The subject of climate change in our society seems like an issue that has pretty much been beaten to death over the past decade. Since the 1970s scientists have been studying the upward trends in global temperature that have been occurring over the past century and most people are familiar with Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” of 2006. Because climate change is such a hot issue (no pun intended) some information the public receives is either grossly overly or underly exaggerated but the overall scientific consensus is that it is real and that it is happening. Despite the overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic climate change is indeed occurring there are a small percentage of scientists and a slightly less small percentage of Americans who insist either that global warming is not occurring or that it is a natural phenomenon with which we need not be concerned. As with anything, some opposition is to be expected and although it is unpleasant it is also unsurprising. These dissenters represent a relatively small chunk of the population, and although public opinion varies from year to year, recent surveys have shown that periodically at least fifty percent of Americans believe that global climate change is occurring and that it is caused by human activity.
Fifty percent really doesn’t seem like such a bad number especially when you take into consideration that it’s only about fifteen percent of the population that believes global warming is a blatant lie (see here for the origin of these numbers), so logically it should follow that mitigating the harmful effects of climate change would be a top priority for Americans. But… It’s not. Indeed, the group of people who are perhaps most harmful to the effort to combat global warming are not the ones who deny its existence but the ones who know it is occurring and just don’t care. This is something that has been observed both by scientists and non-scientists alike, and because it is commonly believed that the few are powerless against the many, it has become important for proponents of combating climate change to try to convince people to care. In a study published in The Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers attempted to promote interest in climate change among participants by having them actively participate in simulations involving the long term effects of climate change. The point of the study was to disprove common misconceptions that people may have held about global warming and then to determine whether or not the disproving of these misconceptions made the participants more inclined to care about the problems posed by a changing climate. What I found interesting about this research project was the background information section where it stated what many of the misconceptions about global warming are—I didn’t find the results of the research particularly remarkable or persuasive.
“You should care because the reason you don’t care is because you don’t understand mass balances”
Even as someone who has taken classes entirely about mass balances I found it extremely difficult to understand why on earth this fact should make anyone care about global warming even a little bit. The purpose of the research was to try to discover a method of making people care about climate change but I felt as though it had almost the opposite effect. Although scientific research is absolutely necessary to the linkage of increasing greenhouse gas emissions to climate change, I believe the time has come to make emotional appeals to the public rather than logical ones. Lisa Bennett’s article entitled “Five Reasons We Don’t Care About Climate Change” seemed much more likely to influence Americans in their views on climate change. She listed extremely plausible reasons as to why people in America might not care about the changing climate and then went on to list some reasons about why we should, even going so far as to ask the reader to “look into your children’s eyes” and take the threat to the future more seriously. Although her article didn’t have nearly the factual basis that the Journal of Environmental Psychology article had, it seemed much more likely that her appeal of pathos would be far more convincing to general public. In the battle against global warming and climate change, it is my belief that the time for scientific papers has passed and that it is time for the scientific community to try different approaches in order to make global warming a real and immediate concern to the general public.
Read the articles:
One man’s attempt to appeal to the population through music.