Please explain

by The Design of Things

dead-spruce_133_600x450 In our internet-driven world, we are bombarded with petitions and memes, but can’t always easily find accurate information about the issues of the day. Like that factoid about our brains, web design seems to use only about ten percent of its potential to inform and engage.

Many major environmental problems – like global warming, acid rain, or the hole in the ozone layer – could be explained with simple and friendly interactive media. Yet most environmental groups’ websites present the facts in pages of text and a forceful, “the science is settled” tone. You’d have to be pretty committed to wade through it, and likely already convinced.

This allows skepticism to fester. In the case of global warming, the impression has grown that scientists have reached a foregone conclusion about human activity and so have missed other causes. The rest of us aren’t given a clear sense of how to answer those claims, which makes us hesitant to engage with someone who isn’t convinced.

Scientists have approached the question of global warming for decades, and through that process asked themselves all the questions people ask today: Is it natural? Is from it sunspots? Is it from water vapor? They’re not stupid questions: They’ve been asked and answered by some of the smartest people in the world. You wouldn’t know that now from the discourse, and yet presenting that process would help bring some people along.

I was once part of a team invited in to a prominent Republican U.S. Senate office, from a state that is being pretty drastically affected by climate change already, to present the science on global warming. We counseled the lead scientist to start with these questions in his presentation, to acknowledge that they are the right ones to ask and to convey that conclusions about global warming were reached only after extensive investigation. He did not. He instead gave a forty-five minute rambling presentation about global warming from the perspective of settled science. The first question from a Senate staffer was, “What about sun spots?” By then, the scientist had lost his audience, turned the conversation unnecessarily antagonistic, and hadn’t brought anyone together to look at what was really happening to our world and what we might be able to do about it.

A journalist friend of mine, Eric Roston, who is the sustainability editor at Bloomberg, tackled these questions in this beautifully and simply designed interactive graphic, which you can find here. The design is one of clarity, humility and unity in addressing the questions we all have. And you can share it, online, with your friends – believers and skeptics alike.

photo credit: Dead spruce from acid rain.