A year ago, I had a good job as a producer at a digital marketing firm. Like many people I was aware of climate change, but it was just another issue in a long list of troubling issues facing the world. Then I saw this TED talk, by Paul Gilding.
With most TED talks, the audience is awed by the depth of human ingenuity and filled with positive visions of the future. Gilding’s talk wasn’t like that. His audience clearly felt overwhelmed and hollowed out by his depiction of a world headed for collapse, brought on by climate change and boundless consumption. That vision scared me: I have several beautiful godchildren and someday hope to have kids of my own, and I worry about the treacherous world they will inherit. Climate change is here, and it’s gonna get messy.
So after a few months of research I decided to quit my job, get off the sidelines and create a website to address the issue.
There’s no easy way to say it: our situation is dire. Addressing climate change will take nothing less than warlike levels of money and mobilization. But every war first begins with a narrative about what threatens us and what we should do about it. So the focus of the site is to explain that narrative and what climate change means for ordinary people.
To this end, I began recording interviews with friends and family about climate change. People are busy, it’s easy to ignore news and scientific studies, but it’s a lot harder to ignore loved ones when they bring these issues to the dinner table. This approach appealed to me for two reasons. First, I selfishly want my friends and family to be as prepared as possible for climate change. Second, my hope is that this unvarnished, informal approach will resonate with people in ways that cold science cannot.
Thus science-pope.com was created to house the videos of these talks and to provide a platform for broader advocacy. Despite the serious subject matter, articles on the site tend to feature a lot of humor and memes. After all, as Transition Voice demonstrates, a few jokes go a long way in helping people process bad news.
Why did I quit my job to do this?
Part of it was that I wanted to show that I was serious, and perhaps embody the change that’s required. I’m also drawn to big ideas, and it doesn’t get much bigger than this.
But the main reason is, it can’t wait. Climate change is advancing rapidly, and if the world doesn’t act soon it will be too late. Once the scale of the threat was realized, working on anything else seemed a bit like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
What’s a Science Pope?
The Science Pope is a symbol of a fact-based worldview. I’m not the Science Pope, it’s not a title I bestow upon myself or anyone else. Yet there is a kind of authority imbued in the symbol: the authority of fact over belief.
We all have differences of opinion, but recently people have been suffering from differences of fact. Sometimes these gaps are caused by a genuine lack of understanding…always regrettable, but obviously forgivable. More often however, vested interests purposely manipulate facts to match their favored outcome. In the case of climate change, surrogates for Big Oil cherry pick data that appears to show flaws in climate science. This practice is vile, dishonest, and detrimental to the public good.
To address this problem, we must cultivate a centralized, peer-reviewed source of objective scientific facts. If that sounds far-fetched, consider for a moment how far the internet has already advanced this idea through sites like Wikipedia, Factcheck.org, and /r/AskScience/ on Reddit. Information on these sites is trustworthy because they utilize the power of peer networks: information becomes more reliable as it is iterated upon, as a stone is polished in a tumbler. People need trusted sources of information so they might base their decisions on solid fact (and yes, win the occasional bar bet).
The larger underlying theme is that beyond curating information, the internet enables peer networks to address all kinds of real-world problems. With nothing but a network connection people can now fund businesses (Kickstarter), fix potholes (SeeClickFix), or foster entire political movements (the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street). Indeed the internet is fundamentally changing the world: hierarchies are dying en masse, and internet-enabled peer networks are rising to take their place. Unsurprisingly, climate activism is increasingly following a peer network model.
If we accept that today’s business-as-usual will lead to ruin and collapse, I tend to view the future in a fairly binary way. If we do nothing (or even too little) about climate change, the world will be ruined and human civilization along with it. If instead we face the music, in relatively short order humanity will devise entirely new systems for energy, economics and global governance. One way or the other, civilization is going to look very different by the end of the century. Star Trek or Mad Max, take your pick.
This transformation excites me, but I’m no utopian: the only plans that will work are those based in fact and that work for ordinary people. My hope for the future is based on humanity’s communal spirit and tremendous ability to change if shown a better way. Our first step in this journey is just to face facts. It can be painful, but denial is a luxury we’ve afforded ourselves for too long already.
I want humanity to have a future worth inheriting. So now it’s time to get to work.
– Eric Krasnauskas, Transition Voice