We have likely all heard about anthropogenic, or human-induced, climate change (ACC) through news coverage, apocalyptic films, or classroom discussion. We have also likely heard both passionate defenses of its existence by scientists and attempts to disregard it altogether by the seemingly significant number of skeptics. ACC has been tied to conspiracy theories, faulty research, exaggerated attempts to gain support for secret money-making schemes, and other drastic notions that make the whole issue seem like an ugly debate far from any sort of agreement.
However, upon closer examination, one finds that there is actually a widespread consensus among the scientific community that ACC exists and should not be ignored if we hope to combat the detrimental changes to our climate over the next few decades that will threaten our way of life. Still, the media presents a very different message, still placing a spotlight on the small community of skeptics in favor of balance and novelty. The public is thus left to make its own decision. While these conflicting voices can be confusing, they also pose the greater threat of deemphasizing the immediacy of the issue at hand.
This resulting lack of agreement among the public is just one example of the differences in perspectives and values for various groups that are naturally inclined to act in their interest and to support issues that affect them directly. While the scientific community is focused on the planet and its processes, policy-makers and government officials are focused on the interests of their country’s economy and development, and corporations are focused on profit. The public population, however, is not fully a part of any of these groups, and is left to acquire most of its information on these topics through news coverage that is often politically-oriented. Yet, like the other groups, the public makes decisions based on personal interest. Because of this, the looming economic problems and the growing national debt seem to take the forefront while ACC takes the backburner. As other countries around the globe face a similar divide of interests, international debates on climate change, such as the current U.N. Conference of Parties in Doha, Qatar, struggle to reach agreements that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the globe. Although some of the United States’ leaders, scientists, and activists have demonstrated the country’s new attempts to reduce emissions this past year, the country and the world are far from reaching the level of reductions necessary to prevent significant climate impact by 2030.
So what else can be done? It is not difficult to recognize how widespread public support of an issue plays a substantial role in the success of national reform. With this in mind, perhaps what is needed is a change in perspective for the current attempts to gain support for the reduction of ACC. After all, the same processes that contribute to long-term climate change also immediately affect human health, surrounding resources, and plant and animal populations, but these impacts have generally been viewed separately as “environmental injustices”. Instead of projecting warnings of the future negative effects of greenhouse gases on the climate alone (which the EPA defines as changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns), perhaps an incorporation of these existing impacts on local populations may be able to demonstrate the link between public interest and the concerns of the scientific community.
Considering President Obama’s recent statements in favor of developing a plan that improves the economy while also addressing climate change, it seems like this link may be needed now more than ever.
Jennifer Spero (’15)