Diatribe about about climate change
There’s a lot of talk among environmental circles about “how to frame” their arguments. I find the topic of how to talk to people sort of condescending to begin with. It’s as if greens see “other people” as some sort of aliens. The best way to talk to people is by avoiding making them angry or causing them to feel guilty, period, no matter what their political leanings. Everyone has certain things in common. We all live in the natural environment, and we all have the same sort of bodies which are vulnerable to the same environmental problems. We also all (for the most part) have to pay our bills and worry about our dependents. And most of us want the most happiness we can get (although what we see as the path to happiness may vary a great deal, and may be one of the fundamental issues in human society, the cause of many problems). It could be that the best way to talk to people is to not suggest they DO anything, just give them information. If they accept the information, they might decide on their own what they should be doing anyways, especially if they see acting as being beneficial or morally upright.
I think you could rely on the majority of people to act for the greater good provided two things: one is that their acting is not detrimental to them or their lifestyle. One thing that works against this is personal laziness and concerns about how long it will take to pay back initial costs. Since laziness is really something you can’t simply remedy or persuade away, and other greens have talked the monetary benefits almost to death elsewhere, I’m not going to address this first aspect.
The second provision is more of an obstacle and if addressed might even work to overcome some of the “laziness/inertia and costs” obstacles. The second provision is that people have complete information and they trust it because it is so widely distributed that it’s become part of the collective consciousness. I’ll explain what I mean by examples from my own life.
My parents know about environmental issues. They are even concerned in some background way. The problem is, they do not believe in the enormity of the issues because they only hear a little bit about it on the news now and then and a little bit from their eco-wacky daughter once in a while. Surely if something like climate change is that important, the media should be screaming it like a siren, and the government should be forcing us to act. The other thing is the impacts. We see, particularly in Canada, that our winters have become gradually milder, but there is no huge swarm of black, menacing carbon dioxide building over us. We still haven’t seen our rivers start to dry up. Any normal person is going to have doubts until climate change has actually arrived and started having very serious impacts on their own lives. I skim the internet reading environmental news from around the world. The web has made it possible to learn about events happening around the world with relative ease, at virtually no cost. It has also made it more difficult to know what is a reliable source. Even media outlets we used to believe were reliable have become questionable, with growing awareness of how certain publications or televisions stations or radio shows tend to skew things or present certain viewpoints or experts as equal to others, when in fact, if you had suitable background information on those views and persons, you’d know they are not equal. You may read about pollution happening in Nigeria, and you may even hold the source in relatively high esteem, but unless you see it, it’s just not as real. The internet has given us more information, but it is increasingly difficult to know what to believe.
This brings me to the crux of the problem. If we wait until the impacts are upon us, it will likely already be too late, as far as I can gather. If people want to build popular support for the measures needed to prevent the worst impacts, they need to go about making the public understand not only the issue and its importance, but the timeline, and practical things that can be done to deal with climate change. We need another Inconvenient Truth that explains ways to minimize and adapt to impacts, and we need more than one. It might be difficult to push through new building codes, new taxes to support construction of green energy sources and retrofitting for energy efficiency, new stiffer fuel efficiency standards right now. The public isn’t really knowledgeable about the benefits of such laws or the costs of their absence, and so only special interests (fossil fuel companies, construction and development companies, car manufacturers) notice the legislation on the table and lobby against it. If public outcry was strong enough, it wouldn’t matter how many or how skilled the lobbyists were, because individual voters decide who wins the election. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it? Although with every passing day, I wonder more about the ability of existing systems to deal with this problem at all. We need both political and personal action, and spreading information encourages both.
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