What with the apparent rise in climate change scepticism and the recent news stories snuffing out hopes for a meaningful Copenhagen treaty, I’m starting to feel nostalgic for the brief period in 2007 when the world showed distinct signs of taking climate change seriously.
You remember 2007: the fourth big IPCC report came out, telling us there’s almost certainly, definitely, unequivocally a problem with the climate, there was the Stern Review telling us that we could fix the problem with a mere 1% of GDP, and then almost all the countries on the planet* met in Bali to agree on a statement of intent “emphasizing the urgency to address climate change”. Meanwhile, An Inconvenient Truth knocked Spiderman 3 off the top of the box office charts and stayed there for a record 17 weeks.**
For a while, climate change was all over the media like acid rain over Finland. I still have some cuttings from the time (how do you like them apples, scrapbookers?):
(By the way: I appear to have mislaid my British Bird Song CD. Please could someone send a replacement?)
Unfortunately, the headline in the second picture has been answered with a big fat NO. (Gosh, the word “NO” really is big and fat, isn’t it?) In 1997, there was a sense that things might happen – climate-friendly policies might be decided, consumption patterns might be changed, stricken polar bears might be airlifted to new homes in the Antarctic… But we haven’t really seen the changes that the science was calling for. In fact, since the IPCC and all that, belief and willingness to engage in climate change seem to have been ebbing away.
Aside from the disheartening news about the prospects for Copenhagen, there is evidence from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that cynicism about climate change has actually been rising. They interviewed 1,500 Americans (a small number, no?), and found that 57% believe there is solid evidence that the Earth is warming, compared with 71% in April 2008. The same thing is happening in the UK – according to a Cardiff University study, for example, there are twice as many climate sceptics in Britain than there were five years ago.
It could be that the media ran too many scare stories and made people mistrustful of climate change reporting. According to some stuff I read in a library in Bangkok (which was AWESOME, by the way), scare stories may have an emotional impact on their readers but don’t necessarily lead us to act. Appealing to our sense of guilt probably won’t work either, as it just makes people feel coerced.
And then there are the climate change deniers, who are proving far better at steering the debate than their environmentalist adversaries (see deniers at work in the totally amusing George Monbiot columns for the Guardian). According to Anthony Leiserowitz (an expert in all this), deniers make up only 7 % of the American adult population, but they also tend to be white, male conservatives who are politically active and have a voice in government and business. For God’s sake. Could you pick a more strident, powerful demographic group to scupper the climate change cause?
Leiserowitz says naysayers are a hard nut to crack, because “many appear to distrust scientists, governments, environmentalists and the media as sources of information”. I found this really funny. Clearly, the only remaining media channel available to get through to climate change deniers is women’s romantic fiction. Well, that and talk radio, which is the one form of media that they trust.
So I have two proposals to win over the sceptics and inject some of the old urgency into the Copenhagen negotiations: (1) launch a new Mills and Boon series set among beautiful climate scientists marooned at a polar weather station, and (2) persuade Rush Limbaugh to change his position on climate change (this may be hard to believe, but Limbaugh is not terribly sympathetic to the environmentalist cause). In return, we will agree to give him ownership of the St Louis Rams. Genius! I have listened to Limbaugh a few times, and I think I have located his Achilles heel – if someone can persuade him that fighting climate change could help to bring down the Obama administration, he might just do it.
* I think Iraq and Somalia had a few domestic issues to attend to.
** This is an Untruth.