Breaking out of our bubbles

Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a bubble. Actually, we all live in our own custom-made bubbles that are shaped by our life experience and our education.

The world in my bubble is different from the world in your bubble.    The TV show Madmen dramatized this in an early episode, when Betty comes home with her drycleaning.     After a few minutes, the kids come running out of the bedroom playing ‘spacemen.’  Sally is wearing the thin plastic dry-cleaning bag over her head and body.  Betty gets mad, as any mother would at this shocking sight, and chides Sally,

“If the clothes from that dry-cleaning bag are on the floor of my closet, you’re going to be a very sorry, young lady.”

How times have changed!   Betty is oblivious to today’s concerns about suffocation, and we’re blind to her focus on well-pressed clothing.

When it comes to climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy, there are some very strong bubbles built largely on the capacity of the internet to foster colonies of like-minds.

There’s a whole anti-AGW blogosphere bubble promoting the notion that climate science is not settled and ‘do nothing’ is the best course of action. There are virtually no practising climate scientists in this bubble, though there are related professionals like weathermen and engineers along with lots of backyard ‘thinkers’.

There’s also a pro-AGW bubble that posts evidence, debunks fallacies and corrects errors. This bubble has quite a number of practising climate scientists, along with science communicators, news media, business interests, enthusiasts and various interest groups.

Meanwhile, the usual practice of science continues through peer reviewed papers in academic journals.

How do we speak to each other across these bubbles? As a first step, we need to spend more time hanging out with people who live in different bubbles from ours. Natually, this is not as comfortable as hanging out with like minds. You have to make an effort and be prepared for some abrasion.

We can also make efforts to see the world from someone else’s point of view. Why does Betty Draper ignore the suffocation risk when Sally puts the plastic bag over her head?

To see the world from someone else’s point of view we need to listen with respect, as climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says,

If we approach this issue with mutual respect, with a desire for identifying what we most have in common rather than where we differ, and if we are prepared to listen and have two-way communication, rather than just coming in there to instruct, then we can make some progress.

Without these efforts, we remain trapped in our bubble, our echo chamber. That makes us lousy communicators.  More like Betty Draper than Katharine Hayhoe.

First published at Thisness of a That, reprinted with permission.

3 thoughts on “Breaking out of our bubbles

  1. Tom Smerling

    As one step toward “breaking out of our bubble,” ClimateBites recently featured some prominent conservative thinkers who accept the basic science of climate change, and are working toward solutions consistent with conservative, small-government principles.

    See recent posts on Jonathan Adlerand Peter Wehner (Part I and Part II).

    Also see related posts in the category “Unusual Suspects.”

  2. Gerald Jones

    “Why does Betty Draper ignore the suffocation risk when Sally puts the plastic bag over her head?”

    Betty was unaware of the suffocation risk.

    Why are we aware?

    Media. The risk of suffocation was first publicized by the media, then warnings on plastic bags were mandated by government.

    It’s the education thing all over again. Betty, as a 1970’s grandma, would know, and warn the child of danger, not wrinkles.

    That’s the blueprint for our struggle. Media action followed by government action.

  3. Makan Post author

    Hi Gerald,

    You’re spot-on about the role of media to inform the wider community. In that regard, I find myself a bit irritated when critics lay the problem at the feet of scientists and say they should communicate better AND THEN THE SCIENTISTS HUMBLY AGREE!

    Bah! Humbug! The media should communicate better… that’s their core job afterall.

    Besides, scientists have put huge effort and talent into communicating climate science to non-science audiences.

    It’s another reason to call for more responsible media reporting, as you say.


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