This isn’t about the polar bears: 3 responses to a climate change skeptic.
I was about halfway through a very long-winded, thoroughly detailed email response to a family member who isn’t so sure about the seriousness of this ‘whole climate change thing’, when I realized that there isn’t a lot of good information out there on how to easily communicate climate science effectively, efficiently and dispassionately.
I come from a big family of natural contrarians. I think it all generally stems from a good place — none of us want to be ‘duped’ or find ourselves on the wrong ‘side’ or ‘team.’ Unfortunately, this contrarian quality usually leads to the loudest and most charismatic voice ending the conversation and ‘winning’ the debate, whether or not their claims were true or based in incontrovertible fact.
It would be great if the scientists who have spent their entire lives compiling and testing their research could also be really, really good at communicating it to the rest of the non-scientific world, but unfortunately that’s just not the reality.
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, while about half the population agreed that climate change was caused due to human activity, the majority of Americans are still skeptical of climate scientists.
As a result of this skepticism, we end up reading biased media or industry funded reports on the latest study that fit our own biases, and more often than not, it’s usually the louder, more charismatic voices who end up being listened to — simply because they’re good at talking and relating ‘to the people.’
So what do we do? Write to our favorite climate scientist and encourage them to take Toast Masters? So yeah, obviously I’m going to do that because that is hilarious. But I think a more valuable use of my time and energy would be to put effort into actually figuring out how to communicate the science in a way that even a natural contrarian would be okay with hearing.
“A balanced debate is about giving accurate, not equal, weight to both sides.”
I wanted to kick things off this week with a few of the most common misconceptions often made about people who are concerned about the implications of a warming planet. There are, of course, at least a dozen more I could have listed here, but I thought this would be a good place to start.
1. You only care about polar bears and caribou.
While it is just basically decent human behavior to consider how our actions will affect the environment and ecosystems of plant and animal life, I am concerned about climate change primarily because I care about humans. A warming planet will affect the quality of life for everyone — no matter what your political beliefs.
Last year alone, 24 million people were displaced due to natural disasters; that’s three times as many as were displaced by conflict and violence. Only halfway through this year’s hurricane season, FEMA’s budget has been nearly depleted, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, and entire islands have been evacuated or completely destroyed. When high volumes of people are displaced, government funding is depleted and resources become scarce, tensions will inevitably arise.
As Americans, we have the privilege to live in the richest country in the world and as such are better equipped to handle the side effects of a changing climate. However, the frequency of natural disasters is starting to take its toll on our resources, and we are struggling to keep up.
2.You’re just anti-capitalism (and possibly a socialist).
Not at all. Capitalism encourages innovation, efficiency, and entrepreneurship. It’s thrilling to watch entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson recognize that renewable energy is the way of the future and that it can actually save more money than continuing to rely on finite resources like carbon and fossil fuels.
If anything, I would prefer it if we shifted to a purer free market economy. I don’t consider myself a libertarian, but I agree with the primary rule of their ideology which is to “first, do no harm.” If coal and fossil fuels were priced to accurately reflect the total cost of damage done to human health, the environment, and our coastal properties (we’re now talking in the trillions of dollars), the free market would immediately abandon these options and move to a cheaper source of energy (in this case, renewables).
“If coal and fossil fuels were priced to accurately reflect the total cost of damage done to human health, the environment, and our coastal properties, the free market would move to a cheaper source of energy.”
3.You think the government should control everything.
I don’t think the government should be bigger or control every aspect of people’s lives. I just (perhaps naively), want it to be free of corruption. I believe the basic function of government is to protect its citizens and their liberties from abuses of power in all forms, and deliver justice when injustice occurs. Unfortunately, our government is run by a very small group of extremely wealthy people who have a vested interest in gutting government oversight and electing officials who oppose regulation — especially in the coal and oil industry.
Republicans were actually the inventors of government regulation on pollutants — and it worked beautifully. In the 1980's, Ronald Reagan used the Cap and Trade (C&T) system to phase out the use of lead in gasoline. This act spared as many as 3.4 million children from growing up with hazardous levels of the toxic metal in their bodies. George H.W. Bush also used the C&T system to curb our SO2 output after it had been linked to acid rain (and seriously, when was the last time you heard someone talk about acid rain?)
The C&T system motivated businesses to work towards reducing their pollutant emissions and rewarded those who were the most efficient at it. It was a brilliant, business friendly, economically attractive system that worked for both Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, today we have a national Republican party that is largely funded by oil and fossil fuel interests, and so cannot adopt efficient, cost effective means of reducing pollution.
“Republicans were actually the inventors of government regulation on pollutants.”
This shouldn’t be about politics, but politics will inevitably enter into it as the climate continues to change and alter our way of life. A warming planet increases the longevity, intensity, and occurrence of natural disasters. No matter what your political beliefs may be, it’s important to be informed.
“People are the problem, but people are also the solution.”
I was once asked by the same family member, “What’s motivating you to talk about this?” and I was incredulous — stumped. It was as if someone asked me what my motivations were for talking about why I believed the earth was round and not flat (an astonishing number of people still believe this).
This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about ‘freedom.’ This is about planning for the future — and it’s not that far away from you. The effects of how we choose to respond to man-made climate change today will be seen in our lifetime. As my good friend and climate scientist Jim Crowell says, “People are the problem, but people are also the solution.”
Smart investors will begin to move away from their interests in coastal properties as that market will most likely crash. The U.S. government will need to increase its disaster relief funding, increase militarization and security measures in the Arctic, and move towards re-training coal and oil employees in the clean energy sectors.
Emerging college graduates should be aware of those areas in the country that will see the most job growth — building levees, working on solar or wind farms, or engineering in clean energy and transportation sectors.
No matter what your politics are, knowing how the future is going to play out is extremely valuable information. While we might not be able to protect the polar bears and the caribou from the effects of a warming climate, we can protect each other.