The Invisible Problem

This morning, while I did some kitchen chores, I listened to the Moyers & Company segment on climate change. Not one to soft-pedal the truth, Moyers had this to say about climate change action: Get it wrong and it’s over, not just for the U.S., for planet Earth.

Moyers’ conversation was with communications expert, Anthony Leiserowitz, who explained why, although the majority of people accept that climate change is real, it still remains an invisible problem. In part, this is because we humans are hard-wired to respond to immediate threats. We do not do as well with what seems remote. Because most of us don’t see what is happening, except for those polar bears, perhaps, it is out of mind. The Media has been notably reluctant to address the subject, but that is beginning to change.

The failure to adequately raise the alarm is complicated by many things, including the successful campaigns of disinformation that sow doubt. But it is also a communications problem itself. Or rather several. We who are working to change minds on climate change action have to learn to craft the message in ways that our diverse audiences — Leiserowitz says there are “six Americas” when it comes to the subject — will hear and respond. I recognized instantly that I am in Category 1: The Alarmed, those who accept that the majority of scientists and climatologists can’t be wrong, and want to — and are — doing something about it, however small that effort may seem weighed against the magnitude of the problem.

My efforts to communicate and educate so far have been focused within faith communities because addressing climate change, and the related issues of peak oil, indeed peak-everything, is both a moral issue and a social justice issue. As Katrina taught us, those who have less will suffer more, probably sooner, and take longer to recover — if they can at all. Although, as Anthony Leiserowitz pointed out, Hurricane Sandy didn’t discriminate between liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, million-dollar shore communities or small working class towns, material recovery has come soonest to those who could afford it. How we respond to the mutual threat of climate change is a matter of conscience, or should be.

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