By Elizabeth Hardee
In my daily work, I read a lot of online articles about climate change — both the science and the politics — and out of curiosity I’m invariably drawn to the comments section at the end of the page (first rule of the Internet — never read the comments!).
What I’ve observed is that these comments tend more often than not to be variations on one of the following themes:
Avoiding pain can be a pretty strong motivator. It is for this same reason that arguments which pit the environment against economic progress can be so effective. If acting on climate change means destroying everyone’s wealth, it's little wonder that so few legislators are willing to take the lead. But “environment versus economy” is a deceptive argument for a few reasons.
So, how do we let go of the uncomfortable emotions associated with climate change? To me, the most heartening example of a way forward comes from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which just released a new study of Americans’ climate change views, nicely summarized at Vox.com.
There are a lot of paradoxical findings here. The majority of Americans believe climate change is happening, but do not believe humans are the cause. They don’t think there is scientific consensus on climate change, nor do they think their own lives will be greatly impacted — though they do believe climate change will hurt future generations. They don’t support a carbon tax, but do support limits on CO2 emissions and greater renewable energy infrastructure.
The reason to be optimistic about such seemingly paradoxical results is they prove that only certain aspects of taking action on climate change trigger that emotional pain response, and that the desire to take actions that would curb climate change is not necessarily tied directly to climate change itself. You don’t need to “believe” in climate change to want to limit CO2 pollution, and you don’t need to know anything about CO2 pollution to wish your energy came from a wind turbine rather than an oil field.
When it comes to climate change, the cycle of pain and blame we’ve all been caught in is counterproductive. The majority of Americans share the same vision: a world with clean air and sustainable energy. Rather than being a source of pain, this vision can be a source of pride. Let’s start harnessing that pride — along with human ingenuity — to create the future we all really want. One of the best places to start might just be the comment section.
Image credit: Flickr/The Value Web
Elizabeth Hardee is a Senior Analyst for The Climate Trust