There are real limits to education campaigns when it comes to global warming.
There are limits to education because science and fundamentalism (any flavor of fundamentalism, including eco-fundamentalism) are like oil and water, and because our knowledge of global warming is scientific, and because the science of global warming is not intuitive. It is not common-sense to think that the real problem is an odorless, colorless gas. And while being very warm is sometimes uncomfortable, it is not intuitive to fear warmth in general.
The bottom line is that we have evolved to create a world that we are not wired, as animals, to understand at all, and this problem is not restricted to global warming. Our economy is not intuitive, and neither is its current collapse. It makes no sense to my sister in law that you don't sell all your stocks when the market falls. We are emotional creatures who have learned to adapt to a series of specific threats: immediate and knowable ones that we can act immediately upon by doing something. And we have created a complex culture that makes slow-moving invisible threats that are difficult to think about in terms of doing something.
I mean, nothing sounds more shrill than the comments on Dot Earth.
This is a cultural problem that craves cultural solutions. Scholarship is of course one angle, but there are so many times Al Gore is going to be able to give his slide lecture, and every single time he gives it there will be blowback, because the very thing that makes science a powerful intellectual tool makes it very easy to ague with.
Science has to know that it's guessing in order to be science. But art, film, literature and design don't. And yet most cultural production related to climate change leans very heavily on the science, and thinks in terms of illustrating and educating.
This is a huge wasted opportunity. Artists, gardeners, poets and screenwriters--what does climate change mean when it isn't an educational hobbyhorse? What's the larger cultural landscape of a culture that can actually grasp its new, slow-moving complex threats? How do we replace fear with intense consideration of all the parts of a puzzle? How do we become the future that we want, given the people and the present that we have?
I am reading this great two-volume set of tomes about edible forest gardening by David Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, and it's the smartest cultural production addressing the environment that I have seen to date, because it does as little education about our environmental sins as possible. There are probably a thousand pages of text here, and I've personally read about 150 of volume one at this point, and I have read maybe three or five full pages of Education About How Bad We Are. The rest is a rich, detailed vision about what our backyards can become, and how much you don't know about soil, and how interrelated everything that grows is--how the blueberry bush relies on the tree for nitrogen fixing, and the herbs below to deter pests, and so on. This book is too busy blowing your mind and enjoying its subject to educate about the problems we have wreaked on the environment. The past becomes a given and the future becomes exciting. The result is an inspiring, terror-and-wallow-free romp in which it's possible to imagine a specific future in which suburbia isn't evil, in which our backyards all knit back together to form a real, interrelated forest-type organism that sustains both the humans who tend it and the soil that supports it.
Re-imagining the suburbs as a powerful force of good?
Every creative endeavor can aspire to this kind of aggressive solution-envisioning and joy-creation.