Friday, February 12 , 2016, 1:01 pm | Fair 72º

David Sirota: How to Reach the Last 20 Percent

By David Sirota | @davidsirota |

There’s a big reason climate change differs from so many public policy challenges: Unlike other crises, addressing the planet’s major environmental crisis truly requires mass consensus.

Indeed, because fixing the problem involves so many different societal changes — reducing carbon emissions, conserving energy, retrofitting infrastructure, altering a meat-centric diet, to name a few — we all need to at least agree on the basic fact that we are facing an emergency. This is especially the case in a nation where, thanks to the U.S. Senate filibuster, lawmakers representing just 11 percent of the population can kill almost any national legislation.

That’s why as encouraging as it is to see a new Associated Press-GfK poll showing that 4 in 5 Americans now see climate change as a serious problem, it is also not so encouraging to see that after the hottest year on record, 1 in 5 still somehow do not acknowledge the crisis. Unfortunately, that 1 in 5 may be enough to prevent us from forging the all-hands-on-deck attitude necessary to halt a planetary disaster.

What, if anything, can be done? Short of eliminating the filibuster so that lawmakers representing this 20 percent don’t retain veto power over climate change legislation, America desperately needs a serious public education campaign.

The good news is that with such education, many of those who don’t yet believe climate change is a serious problem can, in fact, be reached — and convinced to accept obvious reality.

This is the conclusion of a new study by researchers at George Mason University and Yale University. It found that those with a “low engagement on the issue of global warming ... are more likely to be influenced by their perceived personal experience of global warming than by their prior beliefs.” Summarizing the findings, reporter David Roberts writes that “people who have made up their mind have made up their mind,” but for those in the “mushy middle,” personally facing severe weather — and being exposed to facts about what that weather really represents — “can make a real difference.”

The bad news is that this “mushy” group probably cannot be reached by the real experts, as 1 in 3 of those surveyed in the AP poll say they simply do not trust scientists. That leaves local television weather forecasters (most of whom are not actual scientists), national news outlets and Washington political leaders to the task — and up to this point, many of them have played the opposite of a constructive role in climate education.

For instance, when it comes to weather forecasters, a recent Rolling Stone magazine assessment of the local news scene found that “there’s a shockingly high chance that your friendly TV weatherman is a full-blown climate denier.” The report cited a 2010 survey finding that in the vast wasteland of Ron Burgundys, only half of all local weather forecasters believe climate change is even happening, and less than a third acknowledge the scientific evidence proving that it is “caused mostly by human activities.” Not surprisingly, their forecasts often omit any discussion of climate change’s effect on the weather systems, thus forfeiting a chance to properly contextualize severe weather events.

Similarly, an analysis in 2012 from the watchdog group Media Matters found that “the amount of climate coverage on both the Sunday shows and the nightly news has declined tremendously.” Meanwhile, the Columbia Journalism Review points out that the “presidential campaign was silent on the issue.”

In a nation that comprises just 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 18 percent of its carbon emissions, this situation is unacceptable.

If the first step toward solving a problem is getting past the denial stage, then it is long past time for news organizations and political leaders to end their climate denialism. Only then can we hope to reach the consensus on which our survival depends.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now and blogs at Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow him on Twitter: @davidsirota, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

» on 01.11.13 @ 09:09 PM

The first step in solving a problem is having the knowledge to recognize it as such. You David are not qualified.

David, far too many folks like you are jumping on this band wagon because you are told to not because you have the knowledge to know whether you should or not.

Fact, the climate is warming, and will continue to do so until the next cooling cycle.

Fact, this warming is being influenced by human activity. It’s also being influenced by termite activity too, but I don’t see anyone propose termites limit GHG to help out.

Fact, we don’t have any concrete evidence that human influence will change the direction of the current climate temperature enough to make any difference. We need far more data and research to better understand this.

Fact, the proposals that are being made to “combat” climate change are onerous and dangerous to the human species. They are mostly knee jerk, far too fast and without merit. Most are based on ideology, not science.

Fact, the carbon footprint so ballyhooed by alarmists is actually part of our “carbon cycle” the natural cycle of the element carbon through biological and geological systems on our planet. The current level of CO2 in our atmosphere is 5 times less than it was half a billion years ago. The planet was warmer, more tropical and supported a far greater diversity of life and far greater abundance.

Fact, the climate changes, it always has and those life forms that adapt to change survive and those that don’t die out. That’s life and you and I cannot change that.

My suggestion is that rather than waste the combined capital of all the industrialized nations trying to play god with climate, we do what any robust species does and adapt to it.

