In an earlier post (What Matters Most) I shared a conversation suggesting “eliminating red meat” might be the most significant change an individual can make to address global warming. Scientists believe it certainly can have a significant impact (reference the book Drawdown in that same post) and it is something everyone can do – either totally, or in moderation.
I ran across an article that makes a compelling argument that there is something even more important that we can all do that would make a difference. That is: talk about climate change with your neighbors and friends. Sounds simple, but what difference would that make?
A study released last week led by Yale researchers concludes that Americans rarely discuss climate change. And the lack of discussion reinforces the dangerously wrong belief that climate change isn’t a serious threat and doesn’t warrant urgent action. In fact, some people avoid the subject because they believe it has become so polarizing that facts don’t matter. But this study reveals, as people discuss the issue with trusted friends and family, they become more interested in learning the facts and the scientific consensus that “climate change is real, human-caused, and a threat to human civilization.”
The study also shows that people underestimate how much others know or understand about climate change and also underestimate the level of scientific consensus (97%) on the subject. And finally, the study concludes that “increased perceptions of scientific agreement lead to increases in discussions about climate change.” This suggests that “climate conversations can initiate a positively reinforcing cycle between learning, worry, and further conversation.”
So if you have these discussions with others, what can you say? A recent NY Times Climate Fwd newsletter discussed this issue with Dr. Roser-Renouf, a specialist in science communications, who put it this way:
“Family and friends are our most trusted source of information.” Explaining what you do, and giving people a sense that what they do can make a difference, is extremely important. She suggested a first step in talking to others is to find out how they feel about the issue, and then you talk about why you care about the issue. “Interpersonal communication is much more powerful than mass media information. It’s the people we talk to and care about that persuade us.”
And one bottom line regarding the science: Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists understand that humans are causing climate change.
So overall, where is the American public regarding climate change? A recent Pew Research poll results indicated 56% of people believe climate change should be the top priority of the President and Congress. However, climate change and environment are among the most divisive issues with Democrats 43 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say protecting the environment should be a top priority this year (74% vs. 31%) and 46 points more likely to cite global climate change as a top priority (67% vs. 21%). In a survey conducted last March and April, two-thirds of Americans (67%) said the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.
On the Democratic side of the issue, many in Congress as well as presidential candidates have proposed initiatives addressing climate change. I plan to talk about these developments in a subsequent post.
On the Republican side, cognizant of public opinion – particularly that 2/3 of Americans believe the federal government isn’t doing enough to address the issue – President Trump delivered remarks on America’s Environmental Leadership in a July 8, 2019 East Room address. The President and several cabinet members touted their efforts to protect the environment. However, an article by the Sierra Club, “The White House Pretends to Care About the Environment” details and explains that what the administration says in this address is actually inconsistent with the administration’s actions. Among the numerous examples are his cabinet appointments (EPA opponents, fossil fuel energy officials), numerous rollbacks of environmental and health rules and regulations, and dramatically downsizing public lands consistent with wishes of the oil, gas, coal, and uranium industries. Additionally, let’s not forget steps to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
One final note on this: Each of us, regardless of our political affiliation, can become more informed on climate change issues. Each of us has the ability to sift through the conflicting rhetoric. We should engage with our friends and family on the issue of climate change. We shouldn’t simply be, as John Mayer said, Waiting For the World to Change. It may be the most important thing we can do.