that we should figure out when it'd be really hot in Washington. People might be thinking of things like, what's the climate like?"
Meteorologists could provide those answers, and they eventually did. The drought was caused by "massive, naturally occurring climatic forces in the tropical Pacific Ocean and had little to do with global warming caused by the greenhouse effect," one January 1989 New York Times banner read.
Many of the newspapers that quoted Hansen misinterpreted his testimony, linking his comments directly to the summer's heat. He had not made that connection. Though clearly exploiting the drought as backdrop, his testimony made no attempt to attribute it solely to global climate trends. Unaware of the newspapers' mistake, however, many scientists rebuked Hansen for overstepping his bounds.
To make that message stick, the climate movement will need to change its rhetoric, Mintzer said. "We need to get away from this rhetoric about global warming and start talking about global weirding," he said. "Maybe you have a flood in Pakistan one year and a fire in Russia the next, then a drought in the United States followed by record cold in Europe. These are all pieces of the same picture."