Defending our Climate in the War Against Science with Joe Romm

Photo: Max Thabiso Edkins (CC 2.0)
Photo: Max Thabiso Edkins (CC 2.0)

Our guest for this episode is Joseph Romm, an American author, blogger and Phd in Physics from MIT who advocates reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming and increasing energy security and efficiency through green technologies.

He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the founding Editor-in-Chief of progressive news aggregator Front Page Live and Chief Science Advisor for the Emmy-award winning documentary series Years of Living Dangerously. He’s been called the web’s most influential climate change blogger.

For 5 years, Romm was at the Department of Energy as Asst. Acting Secretary, during the Clinton administration, with lots of politics and special interests at play, against his somewhat utopian MIT “world of physics” approach. “It was certainly an eye-opening experience”, he recalls. “It’s really a massive agency, of which Energy Technology is only about a quarter of it. It runs all the National Labs in the country.”

But even though there was a lot of bureaucracy, he has fond memories of that period. “If you’re there long enough, you know how it works, and you can help tweak the levers. I got a lot of experience communicating.”

winning support for climate action policy

While discussing causes of climate change, climate change solutions, and overcoming climate change doubt, of course we couldn’t ignore the way that personal information is currently being sold in order to manipulate the public, with cases as conspicuous as that of Cambridge Analytica where something as apparently harmless as a survey turned out to be a way to scrape a huge database of personal preferences that could be used to target campaign ads.

In the past, political campaigns sought out this type of information was through market research panels and PR firms, but in this case the information was collected with a hidden motive.

“People didn’t realize by filling out the survey, they were opening them and their friends’ profiles up,” Romm explains. “And they created psychographic profiles of people, and those were used to target them with voter suppression efforts.”

And while I share his concerns, I couldn’t help to point out that every company dealing with big data (Google, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), is doing exactly just that, which is why Shoshana Zuboff wrote, “Unless democracy revokes the license to steal and challenges the fundamental economics and operations of commercial surveillance, the epistemic coup will weaken and eventually transform democracy itself.”

“It’s absolutely true”, Romm admitted, pointing out that the one thing that dystopian science fiction writers like George Orwell – who coined the term doublespeak – couldn’t imagine is that it wouldn’t take a huge state to achieve nearly total control of people, but that it would be the people themselves who would give up their own privacy in order to use a bunch of apps.

With extreme weather incidents in the rise, it’s harder for deniers to say with a straight face that the climate isn’t changing, but they keep using division and deflection as strategies, like Michael E. Mann explains.

winning support for climate action policy

Romm recalls a specific example during the last Presidential Campaign, where he participated in an event to inform Latino moms abut climate change. To his astonishment, he found out that there was a whole disinformation campaign on the matter elaborated in Spanish. He’s positive that, regrettably, such cases are not isolated. “I think you can assume there is a very pervasive disinformation effort,” he says.

For more insights on Romm's collective psychology perspective, effective communication strategies for refuting climate change denials and how to win support for climate policy action, listen to the full interview or check out these podcasts

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