Eric Wolff: talking to non-scientists about ice cores

Eric Wolff comments on his presentations on climate change evidence in ice cores to members of the public of certain kinds.

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So I haven’t been involved directly with the climate gate protagonists in any way really but of course there’ve been similar things since with discussions about climate with people of a more sceptical tone of mind. Which in a way are enjoyable and in a way frustrating ‘cause quite often – you know, it’s quite nice to be able to exp – to be full – it’s good for us to be forced to explain some of the science at the most fundamental level, not get too hung up on the details but explain the basic principles behind some of the things that are going on, but it can be quite tedious to explain over and over again things that you think have already been explained perfectly well but somebody else has hit on a website, thinks that they’ve found something that 10,000 climate scientists haven’t seen and then insists that therefore 10,000 climate scientists are stupid [laughs]. I have given public talks, they tend not to be huge because of course the public who come to a talk about ice cores are people who are already interested in climate so they’re a quite specialised self selective group actually. The biggest one of those I ever did was a few years ago, I was invited to Dublin where the Irish government was doing a series of talks about climate, or about the environment, and I gave a talk in Dublin to I think 600 people and … again I must say in – in fora like that it’s a huge advantage to be talking about ice cores because they’re so sort of physical, they exist and you can see that they exist and you can see how they work. And it’s actually hard to deny when you see a plot of carbon dioxide from an air bubble and from air bubbles in an ice core increasing, it’s actually very hard to deny it, and that is the kind of evidence that the public like, they can’t – they do find it hard to understand what a model is, probably because we’re very bad at explaining what a model is. The process by which you would get a mean global temperature is very tedious to explain whereas actually some of the things in ice cores are very physical, you can touch them, you know, you’re touching the evidence, it’s a bit like – oh I can’t quite think what it is but if I was telling you about archaeology and I just describe it, that wouldn’t be very exciting but if I can show you a piece of clothing that was worn by a Greenlander in the 16th century it probably – you probably remember it for years. And I think ice cores a bit like that, even if I can’t show people the ice core I can show people a picture of the ice core, so I think that really helps, it’s people tend to be quite positive towards you when you’re starting from that, not from the idea of haranguing them with an idea but from the idea of showing them the evidence. And from that you’re using that to tell them what the – what the idea is and probably you’re haranguing them at that point but they’re ready to be harangued by then [laughs].
  • Interviewee Eric Wolff
  • Duration 00:02:57
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 6/28/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/70

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