Journalist: Why aren't we doing anything about global warming?

The world is warming -- and scientists are confident that humans are at least partially to blame. So Dan Grossman wonders why aren't we doing anything about it?

Last week, Dan Grossman, a George Foster Peabody Award-winning journalist addressed my class for a guest lecture. He posed a very blunt, striking question: Why aren’t we doing anything about global warming?

It’s quite the interesting question when you think about it. We basically know that global warming, with almost unanimous agreement of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is happening and is caused by human beings. We are fairly certain that, although it cannot be immediately stopped, or even fully reversed, that we can at least do one of a number of things to slow the process and alleviate the effects. So why aren’t we doing anything?

Well, the way I see it, there are four main issues that are preventing action. They are:

1. Climate Change is hard to comprehend. Climate change is a perfect example of a public goods problem. We’re able to address many other public goods problems – clean air and water are two examples of where we’ve made impressive strides. So why not Climate change? Well, a few things are holding us back.

Climate change is an issue on an enormous scale. It’s hard to wrap your head around the concept. Human psychology (as noted in Sterman’s 2011 compilation study) is designed in such a way that grasping both the scope of the problem and the intricacy and interconnectedness of the systems affected is fairly difficult. Examples of this include the tendency to see undesirable outcomes as less likely (“wishful thinking”), and the fact that we tend to make different decisions based on the way information is presented to us (“Framing”). These ingrained heuristics make it difficult to see climate change in the way we need to.

2. People have other things to worry about. Think about it. When you wake up in the morning, is your first thought: “Oh no! I’m going to be affected by global warming today!” Even as an active environmentalist, I don’t do this. When I wake up, I think about the homework I forgot to do, and stress over whether I will make it home for lunch (it IS quesadilla day, after-all). Even on a larger scale, people have more prominent concerns – taxes, war, the economy – and environmental issues, particularly climate change, is put on the back burner.

3. It is easier to deny climate change than to confirm it. Scientific debate works much like our American legal system: the burden of proof is on the discoverer. Anyone wanting to disprove anything just needs to provide reasonable doubt about just one part of the concept or theory in a process Grossman referred to as “cherry picking,” the act of focusing on singular, often non-crucial details and working to disprove them, with the expectation that disproving this one fact disproves the entire concept. This is a concept that has played itself out significantly in the “fracking” debate - opponents have picked out gas leaks, chemical spillage, and more as small, individual issues. This, combined with a large flow of money from major corporations, climate change deniers have been able to make major waves in the public eye.

4. Climate Change has become a political issue. Plain and simple: For the most part, Democrats believe in climate change, and Republicans either deny it outright or do not believe in the government’s role to step in. It has become a purely ideological issue, and one in my opinion that is hindering any potential solution, at least until the deadlock in Congress dissolves.

So what can we do? Well, for starters, we need to improve our communication about climate change. As we know, it can be very difficult to comprehend for many people. Despite the general scientific consensus, doubt and confusion reign. Using a method comprised of analogies, metaphors, and using models to represent and break down the issue will make it more accessible and easier to understand.

We also need to strive to make climate change a more visible issue. People have “bigger” concerns, not because they are truly more important, but that they seem more immediate and present. If you have to think about global warming that will affect you in ten years or the meeting you have to run to in ten minutes while your boss is staring you down, it’s not a surprise which one is your bigger concern.

As we learn to better communicate the issues of climate change, we need to learn how to make global warming a more visible issue. Whether through “price signals” of a cap-and-trade system (a market-based approach to reducing carbon emission) or a carbon flat-tax policy, or through one of a variety of other methods, until global warming becomes a daily thought of the American – and global – populace, we cannot hope to tackle it as an issue. Of course, most of these methods are based on public policy change – and until there is a shift in power in congress, we cannot move forward at all.

Green journalism and stenography

because journalists are more often than not stenographers. The media is owned by the 1% (corporations with vestments in big oil) You put up and you shut up or get fired, maybe even killed. Toe the line!

Or, work with non-profit community media.

Why isn't there a non-profit community radio station with broad range in Syracuse or central NY? That should be your question. Why is it prevented? Why are there so many Kafkaesque bureaucratic restrictions and regulations blocking it? Why can't cities set up there own public Internet utilities? Why is democracy a sham? Where are all the jobs and local creations? Why do we depend on big business and conglomerations for local prosperity? Why are local industries and small democratic business alternatives on the down-low and obstructed? What is green about that? Why can't local Syracusians afford to attend SU? Why do so many SU students come from NY city and wealth(ier) families?

All that and more is why journalists don't seek truth or tell truth. democracy depends on democratic social journalism. Activism, not money.

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