In What the Public Doesn’t Get About Climate Change, Time’s Bryan Walsh says that as he reports on climate change, he comes across a lot of scary facts, like the possibility that thawing permafrost in Siberia could release gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or the risk that Greenland could pass a tipping point and begin to melt rapidly.
The scariest thing he has found though is that our intuition is bad about climate change – most folks don’t seem to grasp that it’s not enough to cap emissions/spending, you have to dramatically reduce.
It may seem to many like good common sense to wait until we see proof of the serious damage global warming is doing before we take action. But it’s not — we can’t “wait and see” on global warming because the climate has a momentum all its own, and if we wait for decades to finally act to reduce carbon emissions, it could well be too late. Yet this simply isn’t understood. Someone as smart as Bill Gates doesn’t seem to get it. “Fortunately climate change, although it’s a huge challenge, it’s a challenge that happens over a long period of time,” he said at a forum in Beijing last year. “You know, we have time to work on it.” But the truth is we don’t.
If élite scientists could simply solve climate change on their own, public misunderstanding wouldn’t be such a problem. But they can’t. Reducing carbon emissions sharply will require all 6.5 billion (and growing) of us on the planet to hugely change the way we use energy and travel. We’ll also need to change the way we vote, rewarding politicians willing to make the tough choices on climate. Instead of a new Manhattan Project — the metaphor often used for global warming — Sterman believes that what is needed is closer to a new civil rights movement, a large-scale campaign that dramatically changes the public’s beliefs and behaviors.