Story originally published in Resilience.org, Dec 13, 2016.
Why is there a big gap between Americans’ stated interest in global warming and our discourse about it? Seven in ten of us say we’re at least moderately interested, and a majority say it’s at least somewhat important to us personally. Yet only two in ten of us see or hear something in the media about climate change more than once a week; six in ten hear about it less than once a month.
As for discussion among ourselves, 70% of Americans say they rarely or never talk with family and friends about global warming. And almost no one (10%) hears others discussing it. So there’s this big gap between what we say we care about and what we read, hear or talk about. Sort of the opposite of the Kardashians, right?
How can we get passionate and mobilize action against the causes of climate change if the subject seldom comes up? Here’s an idea. How about changing the images and stories around global warming. How many of us really connect with polar bears, coral reefs, or cracked soil? Do endangered birds, icebreakers and smokestacks, protest posters and political hearings get us worrying and talking? How about those color-coded maps and aerials?
It’s time to encourage talk about brown playing fields and parks, flooded basements, the ski area that’s closed this winter, and price of fish and beef. These have a better chance to connect people viscerally with climate change. When local media and party gossip turn to our city’s plans to plant more trees (like Atlanta), sell our water system to a private company (like Indianapolis), put down acres of porous pavers along Main Street (Charles City, IA), or add an “invisible flood wall” along the river (Coralville, IA), we’ll be talking about the effects of warming – perhaps without realizing it.
When we begin lobbying neighbors about a bond issue to protect the local sewer system from intense downpours, or asking for donations to a land trust to prevent development atop our aquifer, we’ll be spotlighting climate change. We should encourage talk about our rising insurance bill, the longer allergy season our kids are experiencing, the friend who came down with Lyme disease out west or dengue fever up north, the pros and cons of different water barrels, an air-conditioning upgrade we’re planning, or the chance to invest in a nearby Food Hub. Then we’ll be talking about climate change.
And when we share the postcard from the neighborhood family who moved to a cooler town with lots of local agriculture, low asthma, strong municipal finances, and no threats from flooding or drought – that will be news about climate change.
If news and discourse begin to change from how to save the planet to how to save our community, that’s when we’ll engage the emotions and resolve of our neighbors and our family. Even if climate or warming are never mentioned!
[Statistics from “Is There a Climate ‘Spiral of Silence’ in America?” Yale and George Mason Universities: climatecommunication.yale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Climate-Spiral-Silence-March-2016.pdf]
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