June 22, 2012

Climate Change: Why Aren't We Mad As Hell?

Since I began looking into climate change a few years back, all I have seen is a serious problem getting worse through inaction and obfuscation, deliberate or otherwise. (I guess that puts me squarely in the gloom-and-doomer camp.) And yet, public opinion remains by and large indifferent. True, we have had a lot on our plates, what with the collapse of the global economy, but you would think the collapse of the globe itself would arouse some concern.

A group called Media Lens predictably enough blames the public's lack of interest in climate change on ... well, the media, or more precisely, the media's too-cozy relationships with corporate capitalism. Big business is not interested in hearing about climate change, and that attitude affects the passion with which mainstream media organizations approach the issue.

Well, it's a theory. I have my own ideas on the topic. What caught my eye was a quote from an interview of  noted biologist E. O. Wilson in Grist.org, posted April 30, 2012. Instead of answering a question, Dr. Wilson posed his own: "Why aren’t you young people out protesting the mess that’s being made of the planet? Why are you not repeating what was done in the ‘60s? Why aren’t you in the streets? And what in the world has happened to the green movement that used to be on our minds and accompanied by outrage and high hopes? What went wrong?”

Good question, one for which I certainly have no answer. I can't pretend to claim any insight into the thinking of young people--loosely identified as Generation Y, born between 1975 and 2000--but I can say that most of the young people I have worked with have no doubt that climate change driven by human activity is quite real. More than that, they are passionate about the topic. What they aren't big into is 60s-style street demonstrations, the various Occupy-whatever movements not withstanding, those perhaps being the exception that proves the rule. Their style is different. They choose to live their beliefs through lifestyle choices and volunteer efforts. Trying to influence the political process ... not so much.

Dr, Wilson ends his interview on a somewhat upbeat note. In answer to the question, "Are we doomed?" he says, "I’d like to say no. I’m surely not going to be stupid enough to say yes. What I will say is: no, I hope. Here’s my favorite little maxim. It’s from Abba Eban, foreign minister of Israel during the 1967 war, one more dumb, senseless war in the Middle East: 'When all else fails, men turn to reason.' I think maybe we are really and truly ready to start trying to solve problems for once in human history by using our forebrain."

Again, it's a theory. I do believe that, in terms of public opinion, time is on the side of those of us who believe that climate change warrants urgent attention. Unfortunately, time is not on our side when it comes to forestalling the worsening impacts of climate change: steadily rising average global temperatures, extreme weather, sea level rise, acidification of the oceans, population displacements. On that score, we have already ceded the ground on avoidance and have yet to seriously tackle adaptation to the new reality. But, hey, that's just the gloom-and-doomer in me talking.

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