Oprah & Climate Change

This Guardian piece made me wonder: what if Oprah Winfrey, during her long-running and hugely influential daytime talk show (which is ending this year) had devoted a fraction of air time to sustainability and climate change issues that she spent on promoting dubious, New Age medical cures?

Given that Oprah often vaults books and health products into instant best-sellers, is there any doubt that she could have kept climate change on the front burner if she chose to? I say this not because Oprah is a celebrity in the same way that Leonardo DiCaprio is a celebrity–she’s more than that. She’s a revered, trusted brand, a kind of pop culture Cronkite:

Winfrey’s show has often been that national voice. When she covered the topic of mad cow disease, the nation’s dairy farmers watched sales plummet; when she selected James Frey as an author to watch and later admonished him, the nation went right along with her.

Don’t get me wrong. Let me acknowledge that Oprah has lent her prominence to green causes, including promotion of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth movie.

Still, I have to wonder: if Oprah had regularly highlighted on her show the climate change issue as much as she did the latest wrinkle-free cream or faddish diet, could she have kept global warming floating in the public consciousness? Rather, she seems to have treated concern for AGW as a passing fad.

I mean, if this is the story of the century, as so many scientists and climate advocates keep insisting, then why aren’t they hounding the gatekeepers to pop culture, such as Oprah, to do their part? She is one of those rare persons with a huge, devoted following that hang on her every word and follow her guidance. Oprah has the power to influence individual minds and actions in a way that no journalist could.

12 Responses to “Oprah & Climate Change”

  1. JD Ohio says:

    Wouldn’t make any difference.  She has a high carbon lifestyle (for instance, a palace in Montecito, California and has no credibility.  Also, she is hardly a rigorous thinker.
     
    JD

  2. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Great question Keith.

  3. thingsbreak says:

    I appreciate the basic idea here, but Oprah has- like the Huffington Post- so thoroughly tarnished her name through woo boosterism that at this point it’s probably too late to do any good.
     
    Not to mention, she apparently can’t distinguish between actual climate science experts and front group propagandists.

  4. Still looking for ways to coerce public opinion in a direction towards which it does not gravitate.
     
    I just don’t understand why you can’t see that this very exploration of ways and means to kick-start a groupthink culture undermines the very thing you’re seeking to manipulate popular support for.
     
    If you really want people to get on board with the idea of addressing climate change, I’d suggest going about it scientifically. By going about it scientifically I mean to say that, to start with, you should: dispense with advocacy scientists like Hansen and Mann; de-politicise the politicised; properly address the issues with peer-review; have a real enquiry to weed out the bad wood in climate science; introduce genuine accountability in academia to the standards expected in the real world; admonish and eject scientists guilty of malfeasance, misconduct and fraud; reject the underhanded practices of those scientists (rather than rally round them and defend the indefensible.
     
    Or, of course, you could just ignore the above and watch your cause continue to die with the death of the credibility of the field. But while you continue to look for ever bigger sticking plasters to cover up the melanoma, the need to call a surgeon to cut out the cancer grows.

  5. Oh.. and while you’re at it, you could re-establish the Scientific Method and reject any and all postnormal influences. I think, if you want credibility back, that’s unquestionably a prerequisite.

  6. Keith Kloor says:

    TB (3):

    Yeah, I have to agree, but in theory, her platform and reach has incredible potential when you think about it. In an ideal world, she wouldn’t treat climate change in the dumb and unscientific manner she’s treated woo.

    Simon (4):

    My post is not an argument in favor of group-think. It’s a musing about the potential good someone like Oprah could do if with her show if the purpose was to educate people about climate change. And I’d be in favor of her having diverse guests, from Joe Romm and Judith Curry and Gavin Schmidt, to discuss climate science. And Roger Pielke Jr, Robert Stavins, Steven Heyward to discuss policy, etc, etc.

    But that’s all fantasy to think that any daytime talk host could hold serious and substantive discussion about climate science and policy.

    Still, part of my post was intended to remind people who else (beside the popular political bloviators) holds the real influence in our society.

  7. Jack Hughes says:

    Keith, this is beyond parody.
     
    You’re having a go at Oprah for, err, not sharing your unusual hobby.

  8. Steven Sullivan says:

    Asking celebrities to rally the troops is a double-edged proposition.  They aren’t scientists, they aren’t particularly well-trained to separate good ideas from bad.  Their job is to entertain and to make people love them. So  for every minute she spends on something scientifically substantial (and potentially boring/unsettling) we get hours of Oprah promoting feel-good quack medicine and new age nonsense,.
     
     

  9.  
    Keith, let’s be frank. What is attractive about Oprah is exactly what you describe in the title post: “..Oprah often vaults books and health products into instant best-sellers [..]  She’s a revered, trusted brand, a kind of pop culture Cronkite.”
     
    “Winfrey’s show has often been that national voice. When she covered the topic of mad cow disease, the nation’s dairy farmers watched sales plummet; when she selected James Frey as an author to watch and later admonished him, the nation went right along with her.”
     
    Nothing at all to do with the strength of the CAGW case, at all. It’s all about finding someone, like Oprah, who people will follow. Not because the case they make is more compelling, not because they are more right about something than anyone else who might speak up, but because people.. just.. do.. what.. Oprah.. says. Why? Because, bottom line, Oprah says it.
     
    A talk show segment about climate modelling? A talk show segment about paleoclimate reconstructions? Tree ring analysis? A talk show segment about carbon sequestration? You’re kidding, right?
     
    That’s not Oprah’s format, nor was it ever. Nor could it ever be. What is appealing about Oprah is the short cut to the end of the story. If Oprah says it, the masses will get on board. Just imagine if Oprah had uttered the words “The Hockey Stick Illusion is a must-read”.
     

  10. lucia says:

    Keith–
    There is the difficulty of cause and effect. Oprah’s voice currently has power to say. Her programs put money in her pocket. She developed into what she is over time doing what she has been doing. This happens to not include discussing climate change.
    Would her voice have the same power if she switched her focus to more truly scientific issues?  To climate change? Possibly not.
    Her daytime audience might find Gavin, Judy, Roger etc. insufficiently charming, and over time, just change the channel.  Over time, they  might lose their devotion. This would, eventually, harm Oprah’s business empire.
    Maybe Oprah could get the public to focus on climate change. Or maybe not.  She would have to care enough to risk her business enterprise.

  11. Bill says:

    Just cant believe how inept the PR ideas of Warmenistas can get.

    Anyone who regards Oprah as a scientific expert is living in a trailer park. Even if Oprah convinces them of the horrors of CAGW, they will have forgotten by next Tuesday. So will Oprah.

    The reason she boosts sales of wrinkle cream is that that wrinkle cream hasnt allready had saturation coverage in the media for a decade. And by the way, how long did her “Mad Cow” scare last?

    But I’d pay good money to watch Oprah interviewing Scmidt (or McIntyre). The ultimate giggle.

  12. Eric says:

    If you think the average American is more saturated in coverage of global warming than skin care products, you’ve been spending WAY too much time in reading the climate blogs.

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