Do We Need Climate Change Quixotes?

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I went to a meeting last week of San Francisco Bay Area organizations collaborating to prepare for climate change. At least two speakers casually linked catastrophic weather events to “Climate Change.” One speaker, a scientist, showed slide after slide of raging wildfires, parching drought, and severe tides. His message was that we can expect all these, and more, to worsen because of “Climate Change.” Listening to this my thought was, “If you want Americans and Bay Area residents to work with you, they have to trust you before they can believe you. If you casually link any and every significant weather event to climate change, you are not building trust.” But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the best approach is to throw logic and science out and just connect bad events and scary images to Climate Change.

Yes, Americans are worried about climate change and its effects (here, here and here). But polls show mixed results and that the worriers only just outpace the deniers. The Economist’s Democracy in America blog analysed colorable reasons Americans balk at accepting what the scientific community embraces: That humans are driving climate change and we will experience significant shifts in weather stability, water levels, and so on. Among the reasons The Economist blogger analysed are religious beliefs, psychology, and politics. The trust and beliefs that accompany peoples’ religious, political and psychological outlooks are not based in sound logic, although people might employ a sort of logic to rationalize their outlook. Instead, they largely rest on emotional, cultural, and other non-rational experiences.

If our goal is increasing American support for political action addressing climate change, do we need more Climate Change Quixotes linking every aberrant weather event to Climate Change? Or would a phased approach of building trust, encouraging acceptance of the science, and then asking for support be more effective? Based on the striking results of this survey, I’d say we are beyond the rational so bring on the Ingenious Gentlemen from La Mancha. 

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