By Juilo Friedmann
When I completed my doctorate in geology, I didn't know that I would spend the next 16 years working on either climate or energy. I've worked in Australia and Wyoming, Ireland and Spain, Alaska and Azerbaijan, California and China. I've been fortunate to act from inside industry (ExxonMobil for five years), to learn from top scientists there and in Universities (including a stint at the University of Maryland), and both learn from and present to world-class scientists. In both gigs, my job was creation of knowledge. In my current gig as Carbon Management Program lead at one of the national Labs, I am honored to serve an additional formal role: providing technical insight and information to government. In 23 years as a scientist, I've learned a tough lesson: Talking to people about climate and energy is hard.
The fact that climate change is real, man-made and likely to be bad doesn't make talking about it any easier. That we need to act urgently and at immense scale doesn't improve things -- ask Al Gore.
Communicating even the simple bits in climate and energy is tricky, in part because America has created the energy system it wanted -- cheap, unintrusive and all but invisible. To many Americans, power comes from the wall and gas comes from a gas station. Most people don't see or experience oil wells, refineries, power plants, natural gas pipelines, gas storage facilities, or large transformer sub-stations. In my experience, many folks when asked know neither how much power they use each month nor what their electricity bill is. In part, this is because the value of electricity and gasoline is much, much higher to most people than the cost.