How to win the climate wars – talk about local 'pollution' not global warming

How to win the climate wars – talk about local 'pollution' not global warming
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Donald Trump has done many things to tarnish America's reputation, but his decision to walk away from the Paris Agreement is probably the most internationally symbolic and damaging. That a US president can put climate change denial at the centre of his climate and energy policy is truly unprecedented, and it is difficult to remember an administration that has been so intent on undermining the intellectual and scientific findings on global warming.

Fighting back against Trump's folly seems to be an uphill task. Even the impending publication of the Climate Science Special Report, drafted by scientists from 13 federal agencies, is unlikely to do much. The final report is expected to warn of the dangers of , but it will most likely be surreptitiously sidelined.

One of the reasons behind Trump's bullish attitude might be to do with public opinion in the US. In a poll carried out by Yale University in 2016, 70% of Americans said they believed in global warming and 58% believed that it will harm Americans. However, only 40% believe that it will actually impact them individually. Furthermore, just 24% said they heard about global in the media every week.

In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre this year, 76% said terrorism should be a top priority for the administration. Only 38% mentioned global warming. The polls suggest that Americans might be concerned about global warming and want more to be done about it. But they are more likely to be worried about, say, Kim Jong-un than climate change.

It appears that confronting Trump – or any other climate denier – on the basis of facts simply won't work. The challenge should perhaps be to first rally public opinion until there is an overwhelming consensus that serious and urgent action is needed.

One practical short-term solution might be to shift the public discourse from "climate change" to "pollution". Focusing on pollution has three advantages that may mean it moves better than global warming.

Can't see 'warming'

First, pollution is tangible. The fact that glaciers are melting might be alarming but it is not something that most of us experience in everyday life. And why would a rise in temperature matter as much to someone living in Sacramento, California, where it is already hot and where one can find shelter in air conditioned buildings?


Pollution, however, can be experienced on a daily basis and causes nuisances of all sorts. The same Sacramento resident who is indifferent to global warming might be concerned with the pollution in their local urban river parkway, for instance. In addition, reports claiming that there are millions of annual deaths from air pollution have a different, more personal ring from those making the more abstract claim that "global temperatures" are rising fast.

People care about pollution

Americans also seem to be more concerned about the environment than global warming. In the same opinion poll carried out by Pew, 55% of Americans saw "the environment" as a priority, a similar score to crime or poverty (and comfortably ahead of the military, immigration or "global warming"). They seem to be more worried about the quality of air and water where they live rather than losing sleep over a global climate phenomenon.

What might also be encouraging is a poll carried out by the Center for American Progress this year which showed around two-thirds of those who voted for Trump opposed the idea of privatising or selling off America's national forests and public lands. Whether this is a strong enough basis for there to be a rallying of the public is difficult to know. Nevertheless, focusing on the local environment is a good start.

You, the expert

A focus on pollution might also actually open up the debate on the environment and encourage some kind of grassroot reaction. Too often the discourse on the environment and has been dominated by scientific experts and politicians. As such, the public might believe that this is a matter of scientific debate that somehow they cannot participate in, without some prior knowledge. After all, what can you, personally, contribute to a debate on carbon dioxide parts-per-million, or melting glaciers? Would you even know either was a problem if scientists hadn't warned us?

By contrast, feeling the effects of environmental pollution does not require expert knowledge. The public can express remedial actions and suggestions, without having to pretend that they understand atmospheric science. Moreover, actions are more likely to be taken on a local level if the focus is on local .

The public should be scientists' first ally in this battle. Any language and issues that engage people against Trump's climate folly in whatever way should be the priority for scientists and policy makers seeking to address the problem.


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Aug 22, 2017
One might also have a better chance of winning the "climate war" if one does not confuse it with actual war and treat those who disagree with you on various points, small or large, as enemy combatants to be destroyed. Further, as discussion is required to deal with the issue, and one can not simply legally kill those who might have varying views, one might also stop referring to other people in the debate as your rhetorical version of "racist" or"Nazi." That is how you polarize your own "side;" not how you convince other people.

I would also suggest that monies would be better allocated to improving existing technologies and developing new ones, rather than wasting it on the sausage grinder of legislation, regulation, and the development of alternate grey economies with which to try to control behavior. I never fail to be amazed at how much money people donate to "causes" over research. If only we donated more to research, rather than "causes."

Aug 22, 2017
Here's another suggestion: base it in facts and solid science. Fictionalized drama and horror are highly entertaining but make a poor foundation for public policy.

Start with the fact that carbon dioxide isn't pollution; it's an essential nutrient for all plant life on earth. And rather inconveniently for your narrative, the increased concentration in the atmosphere in recent times has improved agricultural production and appears to be having, on balance, a positive net effect.

Anyway, do go on. You were saying how awful CO2 is...?

Aug 23, 2017
1) Drop the bogus urgency. It plays like Chicken Little, particularly as the "crisis" to come is 100 years out. Skeptics believe most of the "science" behind the urgency is simply confirmation bias, reinforced by the necessity of making a mortgage payment.

2) The climate is always changing. so call it what it is: Global Warming. (Whose idea was "climate change" anyway, Maurice?) This would free the Cause from being known by an essentially tautological, and otherwise meaningless, descriptor.

3) Stop pretending the raw data is not manipulated to make the models work (see Point #1). Honesty on this issue would be a huge step toward reconciling skeptics. Stop pretending to accuracy (and certainty) that's unjustified by the quality of the data or the maturity of the science.

4) Warmists should drop the "consensus" nonsense and start acting like scientists. Try a little humility, adopt an air of uncertainty, qualify hypotheses as hypotheses, keep an open mind, get real.


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