MIT Students Greatly Underestimate Needed Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions

MIT building photo

photo: b k

With all the media outlets out there and all the articles that get published, even intrepid TreeHugger authors who diligently follow all of it so they can distill it down for you sometimes miss an interesting piece. One such piece, which Biofuels Digest was from back in October and ran in Time (and in turn references an article in Science by John Sterman). It dealt with students from MIT (the proverbial smartest people in the room) and how badly they underestimated the level of carbon emission reductions needed to successfully mitigate climate change. The results are very interesting:8 of 10 Students Got the Answer Wrong
An MIT professor asked 212 grad students at the school: Students studying science, technology, math and economics, presumably the exact people who would be able to accurately predict carbon emission reductions for government. They were asked to "give a rough idea of how much governments need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to eventually stop the increase in the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere."

84% of the students ended up "greatly underestimating the degree to which greenhouse gas emissions need to fall."

We're Not Communicating the Problem Properly
The results beg the question, as the original article brings up, that if these students get the question so wrong, how can the public, with no specialized training, understand the level of reductions needed?

After going into a brief recap of the science of global warming, the article author says that the onus is on scientists (and I'd add, journalists and bloggers like myself) to better get the message across about what needs to happen to radically reduce carbon emissions.

A Green Civil Rights-Style Movement Needed
According to Sterman the answer is not a new Manhattan Project, but a new civil rights-style movement that "dramatically changes the public's beliefs and behaviors."

As much as finding solutions to global warming (and frankly energy usage and other environmental problems) is about developing cleaner technologies, its about changing people's hearts, minds, expectations, and actions. While it may not be as sexy as some new ultra-cool product, or some radical new carbon sequestration technique, bringing about this fundamental change in the human heart has to be, not the only, but the first course of action. Without this and technological changes will not be enough.

via: Time and Biofuels Digest
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