The Taboo on Talking Climate Change

by on July 18, 2018 · 4 comments

in Environment

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko / Boogie Green

Man doing headstand on beach with head buried in the sand

How often do we talk about climate change to family, friends or coworkers? Probably next to never if we’re like most people.

Yale’s national polling reveals that the majority of Americans accept that global warming is happening (73 percent) and are worried about it (63 percent). Even more want carbon dioxide, or CO2, regulated as a pollutant (81 percent).

Given these stats and the warning of scientists that the time window to prevent the worst impacts of climate change is closing fast, what keeps us from openly discussing it?

The answer is complex. For starters, many of us were raised in a bygone era where talking politics (and religion) was considered simply impolite. That climate change has become such a politically divisive issue adds weight to the interpersonal risk people naturally experience in bringing up any sensitive topic, even with intimates.

Photo credit: Sander van der Wel

There is also the fact that humanity is ill equipped to respond to the kind of threat posed by a warming planet. Addressing climate change demands an approach to problem solving outside our past experience as a species. Humans are quite adept at addressing “here and now” challenges like putting out a forest fire. However, human history has not prepared us to respond to, or even easily comprehend, a long-term global problem like climate change because it unfolds so gradually over time and in the form of exacerbation of happenings not completely new to us.

For example, while we can accept that the average global temperature is rising, climate change is thus far being experienced in our individual lives primarily as an increase in weather extremes, like record-breaking temperatures and more violent storms. Because such events are not completely unfamiliar and we never know the extent to which climate change contributed to any one, we can’t feel the immediate urgency of the problem like we would if it stuck suddenly like an earthquake or explosion.

Bar graph showing global temperaures since 1890.

Annual average global temperatures since 1880 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Moreover, the human psyche is resistant to tolerating for long the kind of unease one feels when thinking head-on about the terrifying consequences of unchecked global warming, such as accelerated species extinctions, spread of diseases, mass human migrations, and increases in social unrest and wars. The urge to veg out instead in front of the TV is understandably very human.
But human nature deserves only some of the blame – our politicians and the media are also culpable. Both have participated in the devaluation of science that makes possible that many in the public are unaware or suspicious of some basic facts, e.g. that more than nine out of ten climate scientists and nearly three out of four Americans are convinced that global warming is real.

The complicity of politicians and the media in ignoring climate change was blatant during the 2016 election season. As tallied by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, exactly zero questions were asked on the topic during the presidential and vice-presidential general election debates, and the few mentions of climate change by Hillary Clinton were made in passing.

Both our elected representatives and the media are entrusted with keeping the public informed about the important issues impacting our individual lives and the nation as a whole. This should include straight talk about climate change solutions at every opportunity. Instead, they default to inflammatory “red meat” issues like abortion and gun control, conveniently keeping the public’s attention diverted from noticing that those societal institutions are abdicating their fundamental obligation to the public in service of appeasing corporate sponsors.

Chart showing Carbon Dioxide concentration over geologic time

Atmospheric CO2 levels over past 800.000 years (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

For all of these reasons and more, the public is left feeling personally impotent to do anything about climate change and fooled into thinking that our societal institutions are powerless too. The main point I want to make here is that our elected representatives in Congress are fully vested with the legislative power to address the problem effectively and globally, if only they would.

There is strong agreement among economists (both conservatives and liberals) that the only realistic answer to climate change is to implement a market-based solution that puts a gradually rising fee on carbon emissions worldwide to effect the necessary transition from a fossil fuel-based global economy to one reliant instead on renewable energy sources. Congress needs only to find the political will to pass a revenue-neutral price on carbon as it enters the economy (at the well, mine or port) along with a border tariff on imports imposed on countries that fail to follow to suit.

Revenue-neutrality means that the money collected is passed to American households on an equal basis in the form of a monthly dividend. Studies show such action would strengthen our economy, while effectively addressing the problem.

The size of the U.S. economy empowers us to lead the world to a green energy future, but nothing will happen without Congress stepping up.

The upcoming mid-term elections are an opportunity to make the contenders accountable for their stance on climate change and to rout out any that are impediments to enacting a solution. At minimum, we can visit each candidate’s website to see if climate change is even listed as one of their “Issues.” Or, type “climate change” into the website’s search feature to see what it produces.

To gain comfort in talking about climate change in our day-to-day lives, the five tips offered up by philanthropist Jane Burston might come in handy. For example, she recommends focusing on how climate change is already being felt – like 17 of the hottest 18 years in recorded history happened within the last century – rather than on dreadful ways it could play out in the future.

Also consider reminding others that heads of major gas and oil companies support the Paris Climate Agreement.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rustam Kothavala July 18, 2018 at 4:34 pm

Thanks for taking proactive steps to inform, enlighten, and convert a willfully ignorant anti-science segment of our US electorate.

