The promise of the "World Wide Web" - breaking barriers, bringing people together and solving problems for the greater good - has been largely unfulfilled. Arguably, social media has contributed to even more isolationism, more homophily, more entrenched positions in our civil discourse. I'm by no means the first person to suggest this.
But it really struck home for me when I saw this: half of the incoming GOP Members of Congress deny the existence of man-made climate change.
The incoming Congress is preparing to conduct hearings and investigations based on a premise virtually all climate scientists know to be demonstrably false. Their actions will prompt the collision of three of "my" online communities - politics, science and environmentalism. The key to how things shake out lies with the fourth community - parents, mainly moms.
First, consider these points:
- The Internet has transformed American politics. In 2008 it gave Democrats a fundraising tool to to compete with the GOP. In 2010 it gave Republicans (or more specifically, hard-right conservatives) an organizing tool and communication platform. It has also prompted the rise of a new community of punditry - political bloggers.
- The blogosphere has given science writers a home. The Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that science topics get ten times the amount of coverage in blogs than in traditional publications.
- One of the reasons commonly cited today for "why the Democrats lost" this week is the decline in support from women - I realize not all women are moms, but moms are actively engaged in civic and political activities.
- Environmentalists are currently struggling mightily to find their collective voice - their "organized" communications efforts range from ineffectual to disgusting.
I'm not trying to make a political statement on energy and the environment here. People can and will have strong differences of opinion on policy; about diversity of fuel portfolio, about efficiency standards, subsidies, and so on. But these discussions should be based on facts. The facts are crystal clear: climate change is real, man's activities contribute significantly to it, and the consequences of inaction are measurable. It's really not even an issue of "agreeing on a set of facts" - facts are facts, whether you agree with them or not. So we're asking communities who frankly don't talk with each other much - scientists, environmentalists, and political activists - to begin a vital conversation with either accusations of fraud or declarations of lunacy.
And this is where the moms come in. Mom is the opinion leader of everyday life. She decides everything from what we're eating for dinner to what car we're buying to what the local school will teach the kids. She represents the demographic that tips the balance between winners and losers. Most importantly, mom is the one who is going to tell each side to stop yelling, accept reality, and figure out a solution anyway - because that's what moms do everyday. And nobody - NOBODY - has really made a meaningful effort to do anything with this community beyond selling it stuff.
So from a competitive standpoint the side that engages mom first and best will probably win. But more importantly, if ANY side engages mom at all, we all win.