Climate Change Affects Us All, so Why Don’t We Treat It That Way

Between the continual trumpet of “America First,” Britain leaving the EU and the rampant nationalism we see from places all over the world, it’s easy to assume that every man is an island. In reality, that’s far from the case.

2017 was marked with distressing news. The United States — currently led, much to our dismay, by climate-change denying President Trump— left the Paris Agreement.

The Larsen C ice shelf also broke off of Antarctica, creating the largest iceberg known to exist. Hurricanes like America had never seen before drenched swaths of the South and the Caribbean islands, while many countries in Africa dealt with severe water shortages. The coral reefs continued to bleach, Australia continued to lose its Great Barrier Reef and arctic animals continued to be forced further south and out of their native ranges.

According to scientists, this is just the beginning of the effects of climate change. We can’t attribute any single storm to it, but we can look at the overall global trends. We know the extreme weather we’re seeing is directly related to climate change, but we don’t know how much worse it’s going to get or how to make the people in charge listen.

The familiar story is that the name was changed from global warming to climate change because people thought global warming sounded pleasant. In reality, global warming is the end-result of the climate we are changing. The key here is that one word: global. Climate change doesn’t care about borders. It does not worry about the rules of humans, and doesn’t care for the walls we put in place or the commitments we break.

Trump can build his wall and he can call to bring back coal. He can boast he’s getting a better deal on various trade deals or that he’s smarter and braver than the next person, but it will not make one lick of difference to our changing physical atmosphere.

If you overload people with just how bad it could get, they’ll often be overcome with apathy

Last year, the Syrian war made headlines. What made fewer headlines was how and why the war started. The Arab Spring is well-known, but the lead up to that was a drought that forced farmers from their homes and into the cities. It put a tremendous economic strain on the country, as we saw one of the first climate-change related human migrations start. The country fell into civil war not long after. The war continues to this day, seven years later.

More recently, the BBC released its latest documentary, Blue Planet II. This was a way to update its original series, The Blue Planet, which aired in the early 2000s. Since the company has also recently filmed Planet Earth I & II with great success, no one was expecting anything to change as a result. Things did change, though.

Inspired by its own work, the BBC decided to lead by example and eliminate single-use plastics from its entire operation by 2020. Their operations involve offices all over the world, and they employ thousands of people. Even the Queen was moved by the plight of the world and has made her own, separate announcement to reduce the use of plastic in the royal estates.

The problem, of course, is that humans are more drawn to petty drama than we are to large-scale conflicts that unfurl slowly. Climate change pops up on the news cycle when people start dying, but it disappears again as soon as the next crisis pops up or Trump tweets an insult at someone. Short attention spans are a problem, but it’s not the only one.

There’s also the fact that people don’t want to believe climate change is as bad as it is. If you overload people with just how bad it could get, they’ll often be overcome with apathy about it and figure there’s nothing they can do. Striking a balance between getting people concerned enough to pay attention but not so scared that they ignore the problem is hard. Having people in charge claiming nothing is wrong and that climate change isn’t real is a relief for many.

keep talking about it

Then the politicians themselves also have to deal with voters. When their constituents don’t want to talk about climate change, they don’t talk about it. Instead, they hold on to and deal with the things that are affecting people right now, like how much your tax return will be. People can care about more than one thing at a time, but they don’t like to focus on all of them at once. That makes climate change a hard sell when people are more concerned about the now.

So yes, it might not be in our nature to address climate change as a group. We like to be individuals, so if everyone starts caring about something, people will want to bring attention to a less popular issue. This leads to a continual news cycle of both “shock and awe” and “first ones on the scene.”

We don’t have a solution to climate change. However, we do know we can stop pretending like our borders or money will make a difference. They will, but only to the slightest degree. Climate change affects us all, from the poorest people to the richest.

The only way we can find a solution is to remain aware and keep making small changes every day. Make the effort to recycle. Ride your bike more instead of driving a car. Invest your money and time in companies and organizations that support green initiatives. And also, keep talking about it. Talk about it, and call your representatives and force them to talk about it. Keep it in the public eye and then maybe — maybe — we can make some real, global progress.

More about the author

About the author

Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Kate Harveston is a recent college graduate and an aspiring journalist. She enjoys writing about social change and human rights issues, but she has written on a wide variety of other topics as well.

She blogs on social and cultural issues at  Only Slightly Biased.

Follow Kate on Twitter.

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