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Boing Boing Editor Makes Energy Policy an Illuminating Read

Science editor Maggie Koerth-Baker on her new book and whether there's hope for us yet.

| Sat May 5, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

One of Koerth-Baker's biggest concerns is what she calls "the tribalism gap" in politics. It would help, she says, to have "some kind of grassroots movement with people from both sides who are interested in getting in the room together." And for that to happen, you often "have to find people who are mediators between two different groups." For example, to address the false belief that vaccines cause autism, doctors met with "mommy bloggers" to explain the science behind vaccines, hoping to get information to a skeptical community via a trusted messenger. Koerth-Baker thinks climate and environmental communities need to do the same thing—reach out to influential figures in the climate-change denial movement.

Writing the book, Koerth-Baker says, "really changed the way I thought about how we need to do energy and climate education. I was really frustrated with the kind of thing I see online"—the kind of partisan bickering where "the only people who agree with anything already agree with everything." That mode of discussion is "completely useless," she says—climate discussions are dominated by "the assumption on either side that the other people are evil." (See, for example, the Heartland Institute's new ad campaign comparing people who believe in climate change to mass murderers.) But Koerth-Baker thinks that can change. "Use whatever tools you can to start having respectful conversations about more things—you're more likely to listen to someone you have emotional connection to." She hopes that "cross-cultural conversations" that reject easy dichotomies might even help change the dialogue in Washington.

So, after writing the book, does she feel more or less optimistic? It depends. "I feel more optimistic that we can make some level of change," Koerth-Baker explains. "We have the technology, it exists, we know how it needs to come together. There's definitely momentum to do this on smaller scales. Change is going to happen." But "the thing that was really both perspective-changing and depressing for me was the conclusion that so much of it is big, large-scale policy change. The local-level stuff helps, but at some point we need some top-down stuff kicking in or we won't have change at the scale that we need." There are "definitely some big roadblocks," she adds.

Still, understanding what we need to do is an important first step. The biggest takeaway she hopes to give her readers: "Energy isn't just sources, energy is systems. We have to change those systems if we want to make the changes to the personal and individual level."

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