Climate Corner: Engage, inform on climate change
Apr 23, 2022
After the 52nd annual Earth Day we should celebrate by striving to get more people engaged in action to address climate change. A majority of Americans accept the fact that global warming is happening (72%) and that it is caused by humans (57%); furthermore, a majority (65%) also believes that corporations should pay a carbon tax (Yale Program on Climate Change Education, 2019).
But these survey responses do not translate into concerted action in the population and resultant legislative action by our lawmakers. Perhaps we should be mobilizing people with more facts about the impacts of climate change. Such incontrovertible facts include: the oceans are rising, becoming warmer, and more acidic; glaciers are disappearing at alarming rates (especially in the northern hemisphere), extreme weather is becoming more frequent, costly, and disastrous.
In response to these facts and to other influences, Americans are divided into six groups: alarmists (33%), concerned (26%), cautious (17%), disengaged ( 5%), doubtful (11%) and dismissive (9%) (Global Warming’s Six Americas, Leiserowitz & Maibach). Alarmists, the fastest growing group, are the most engaged in climate action; concerned are keenly aware of the dangers of climate change but are not yet fully mobilized; the cautious are persuadable but not yet fully convinced about climate; change; the disengaged are not attentive to the issue, and the dismissive are the active deniers of climate change.
Our political world has become highly polarized, and climate change is fully enveloped in this polarization. Facts are important, but they are not enough. The problem with facts is that in our highly divisive political context of “them versus us,” facts about climate change are, on the one hand, readily accepted or, on the other hand, resisted, denied, refuted or reinterpreted.
In her book, Saving Us, Katherine Hayhoe writes that opinions on climate change are driven less by facts and more by values, ideologies, world views and political orientation. Dr Hayhoe, an evangelical environmental scientist, urges those in the alarmist group, when speaking to someone from one of the non-alarmist groups, to find out what that person might be interested in and build on that personal interest. For example, a hunter might be touched by facts about the decline in habitat of wild animals; a scuba diver might be attentive to the depletion of coral reefs and its effect on marine life; and a beer lover might be interested in the fact that beer companies are taking action on climate change because of threats of climate change to barley and malt harvests.
As a devoted Christian, Hayhoe is sensitive to the importance of seeking some common ground with other Christians on climate change, White evangelicals are among the least concerned with climate change. She points out that the word “dominion” in the Book of Genesis does not refer to domination but to stewardship. Nothing is more Christian than to be good stewards of the planet and to love the global neighbor as oneself.
Human agency is an important part of many faith traditions including Christianity. An individual can make a difference, especially when working in concert with others and as a model to others who are in the cautious and concerned categories. An individual can adjust his/her thermostat (reducing a couple of degrees in the winter and raising a couple of degrees in the summer), can use renewable energy when possible, can car pool or take pubic transit, recycle, cut back on plane trips, reduce consumption of red meat.
It is important for the climate activist, i.e., alarmist, not to be obsessed with the dismissive category but to deal constructively with the other 91% who are persuadable to taking action on climate change. Besides the climate groups I am affiliated with, I am also a member of Braver Angels (braverangels.org) , a group dedicated to bridging the political divide. In their workshops Braver Angels encourages those of opposing viewpoints to actively listen to each other, to reflect what the other is trying to say, to avoid direct refutation, to find common ground, and to seek a sustainable personal relationship with the political other. These principles of bridging the divide also apply aptly to coming together on climate change. If we don’t convince the political other to take action on climate change, we can at least reach a better understanding between opposing groups.
George Banziger, Ph..D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and an academic dean at three other colleges. Now retired, he is a volunteer for the Mid-Ohio Valley Interfaith, and Harvest of Hope. He is a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, Citizens Climate Lobby, Braver Angels, and of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action team.