Why climate action isn’t selling?

For climate action to take place, we need less funding for men and women in suits and more funding for the people you probably consider ‘uneducated’.

Background

Of course, you’re tired about hearing of climate change, its imminent danger, or the denial of its existence. This post isn’t about why I think climate change is real or whether I think humans are behind it. It’s an exploration of why deniers exist, why it seems there is an abnormal level of resistance for political change, and how I think we, as scientists and as a society, need to proceed.

Ever since Svante Arrhenius published his calculations about the warming effects of CO2 in the atmosphere on ground temperature in 1896 and Charles David Keeling demonstrated that the levels of atmospheric CO2 was in fact increasing,  we’ve known about the prevalence of anthropogenic emissions as a cause of rising temperatures.

Keeling Curve GIF.gif
Keeling Curve measurement series of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere as measured from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii.

However, it’s the political and social context that have been tarnished by polarization and an affinity to claim that ‘them’, the others who don’t share the same beliefs, are a hoard of brainless individuals. In this article, I present two societal mechanisms I think are driving protest against the push for climate action.

The homogeneity of thought

It’s been well known, especially after the 2016 US elections, that the majority of people in this country belong to one of two groups of people with homogenous thoughts on politics. By homogenous, I mean that the variation in the convictions among the people of one group is a tiny fraction of the difference in thought between representative individuals in the two, opposed, groups. In the case of the US, these two groups are Democrats and Republicans. This phenomenon is known as herding behavior.

herding

To prove my point, think of your friends. Do most agree with you on major political issues? If you ever think of challenging one of your group of friends’ beliefs, would you agree that there is an element of fear that arises ? Would that make you an outcast? Would that make similar people judge you? I think these are your fears. This social pressure is behind the homogeneity.

In my opinion, this dynamic plays a major role in people’s reluctance to stand for one unified issue such as climate change. So, when a Democrat announces their support for climate action, their conviction is more likely deeply rooted in the herd-like behavior of ideological or political groups. It is less likely, however, to be rooted in their values. In a recent visit to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Division argued that it is values that stood in the way of people seeing the clear scientific results on climate change. By casting the problem as such, one relieves science from the responsibility because one can do so little to change another’s values. However, isn’t conserving our environment a ‘conservative’ value? Why do so-called ‘conservative’ Republicans apparently disagree with the need for climate action? Their is clearly a bigger pull by herding instincts that one by values.

Climate change activism and Globalisation

For anyone who wants to read more about globalisation, check out this book. The point is, globalisation was introduced to the world as a means for the free flow of thought, people, and money irrespective of borders. It was hoped that this free flow would increase global economic output and it did. Few people could argue the ability of open trade, for example, to provide cheaper products to ordinary people thus increasing their  collective wealth. Big corporations benefited too from their ability to tap into different markets for their products and an increased level of vocational expertise predominantly in Asian countries.

But what happened to the poor and lower middle class: the forgotten ones? With machines becoming intelligent and the export of industries abroad, among others, a lot of people in the lower economic and educational tiers of society, especially in first world countries, felt left out, and rightly so. No one cared about retraining or reassuring these people, until it was too late. Anyway, why would anyone stop the world from collectively becoming richer at the expense of a few?

But the few of before became the many of today and they desperately stand for each other, what they call the ‘us’ from the harmed posed by  the ‘them’. If I were left out for the sake of global prosperity once, why would I trust these same people about calls for global action again? For me, there is a trust issue that emanates from the rising tide of globalisation washing away those who can’t afford to exist on the top levels of society.

Conclusion

In my opinion, because industry can’t offer an economic, low-barrier to entry alternatives to traditional fuel types, and because of the scars left by globalisation, this time we need to think of the few, we need to reassure everyone, be as inclusive as possible, we need to promise retraining programs in these new technologies. We need less hand-shakes that mean little to ordinary people (looking at you, Paris Agreement), and more caring geared toward the basis of society.

Moreover, the less high-level the climate discussions appear, the less people will make climate action a political issue. The need for intergovernmental meetings is still there, but the need to balance it out with incentives at the individual levels is far greater.

I’m looking for thoughts and alternative views on the issue of climate action.