We must make climate change a priority
Human-caused climate change is happening. The vast majority of scientists have known this for decades (1). The impacts will likely be catastrophic. In spite of this, greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise at an unprecedented rate and most people are not putting climate change at the forefront of decision-making.
Despite the existence of dozens of scientifically accurate online resources, books, documentaries, and organized groups of willing science speakers (2), the general public is not responding to this global problem as informed voters might. In fact, only a small fraction of the U.S. population placed climate change at the top of their list when deciding on presidential candidates in 2016 (3). This is not surprising when we consider that only about half of Americans understand that human-cause climate change is happening—a stark contrast to the 97% of climate scientists who have concluded this (4). The first step in making climate change a national priority is thus ensuring that the general public understands the science.
Americans need to understand that we are on the verge of a major climate shift (5, 6). They need to understand the urgency of this situation and the need for drastic policy measures that will slash carbon emissions. They need to understand that our climate may be approaching a tipping point, where if perturbed just a little bit more, global warming will escalate and take on a life of its own (7). If we are to have a shot at reigning this in, we need to act now.
The question then arises: Whose job is it to explain this to the general public? To me, this answer has become very clear. It is up to us, the experts, to do the talking, to do the convincing, to start yelling at the top of our lungs if needed.
In the past, I have been hesitant to discuss the topic outside of my own professional and academic circles. When talking about the science with non-experts, climate scientists often find themselves defending the most fundamental concepts of the discipline. It appears that there is no shortage of people armed with incorrect information willing to debate the science. At best, discussing the science with the general public can be exhausting. At worst, it can be dangerous. Well-respected climatologists have faced threats to their personal safety and to that of their families (8). Many scientists, including myself, are well aware of this. So some of us err on the side of caution, and stay silent.
We cannot afford to stay silent any longer. I am grateful to all of the concerned scientists who have already chosen to speak about climate change on behalf of the world’s children (9). They have shown us not only that it can be done, but that it must be done.
As a scientist, and someone who knows all too well what we’re up against, I have now committed to at least one action of climate change communication per day. Today, my action is writing a blog article for The Climate Consensus. It is my hope that this action does not end here and that it resonates with at least a few other silent scientists—that it moves a few others to make the same commitment. It is hard to do, but it is time. Our discomfort is a small price to pay for our kids’ futures.
My son is two years old and his favorite book is The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. I love this book because it teaches him about the limitations of our resources and consequences of greed. Where the resemblance to real world ends, however, is when the Once-ler presents the little boy with the last Truffula seed. He tells him to plant it, to regrow a forest, which in turn will bring the Lorax and all of his friends back. This indicates that the atrocities committed can essentially be undone and fixed within a meaningful period of time.
This is not the case with climate change. What we are doing cannot be undone. As yet another record warm year has come to an end (10), it is up to all of us who have unique knowledge about our situation, to do everything in our power to minimize the damage, while we still can.