Has the climate change "brand" been ruined? Scientist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson says that the problem with trying to raise awareness about global warming is that it's the most boring subject on earth.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Dr. Olson, you say you've figured out the most boring subject humanity has ever confronted: global warming. So I have to ask, I have studied the subject and ...
Randy Olson: OK, this is probably going to be the most boring interview I've ever done. And I probably shouldn't even do it because it's kind of a losing proposition, but I will because I think this issue of climate change is truly important, and that it is a major tragedy how poorly it's been handled.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Wait -- you say our interview is a hopeless effort?
Olson: Not hopeless, just a long shot -- discussing how boring something is without being boring is tough.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But before you became a filmmaker you were an environmental researcher. Did you find science to be torture?
Olson: Yes, I was a scientist. I know where the joy lies. It is wonderful finding a like-minded scientist and delving deep into the language that can only be understood by the handful of experts seated in the front row of your big talk. But good lord, it can be bo-ho-horing to the rest of the world. Make no mistake.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What makes climate research so boring?
Olson: It's life versus non-life. I saw it my first year of college with Introductory Ecology, studying animal interactions (interesting) and systems ecology (zzz ...). The former involves living creatures (interesting) the latter involves mostly lifeless chemicals. Life is interesting. Non-life, not so much.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you sure? Hardly any field of science has experienced as much attention in recent years as climate research.
Olson: It's kind of like how talking about the weather is generally regarded as the ultimate in boring conversation. Climate science is about temperature. Gee. How interesting.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But think of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" about the impending climate catastrophe -- the world media focused in on them, right?
Olson: The IPCC reports make headlines every few years, because the UN attracts the world's press. But the research itself? The Gore movie cashed in on his personality and the question of where he had been in the six years since his failed US presidential bid. The same movie starring any NASA scientist would have lost money.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: That's a bold claim, how can you be so sure?
Olson: Because the movie itself, stripped of its celebrity element, was boring. There was almost no narrative structure to it. It failed to tell an interesting and compelling story.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But Al Gore presented dramatic nature scenes and frightening graphics. Didn't that create attention?
Olson: Maybe if you were one of the hardcore lefties who turned out for it in droves. But if it was so good, why don't you see it re-run on cable the way popular movies are?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But Gore's film drew tremendous attention to the climate problem. Isn't that proof of science successfully communicating?