After the mildest winter in my living memory, questions of climate change seem to be appearing with greater frequency. But prior to this year, it felt like the discussion of global warming had all but disappeared. What happened?
When I was little, it seemed like everyone was talking about global warming. Environmentalism was a popular subject in the ‘90s. The 1992 animated movie FernGully: The Last Rainforest contained an anti-deforestation message. Waterworld (1995) featured a subtler implication of the earth’s future should global warming increase, one in which the ice caps melt and flood every surface of the planet.
Adding to the discussion as well were the efforts of former Vice President Al Gore. He was notable for his campaigning the issue of climate change; he wrote a New York Times best-selling book titled Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit in 1992. Though his efforts continued in the 2000s, I have ceased to hear as much about the issue.
Part of me believed this was because efforts were being made to reduce human impact on the environment. Part of me thought it was due to interest in the subject waning—we know we need to change our ways, but that’s easier said than done. What I didn’t expect was that it could be the result of a growing wave of skepticism. I heard about climate change so much as I child, that I thought it was a foregone conclusion. And as I learned more about energy and recent technological history, it backed up the supposition that humans were damaging the environment in a way that was becoming less and less reversible with every passing year.
Skepticism I can understand. It’s a valuable mindset to use at times, but only if it encourages you to do your own research into the truth or falsehood of a belief. Too often I find that it’s an excuse to continue living one’s life as usual, without consideration for the consequences if the warnings of others are ignored. And that’s why I’m so confounded by the skepticism I see these days: why would you deny the existence of climate change when the consequences for being wrong are so devastating?
A study from 2013 showed 97 percent of scientists endorsed the consensus that anthropogenic climate change—change caused by human interference with the environment—was a real occurrence. A later study from 2016 corroborated the earlier report. And yet, despite this resounding confirmation, skepticism continues to exist.
There are others besides Al Gore who have dedicated much of their careers to fighting skepticism. Bill Nye is one who defends his belief in climate change. He appeared on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to raise awareness of the issue. He spoke about it with Senator Bernie Sanders on Facebook Live last month. And in April, Nye will star in a new Netflix series called Bill Nye Saves the World, which will discuss climate change amongst other subjects.
There are ways that we can help, too. Awareness is the first step. Speak up when someone is skeptical without reason, or start up conversations on your own. You don’t have to be a celebrity to speak up, though it certainly helps; Lin-Manuel Miranda published a playlist on Spotify last Monday called “Climb It, Change Is Real.” Other ways of helping include making conscious decisions in the products we buy; the Rainforest Alliance, an activist organization founded in 1987, started a “Follow the Frog” campaign, part of which included collaborating with companies whose products were friendly to the environment by placing frog logos on the products. Buying these options helps ensure that money is not going to corporations who are not concerned with the future state of the climate.
There is controversy over the degree to which humans have devastated the environment, but I hope that we will all come to realize that we are having an effect, and it is not a positive one. If we want a planet that can sustain life for future generations, then our efforts need to be pooled towards changing our current policies. We can’t afford to be wrong in our approach.