Climate Change: Backdoor Conversion

According to the polls, a majority of Americans believe global warming exists, but don't rank it high on their list of concerns. Many of these individuals have been lulled into complacency by the incremental pace, and to a degree by the abstraction of climate change.

How can one replace the lack of concern with a sense of urgency regarding a phenomenon potentially catastrophic in magnitude?

President Obama has established seven regional climate centers in rural areas with the mission of providing information that would persuade farmers, ranchers, and other inhabitants of the regions to participate in adaptation and mitigation vis-à-vis climate change.

But what about reaching the general public? Those who are hard core ideologically-driven deniers of global warming are not going to budge unless and until the world starts literally tumbling down. However, for the vast majority of Americans who are fence sitters or just plain mired in apathy, there is a way to actively engage them in combatting climate change.

It is not by indulging in hyperbolic doomsday oratory. No one wants to hear about a hypothetical calamity that would turn their life into a nightmare. It is just human nature to procrastinate if delaying in taking on a menacing existential challenge can be justified by its uncertainty (which in this case relates to the degree, not the occurrence of temperature rise).

What will work is a positive message. To get Americans engaged, speak to them in a language they readily understand and can appreciate--dollars and cents. Mention the host of economic studies that show it will cost far less to take mitigating precautionary steps than to address excessive climate instability after the fact. Put another way, the monetary penalties sustained from failing to reduce greenhouse gases far exceed the costs of preemptively taking those measures to slow escalating temperature rise.

But what happens, one might ask, if the worst fears about global warming do not materialize? Won't all those precautionary expenditures have been dispensed in vain? The answer to that question is a win-win for environmentalists. The main precautions taken to mitigate the effects of global warming make economic sense in their own right, even if the phenomenon's worst projections are not realized. We are talking about increased energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reforestation to absorb some of the excess carbon discharged into the atmosphere. Efficiency results in substantial savings in energy use, and reforestation restores the wealth-generating productivity of the land in addition to reestablishing a sponge to reduce pollution and thereby lower health costs.

Money talks, even if concerns about climate change don't sufficiently resonate.