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sealintheSelkirks July 22, 2018 at 12:52 pm

Hundreds of millions have been ‘donated’ by Big Oil & Coal to anti-science so-called ‘think tanks’ over the decades (example: Heartland Institute) and ‘political action committees’ (see the KOCH Brothers who financially make Trump look like a homeless beggar and who single handed funded the beginning of the anti-science Tea Party) along with being thrown into the political campaign funds of those politicians that will do their bidding (read: legalized bribery because if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and looks like a duck…).

Then add in the fairly recent revelations that gigantic companies like Exxon and Shell refused to act on and then censored their OWN SCIENTISTS’ studies in the 1970s about what the continued use of burning fossil fuel would do to the atmosphere of the planet, is it really surprising that the use of GHG (greenhouse gases) radically increases every single year?

We have an atmosphere that hasn’t been seen since 2.6 million years ago. 410ppm was the Pliocene Era! Think about that for a second. What were your ancestors doing then?

Is it any surprise that the climate scientists are freaking out because this demented human-caused mess is accelerating beyond the wildest nightmares of the most ‘alarmist’ of their number even just ten years ago?

And Exxon and the rest are still spending millions in court and in ‘public relations’ with Big Media fighting against exposure of their corporate collusion. There are no good guys here. There is no such thing as ‘Green Coal.’ There are only…profits.

It’s NOT ‘Climate Change,’ folks! You change a tire, you change your underwear, you change a baby’s diaper, but changing the chemical composition of the entire planet’s atmosphere isn’t comparable in relation to the first three. Orders of magnitude different.

Words have power and this was a change to put you all back to sleep. Here’s something most people don’t know. Studies done a number of years ago showed that people were upset with what is happening to our climate when it was labeled ‘Global Warming.’ It was making people uncomfortable, it scared people, it increased public awareness of the threat, it could have affected profits. Suddenly we found the terms ‘climate change’ popping up everywhere in the mainstream media.

Count how many times that lousy term was used in the above article. Ridiculous!!

Just who do you think paid for that shift in word usage, eh? You get one guess. The documentation is out there if you dig…

The accurate terminology is climate chaos, climate collapse, climate disaster, climate catastrophe, climate __________ (you think up your own description). Let’s at least use correct descriptive wording when talking about about it.

As stated above, the “urge to veg out instead” should have stopped in the 1970s when science started to really get a handle on it. This is the 30th anniversary of NASA scientist Hansen’s report to Congress. What’s changed since? Remember, it was the late 1800s when the concept of ‘greenhouse effect’ was known from coal burning. Over a hundred years we’ve known about this!!

We’ve done nothing since, rather the opposite, and squiggly lightbulbs and electric cars and solar systems (disclosure: I have a 7kWt passive system on my house and shop) aren’t going to do diddly. Continued funding of wars in the Middle East for oil resources instead of into widespread non-fossil fuel technology is not the way to go.

Remember what the invasion of Iraq was first labeled? Operation Iraqi Liberation. OIL. Then it was immediately changed (and some ad writer was fired by oil-man VP Cheney I’m sure) to Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first label buried from public consciousness. What could the trillions of tax dollars spent on all the wars the last 18 years have done instead to get us off our addiction to oil? Oh, wait, less profits for the war industries and oil barons! Can’t have that now can we?

How about putting up solar power satellites instead of talking about a freaking Space Force? We’re fighting over the diminishing finite planetary resources when energy is raining all around us a couple hundred miles up above our apple skin-thin atmosphere. It’s raining soup and we are starving down here and it’s all out there above our gravity well. FREE electricity beamed down to everyone after the initial government investments in building them.

ZERO corporate privatization allowed in this by the way. No so-called public/private investments; this should be people-funded and people-owned to keep out the robber barons already stealing in so many other aspects of de-funded government programs by politicians who then have fire sales for their campaign donors to invest in. It’s a racket as Marine Brig. General Smedley D. Butler said in his little book ‘War is a Racket.’

We have the technology but not the political will. The political will is owned by those that profit from NOT changing our lifestyles. How do we stop these…nasty people?

Here’s an excellent current climate reality summary from Robert Hunziker. Read it and weep, turn off the tv, then get active!

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/07/03/three-climatic-monsters-with-asteroid-impact/

Three of a list of science sites you should be reading:
arctic-news.blogspot.com,
climatecentral.org,
insideclimatenews.org

sealintheSelkirks

Reply

Marc Snelling Marc Snelling July 24, 2018 at 6:16 am

Human history hasn’t prepared us?

What about Indigenous worldviews across the globe that incorporate long-term thinking and connect us to ancient knowledge? For how many centuries have the original populations of Turtle Island been saying settler practices are unsustainable? The ecology movement may have taken off in the 70s but it was old news within traditional worldviews.

Increasingly Indigenous knowledge is being used by scientists in addressing climate change and other issues.

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Editor editordude July 24, 2018 at 11:54 am

Hey, welcome, Marc always good to see your comments.

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