» on 01.12.13 @ 06:39 AM

Drill Baby Drill they chanted. Keystone XXL will answer all our prayers. American jobs and energy security coming our way. Dont worry , just get out of the way.
Even the smallest amount of curiosity will provide one with the true story about the environmental carnage being wrought by big oil and TransCanadaXXL. From Canada’s boreal forests , across our heartland, to gulf coast refinerise in trade free zones (taxes bad!) this mess has been foisted upon us by big oil and enthusiatically supported by the dumbed down drill baby drillers. See for yourselves.

» on 01.12.13 @ 01:36 PM

That’s the best you can do Willie, those evil oil companies? Good grief.

» on 01.12.13 @ 02:43 PM

I would suggest that dropping the term “climate change” might benefit us all.  Many of the “cures” for “climate change” are worthwhile endeavors in their own right (e.g. conservation, pursuit of alternative fuel sources, etc.) and could be developed without the true believer/religious conviction issues now associated with both sides of the “climate change” discussion.  There will always be a contingent, myself among them, who will react strongly against alarmist tactics, simply because they are alarmist and thereby foment argument instead of understanding and resolution.  And when the politicians start talking science, be afraid, be very afraid - there’s not a scientist in the bunch.

» on 01.12.13 @ 05:06 PM

I remember the smog in LA, back in the early 70’s, when you you could practically walk across the 405 at noon without being hit. And you could not see the mountains through the smog. I remember kids fainting in the supermarkets.

I remember NYC in the 70’s, where the smell of exhaust could make you sick all day long. I remember the forests in the Northeast dying from acid rain.

And the hole in the ozone layer.

Now, thanks to environmentalists raising the alarm, these problems are greatly reduced, even though there are more people and more cars.

People like the Bishop have always preached to us that any mitigation effort was a waste, that our declining environmental conditions should be accepted and adapted to.

And they have always been proved wrong. They are the Luddites of the modern age.

» on 01.12.13 @ 08:17 PM

BS Ramjet. I never said any mitigation effort at REAL problems was a wasted effort. That is your lame street media, moveon, lefty loony European socialist worshipping copy cat crap showing its ugly face.

While alarmists like you were sniffing around and whining about smog 40 years ago the engineering community was solving the problems. All I have ever said is get knowledgeable about the problems we face rather than jerk your friggen knee right through your big bone head and hire lawyers to get involved and muck everything up.

There are solutions to our atrocious waste of energy and to our finite and dwindling supply of carbon based fuels and real pollution. But unlike you, David and most of the lets-build-a-fascist-totalitarian-world-government-to-force-everyone- back-to-the-stone-age leftists, I prefer solutions that actually progress us forward and elevate the living standards of the poorest.

Now go look at your god Al Gore that big fat bloated pig and see what the leader of the current alarmist movement is doing. If you don’t feel like a complete dupe then I suggest you pull yer head out of where the sun doesn’t shine.

BTW, thanks to your knee jerking lawyers responding to idiots like you most of the pollution problems were solved by moving them to India, China, Mexico and anywhere else your idiot lawyers couldn’t touch. Nice work jackass, at the same time we went from a net trade exporter to a net trade importer and have been in debt ever since. We could do a lot better if we could just shut you dumb shits up long enough to get real solutions worked out.

» on 01.13.13 @ 01:41 AM

Noozhawk founder and publisher Bill Macfadyen was interviewed recently on a local radio show. One of the subjects discussed was reader comments . While happy to host dialogue , he lamented the derisive and crude nature of many commenters posts. Since hearing that interview , I have vowed to get better at avoiding the low road. Not perfect , just better. Too bad all of us couldn’t have heard Macfadyen’s comments.

» on 01.14.13 @ 12:30 PM

Ok Willie, are you ready to have an intelligent conversation? I laid out a bunch of facts and I am of the opinion that the AGW circus is politically motivated not a crisis, that the kinds of changes AGW alarmists are proposing are dangerous and particularly hard on the poor.

What say you?

» on 01.15.13 @ 08:48 AM

I am opposed to environmental degradation at all levels and for decades have personally taken steps to lighten my impact. No respect or creedence will ever be given to those adhering to old ideas associated with a subgroup of deniers.

» on 01.15.13 @ 07:57 PM

Nice attempt at civil discourse. Who is the denier Willie? The one who cannot discern things for themselves and sees things through a political prism or the one open to discovery and willing to entertain new ideas?

As for environmental degradation, that is as far from intellectual as you can get. Define degradation. In fact while you’re at it tell us all specifically what your “impact” is and its affect on the environment. Oh and while your at it define environment.

Go through that exercise honestly and soon you will discover what many of us have and that is these definitions are more political than scientific.

If you have trouble then follow the money. That will lead you back to big fat lying hypocrites like Al sell-my-TV-Station-to-terrorist-supporters-for-oil-money Gore.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.