The Taboo on Talking Climate Change
By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
How often do we talk about climate
change to family, friends or coworkers? Probably next to never if we’re
like most people.
polling reveals that the majority of Americans accept that global
warming is happening (73 percent) and are worried about it (63 percent).
Even more want CO2 regulated as a pollutant (81 percent). Given these stats
and the warning of scientists that the time window to prevent the worst
effects of climate change is closing fast, what keeps us from openly
The answer is complex. For starters,
many of us were raised in a bygone era where talking politics (and religion)
was considered simply impolite. That climate change has become such a
politically divisive issue adds weight to the interpersonal risk people
naturally experience in bringing up any sensitive topic, even with
There is also the fact that humanity
is ill equipped to respond to the kind of threat posed by a warming planet.
Addressing climate change demands an approach to problem solving outside our
past experience as a species. Humans are quite adept at addressing “here and
now” challenges like putting out a forest fire. However, human history has
not prepared us to respond to, or even easily comprehend, a long-term global
problem like climate change because it unfolds so gradually over time and in
the form of exacerbation of happenings that are not completely new to us.
For example, while we can accept
that the average global temperature is rising, climate change is thus far
being experienced in our individual lives primarily as an increase in
weather extremes, like record-breaking temperatures and more violent storms.
Because such events are not completely unfamiliar and we never know the
extent to which climate change contributed to any one of them, we can’t feel
the immediate urgency of the problem like we would if it stuck suddenly like
an earthquake or explosion.
Moreover, the human psyche is
resistant to tolerating for long the kind of unease one feels when thinking
head-on about the terrifying consequences of unchecked global warming, such
as accelerated species extinctions, spread of diseases, mass human
migrations, and increases in social unrest and wars. The urge to veg out
instead in front of the TV is understandably very human.
But human nature deserves only some
of the blame; our politicians and the media are also culpable. Both have
participated in the devaluation of science. And that results in some people
being unaware or suspicious of some basic facts, such as that more than nine
out of ten climate scientists and nearly three out of four Americans are
convinced of the reality of global warming.
The complicity of politicians and
the media in ignoring climate change was blatant during the 2016 election
season in the U.S. As tallied by
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, exactly zero questions were asked on
the topic during the presidential and vice-presidential general election
debates, and the few mentions of climate change by candidate Hillary Clinton
were made in passing.
Both our elected representatives and
the media are entrusted with keeping the public informed about the important
issues impacting our individual lives and the nation as a whole. This should
include straight talk about climate change solutions at every opportunity.
Instead, they default to inflammatory “red meat” issues like abortion and
gun control, conveniently keeping the public’s attention diverted from
noticing that those societal institutions are abdicating their fundamental
obligation to the public in service of appeasing corporate sponsors.
For all of these reasons and more,
the public is left feeling personally impotent to do anything about climate
change and fooled into thinking that our societal institutions are powerless
too. The main point I want to make here is that our elected representatives
are fully vested with the legislative power to address the problem
effectively and globally, if only they would.
There is strong agreement among
economists (both conservatives and liberals) that the only realistic answer
to climate change is to implement a market-based solution that puts a
gradually rising fee on carbon emissions worldwide to effect the necessary
transition from a fossil fuel-based global economy to one reliant instead on
renewable energy sources. Governments need only to find the political will
to pass a revenue-neutral price on carbon as it enters the economy (at the
well, mine, or port) along with a border tariff on imports imposed on
countries that fail to follow suit.
Revenue-neutrality means that the
money collected is passed to households on an equal basis in the form of a
Studies show such action would strengthen the economy, while effectively
addressing the problem.
In the U.S., the size of our economy
empowers us to lead the world to a green energy future, but nothing will
happen without Congress stepping up. The upcoming mid-term elections are an
opportunity to make our elected officials accountable for their stance on
climate change and to rout out any that are impediments to enacting a
solution. At minimum, we can visit each candidate’s website to see if
climate change is even listed as one of their “Issues.” Or, type “climate
change” into the website’s search feature to see what it produces.
To gain comfort in talking about
climate change in our day-to-day lives, the
five tips offered up by philanthropist Jane Burston might come in handy.
For example, she recommends focusing on how climate change is already being
felt – like 17 of the hottest 18 years in recorded history happened within
the last century – rather than on dreadful ways it could play out in the
Sarah "Steve" Mosko is a
freelance writer focused on current environmental problems and solutions. Her other published articles on the
environment can be read on www.BoogieGreen.com.
She’s also a psychologist and sleep disorders specialist and lives in