Making Climate Change Personal

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“We could use some of that global warming,” a truck driver told me.

It was a joke. The ambient temperature was in the low teens and we both work outside as part of our jobs. If the weather were warmer our jobs would be easier. I thought it was funny.

“I don’t really believe in global warming,” he said after a pause.

“It doesn’t really matter if you do,” I replied. “Like it or not our climate is changing because of man-made global warming. It affects us even when it is cold.”

He seemed skeptical. Given a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal I should have expected his response.

Our perception of climate change and willingness to accept scientific evidence about it is shaped by what we experience, according to Scott Waldman, writing in Scientific American.

That means if one lives where weather is cooler than average, he is more likely to be a climate change skeptic, deferring to personal experience as a guide. If one lives where it is warmer than average, she is more likely to accept the science of climate change, also deferring to personal experience as a guide.

“When personal experience and expert opinion don’t align on a topic that’s not critical to an individual’s well-being, they’re going to go with their gut rather than what the expert tells them,” Robert Kaufmann, the study’s lead author said.

The article’s title is a mouthful — “Spatial heterogeneity of climate change as an experiential basis for skepticism.” Here’s the crux:

Kaufmann said it’s human nature to trust one’s own experience over scientific evidence or political wisdom.

“Unless it really affects my everyday life, I’m not going to spend time studying this issue, and I’m not necessarily going to believe scientists either, especially now that experts are held in such ill repute, but I’m going to make up my mind based on how I can see and feel climate change,” he said. “For many people, that is record-high and record-low temperatures.”

Such attitudes notwithstanding almost two-thirds of voters across all parties want the Trump administration and the Congress to do more to address global warming, according to Kaufmann.

I appreciate a good climate change joke in the middle of winter because it presents an opportunity to address the fact climate is changing because of human-made global warming, and there is scientific evidence to support it. The conversation is something we should have more often, yet people avoid talking about climate change.

“Most Americans say global warming is personally important to them, but don’t talk or hear about it much,” Edward Maibach and others from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication wrote.

In “Is there a Climate ‘Spiral of Silence’ in America?” the authors found “more than half of those who are interested in global warming or think the issue is important “rarely” or “never” talk about it with family and friends (57 percent and 54 percent respectively).” Fewer than half of Americans say they hear about global warming in the media monthly or more, and only one in five Americans hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month according to the article.

It’s pretty quiet out there regarding discussion of global warming and climate change.

“The future of the planetary conditions on which human civilization depends are reliant now more than ever upon scientists and innovators, businesses and civil society, and our collective efforts to accelerate the implementation of the solutions to the climate crisis that are already available and cost-effective,” former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore wrote in Scientific American.

If that’s the case, and no one is talking about climate change, how can we create meaningful action to mitigate the effects global warming is having on us?

The good news is technological solutions to the problem are working as the price of renewable energy approaches parity with fossil fuels. In some markets, solar generation of electricity is cheaper than with fossil fuels. If technology will lead the business community to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming, we are part of the way there. Technology alone won’t drive the change we need. To find political will for action, every voter should engage in the issues. What can we do?

For my part I’m going appreciate the value of a good climate change joke, and use them to break the ice on conversations about the need to act on climate. People may agree or disagree, but talking about global warming and climate change, and the science behind them, is as important as laughter on a chilly day, or a cold drink during a drought.

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