Most people reading this have probably found themselves in a similar sticky situation: talking to a buddy or loved one about climate change, and finding out they have a completely conflicting belief about the issue. You love Grandma! You really like Joe from Accounting! But you really don't agree with them. As supporters of green living and promoting solutions to climate change, how can we discuss this issue we care about without increasing the divides in beliefs and politics already so present? How can we make a difference in a time of such stark differences of opinion in our society?
In this post I want to do two things:
1. Discuss the reasons why people have such polarizing beliefs about whether climate change is really happening
2. Propose some ideas on how to handle what has become a common argument
If it was a given fact that a meteor was going to strike the earth in a couple weeks you can be sure that urgent measures would be taken to do anything possible to avoid the event. However, climate change is an ongoing dilemma that doesn't feel so sudden.
At this time only a small percentage of people on the planet are affected by climate change in a direct way. What makes it seem less threatening is that it is a gradual shift which makes any changes in weather patterns difficult to perceive. Some parts of the population in colder climates even welcome the milder temperatures. On the other hand, you know that if water was three feet deep in downtown Miami there would be a much different perception and reaction to the warming. Hopefully we will not end up with that scenario, but situations such as flooding in major cities are projected effects of climate change, whereas milder temperatures in typically cooler places are just the beginning of these changes.
For many of us, the only knowledge we have on climate change is drawn from the news media. We hear everything from "scientists say that global warming is a threat to our existence" to "all this warming stuff is nonsense, don't worry about it." With such an abundance of varying messages in today's world, it's understandable that one would have a difficult time deciding what to believe.
But, as with many things, education is key. If you were to take a poll of a younger set of people you would find few who would deny that climate change is a real threat. They are studying or have recently taken science courses with the most updated knowledge funneled down from top scientific minds and their data. Earth Science courses prior to the 1990s did not touch on the topic more than maybe a brief mention.
People are creatures of habit. We go through our daily lives and there is a certain comfort to knowing that tomorrow will be similar to today. We get so accustomed to the "sameness" that we tend to resist anything that challenges it. For example, most of us are accustomed to using fossil fuels because we've been doing so all our lives. The thought might sound something like this: "I'm getting along just fine with my car, furnace, cable TV, etc. so why change it? That would be a transition that I really don't want to deal with." Again, this is an understandable response, but probably not the most thought-through one if it ends there.
How often have you seen an advertisement for "clean coal" or natural gas? These companies are trying to hold on to their steady profit streams and certainly don't want any drastic changes taking place. They've altered the terminology to make their fuel sound better for the environment. And there are plenty of other companies that aren't changing a thing because they know we rely on them in order to not change our lifestyles (see above!). This includes many in the oil industry, who also promote their business through politicians and news outlets--they have enough money already to pay for these support systems.
The positive thing is that plenty of companies now recognize themselves as "energy companies" and not as a particular fuel company. They have recently realized that they will need to work on developing renewable technology to stay in business for the long run. Plenty have realized there is a finite amount of oil and gas wells that can be drilled and they will not produce forever, so it's really a matter of having to change over sooner or later. Recent estimates show about a fifty year supply of oil if we continue our expanding consumption. But of course, some folks will not believe that estimation is true.
Different regions have different weather and they all vary by season. Warm and cold trends within seasons come and go with no known pattern. If you are getting out of bed and going out to your car in sub freezing weather, it's pretty tough to be thinking "wow we really need to do something to make it colder." The thermometer you have outside the window or on your phone gives you the local temperature and not the average global temperature--what use would that be to you? It's not really going to matter to us if the polar regions are warming, we just want to know if we should wear a t-shirt or a sweater. But, in the long run, it will matter, even if that's difficult to come to terms with now.
Hey, let's face it--we as environmentalists could be wrong. Ouch! That kind of hurts to say... but it is possible. It's extremely unlikely, according to scientific data, but it's possible. There could be some extraneous factors, something that has been overlooked or not able to be measured concerning the causes of the warming planet. There could be some future cosmic event that we can't anticipate that will cool our planet back down and we will have made all this ado abut nothing. Nothing is ever 100% certain.
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Gore's book Our Choice pointed out some ways in which the climate change problem might be solved, with biochar being one piece of the puzzle.