Energy and climate: Six popular myths that complicate the development of good public policies
Andrew Miall: Department of Geology University of Toronto
from 12:00 to 13:00
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Department of Geology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 3B1
(President: Academy of Science, Royal Society of Canada, 2007-2009)
Climate change and energy issues are complex, and key points are commonly simplified in order for a speaker or commentator to make a point they regard as important. While this may help with public understanding of complex scientific or economic issues, it can result in distortion or misrepresentation, particularly where an individual has an axe to grind or a political point to make. Here are six examples.
1. Global temperature tracks atmospheric CO2 content
2. Ice falling off glaciers indicates rapid global warming
3. Glacial retreat in general as an indication of global warming
4. High gas prices equal corporate rip-off
5. “Energy independence” and “reducing dependence on foreign oil”
6. The drowning/stranded polar bear
As these six examples illustrate, simplifications can help opinion leaders to make a point. But there are hazards to this approach, as well as benefits. Pointing out the complexities may take spokespersons “off message” for those trying to argue a simple point, but not doing so insults the intelligence of the general public, whose ability and willingness to understand important scientific arguments is all too easily under-estimated.