It’s time to get angry. This is what John Kerry, not exactly the most extreme guy, is saying to us. Is it the best solution?
This is what Kerry told advocates of climate legislation recently:
“I want you to go out there and start knocking on doors and talking to people and telling people this has to happen. You know, if the Tea Party folks can go out there and get angry because they think their taxes are too high, for God’s sake, a lot of citizens ought to get angry about the fact that they’re being killed and our planet is being injured by what’s happening on a daily basis by the way we provide our power and our fuel and the old practices that we have. That’s something worth getting angry about.” (emphasis mine)
As part of my Bachelor’s thesis in sociology and environmental studies, about 6 years ago, I studied the history of the environmental movement in great depth. Since then, I have been keeping my eye on things, on the bigger picture, as I work in different fields — natural and organic foods, city planning and sustainable development, alternative transportation, and, now, online journalism with a green tint.
The underlying question, consistently, is: “How do we avoid, or — worst case scenario — deal with, huge environmental collapse?”
The issues have only gotten bigger (see: Global Warming in the Arctic — Much Worse than We Thought!, Greenland Ice Sheet Melting Faster than Ever and Oceans Absorbing CO2, Preventing Climate Change — Good, Right? No). But we seem to be going down the same road consistently, despite all the amazing efforts of people trying to turn this car around (and transform it into something green-friendly). The environmental movement, perhaps bigger than ever, still seems on the brink of failure.
How do we achieve the dream of a livable world for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
Soft and Hard Environmentalist Approaches
There are those who think that greens have to tone it down, compromise more, cooperate with the opposite side more, and take the approach of Judd Law’s character in “I Heart Huckabees” in order to achieve success environmentally. Some of this may be true.
There are those who think the enviromental movement needs to get back to its roots more, focus on grass-roots activism and Greenpeace-style activism, make the most noise that we can and grab the media’s attention with public, eye-catching action.
Along this line, Kerry said, “We just have to take a page from who brought us the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act. We’ve been doing this before, and we just have to get back to basics and make it happen again. It’s called being active and not letting up.”
Some of this may be true.
It is really hard for anyone to nail down what is actually needed, but this may be the way to go. The following are other things to consider.
Climate Change & the Media, Today
Climate change was a major issue in the public eye for a short time, but now “only 57 percent of Americans think global warming is happening, down 14 points from 2008, and only 47 percent of Americans [think] global warming is caused mostly by human activities, down 10 points.” Part of this may be due to the fact that only 1.5% of media stories were dedicated to climate change and the environment in 2009, but there are other factors as well.
Apparently, we are supposed to avoid mentioning math when reporting on climate change because it turns people off and I read somewhere (can’t find the link) that the public is getting tired of the doom and gloom stories. Why? Well, it all just gets too detailed and too accurate, perhaps. Nonetheless, what is the lesson? If you are sharing information with non-involved people, it might be best to stay away from the tedious details and catastrophic language (but that always depends on the person you are talking to and the context of the discussion). But I think this may also be part of the problem — if people don’t want to evaluate the validity of a claim and they don’t want to hear that the world we rely on to survive is on the brink of collapse, we get the type of false media coverage discussed below. I think you should state clearly, as Kerry did above, that our habits are killing people and degrading the livability of our planet already. Additionally, I don’t think you can say enough what Obama stated in his State of the Union speech recently, that there is “overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.” If people want to get into the details, have it ready for them. People need to at least hear that the science is strong.
Ironically, the public trusts the wrong experts — weathermen rather than climate scientists — when it comes to climate change. Unfortunately, weathermen are in just about the worst position to evaluate climate science. Recently, people were especially eager to say that global warming wasn’t happening and maybe even “global cooling” was, but the sad truth is that isn’t true (see: Not Cold Everywhere and Addressing “Global Cooling”). If you’re going to fight for climate legislation, exposing the difference between weather and climate may be an important task.
Overall, the basic fact is, the media shares information and claims that have no scientific backing all the time as an equally weighted argument to the true climate scientists’ findings and statements (keep your eye on Joe Romm’s blog, Climate Progress, for constant debunking of completely untrue claims shared by the “status quo” media).
Despite all of this, there is actually broad public support for a climate and energy bill, a very conservative pollster recently let us know. Because of its ability to give us energy independence, good health, American jobs, and accountability for businesses and corporations, people support it.
So, what to do next to make it happen?
How Does a Democracy Work?
One problem with democracy, is that the population is responsible for everything — directly or indirectly — but the population is not well-informed on everything. Additionally, democracy requires involvement, and a lot of people just don’t want to be involved.
The bottom line is, we don’t have strong government action on climate change yet because the industries (oil, coal, auto) that would be hurt by it have a dispraportionate influence on our government.
Our national security is even in a very vulnerable position because of our addiction to oil (much of which isn’t coming from our friends), which only the oil industry really benefits from.
The status quo media isn’t interested in looking into things deeply and carefully enough to report the truth. So, much of the population remains ill-informed.
If we want to create change, just as Kerry says above, I think we have to go out there and get active. In whatever area we live or work in, we need to start sharing the truth about climate change and showing people at the same time that climate and energy legislation will create “energy independence, good health, American jobs, and accountability for businesses and corporations.”
The proof is there, but actually, most people don’t even care to find the proof. So, just tell them. If they want the proof, send them to me.
Get active & spread the news.
Help environmentalism of today live up to its history.
Related Stories (not linked above):
1) What is a Global Citizen? Are You One?
2) Who Wants a Climate & Energy Bill? 83 Leading US Companies
3) Google Earth Climate & Rainforest Tours
Image Credit: tibchris via flickr under a CC license