By: Sara Goddard, Board Member
On September 12th, Pace University Law School’s Center for Environmental Legal Studies and FCWC will hold an all-day conference on climate change. Climate change is a hot policy topic; scientists, legislators, and policy makers are focused on tackling the problem and advocating for prescriptive action. Given this intense scrutiny on climate change, why is there a need for a summit devoted to the topic? Unfortunately, the climate change issue is one that is snarled in a knot of misconceptions, political maneuverings, and ideological fallacies. It is undoubtedly one of the searing problems of our day, but information has been obscured by a cloud of rhetoric created by a coalition of opponents determined to undermine public support for climate legislation. As a result, there is a large divide between consensus among scientists and public perception of the problem.
First, let’s state the facts: Climate change is here and it’s happening now. The staggering abundance of scientific data support this conclusion. To summarize the most recent and salient sources:
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change authors, a group of over 1,200 recognized experts, have concluded in a series of reports that climate change is “unequivocally” caused by humans and will cause destruction and massive social upheaval if nothing is done to cut emissions.
The latest National Climate Assessment report states that “climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways.”
The fact that “97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” (NASA site)
These results should be more than sufficient to conclude – unequivocally – that global warming is here, it’s real, and it’s caused by human activity. Sadly, the stark, blunt factual data is just not enough. As President Obama put it in his recent address to college graduates:
“It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist. When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it … But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.”
The climate change issue has been hijacked by a diverse collection of groups that is intent to throw a shroud of doubt on the subject. Some news outlets that proclaim accuracy and unbiased reporting actually produce misleading and incorrect representations of climate science. A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, finds that Fox News coverage of climate science is accurate only 28% of the time. With Fox News having the largest viewership among all the cable news networks, it isn’t surprising that many Americans don’t have a clear picture of the facts.
It also doesn’t help that the climate denial position has been inserted into political discourse, where many of our elected officials question the accuracy of climate science as if it’s an idea or opinion that can be debated. For example, a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans,
“Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate”
And just last month, Senator Marco Rubio stated, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it…”
This relentless campaign has proven successful in achieving the desired results. A new Gallup poll finds that only a third of Americans are truly concerned about global warming, and the proportion of “Cool Skeptics” has actually increased over the last few years. One reason is that skeptics believe media reports on the issue are incorrect or exaggerated.
So how do we expose the truth and get the facts out? How do we mobilize our communities to take action? The key is education, but the way information is disseminated is of critical importance. A recent study published in the journal Climatic Change illustrates this point well. The authors acknowledge the “well-documented campaign in the USA to deny the reality and seriousness of anthropogenic climate change” but find that when people are informed of the facts from scientific evidence, they are far more likely to support government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, more than ever, the phrase, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” is imbued with urgency. The federal government is limited in what it can accomplish, but our individual communities can take action, with guidance from local leaders. The key is mobilizing constituents; making the issue personal, but not so dire that people feel helpless to act.
The FCWC climate change summit will be the ideal forum for disseminating information, sharing ideas, and learning from national experts about what solutions are available to municipalities. With its specific focus on local legislators and public officials, the summit will enable these individuals to take what they’ve learned and translate it into action in their communities. With fabrication and misinterpretation clouding the real picture, it is essential to promote the true facts on climate change. The FCWC summit will accomplish this. Please attend on September 12th!