Perhaps even more important than the percentage of people who accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change is the number of people who believe that something can be done about it. This is because when—and I believe it is a matter of when, not if—the public truly wakes up to climate change as a mortal danger, it will be critical that people feel at least a glimmer of hope that the harm can be minimized.
There are a number of factors that seem to be fueling climate fatalism. In addition to religious teachings relating to God’s will, there is: lack of faith in political leaders, low levels of science literacy, powerful forces of denial, culture of hedonism and short attention spans, the daunting amount of change required as well as far too few success stories—when people don’t see much being done about a problem it’s easy to think that solutions aren’t in the realm of possibility.
Yet despite all these factors and the sickening reality that during our planet’s most pivotal moment in history since the first fish ventured out onto land most people are more concerned with the price of gas, not everyone feels hopeless. Me included.
I’ve long considered myself a cynic and I can easily go down the road of climate doom and gloom to street riots, rampant diseases, and mass extinctions, but the more I write about climate and interview social scientists and activists, the more I can envision a positive future and humanity reaching the necessary tipping point.
Even though I remain largely cynical, I’ve come to realize how much our understanding of the public has deepened in recent years and how there are so many committed individuals working to engage the public on climate. That gives me hope. So does my 8-year-old son in at least his third year of scheming about how to invent an air car.
That’s because, no matter what age you are, once you wake up to the reality of climate change it’s hard to go back to sleep, regardless of how pleasurable the dream state is. The opposition—concerned that climate solutions may remedy societal dysfunctions that allow a privileged few the ability to profit so outrageously—knows this and that every delay means more than just a delay. (Next month, as we continue our look at how to address the Seven Reasons Why the Public is not Engaged on Climate, Climate Access will focus on the challenges of dealing with the opposition to action on climate.) So, it probably all will come down to timing.
It will surely take a lot of work, but it is conceivable that with the right framing, the right leadership, and the right conditions, Americans and people all over the globe will grow amenable to making the sacrifices and changes required, and that this can happen sooner than later. History has shown us that humans are capable of remarkable things when our survival is at stake and despite the extra trickiness of climate change where impacts are hard to see and take a long time to reverse, I think that we can approach the task ahead with some air of optimism.
Many of the answers/solutions already exist; the challenge now is getting them into wide circulation. This is why I am looking forward to hearing what panelists Susanne Moser and David Gershon as well as audience members have to say during next week’s Climate Access roundtable discussion on Overcoming Climate Fatalism. Although participation in the roundtable is already full—indicating strong interest in the subject—we will post advice from the discussion on the Tips and Tools page and Climate Access members will be able to listen to a recording of the roundtable.