Climate change: Are you egalitarian or individualistic?

Bill Maher & Anthony LeiserowitzThe Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, Anthony Leiserowitz, was on Real Time with Bill Maher last weekLeiserowitz was invited on the show for the pre-panel interview with Maher to discuss the Yale Project’s studies and findings on human reaction to climate change. Human reaction pertains to anything from consumer trends and thought processes to level of knowledge, faith-based beliefs, or denial. Officially speaking, the Project “investigates the psychological, cultural, political, and geographic factors that drive public environmental perception and behavior.”

Conservative columnist Horace Cooper appeared on Maher’s panel that night, reiterating that he’s “a [global warming] denier and proud of it.” He denies the consensus of 97% of scientists that global warming is manmade. He also believes Noah’s Ark was an actual thing. I wonder if he’d be “proud” to bring up his denial when talking with victims of Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina or people whose homes were consumed by wildfires in Arizona or Colorado. Cooper’s beliefs are baffling and absurd, but the Yale Project’s mission is not to be sidetracked by people like him (or Republican pollster Kristen Soltis, who also appeared on the panel to mention “Solyndra,” a popular right-wing, climate-denying talking point); no, the Project exists to communicate, study, investigate, and educate. And hopefully present urgency and make progress in reshaping our thoughts on climate change and motivate us to take action to help curb, or reverse, manmade global warming. Some takeaways from the interview:

Maher: Obama made his big speech. Probably the most important speech he’s ever made… about climate change.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Unfortunately, the media largely ignored the President’s speech in place of ratings on more sensational topics (see: Paula Deen). Other than flooding coastal cities and burning dry climates and billions of dollars in damage – how can we make this issue stand out? What a preposterous question, right? And who should we listen to for facts? Scientists or politicians? You know my answer.

Leiserowitz: It is not too late. We absolutely have this within our power to limit climate change to tolerable levels.

What is “tolerable,” anyway? My gut tells me that this is a word Leiserowitz uses in many of his interviews and talks to evoke realism. The reality is that even though adoption of renewable energies is progressing, these adoptions and anything else to try and curb global warming and stop weather catastrophes are being done slowly. With carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now at the alarming level of 400ppm, humans will be forced to adapt. But imagine if climate deniers like Horace Cooper didn’t exist? Imagine there was a full-fledged human effort to repair the planet, our water supply, our air? We absolutely have this within our power to make it more than tolerable.

Leiserowitz: What Keystone represents to many people… it is a big, big investment in the 19th century dirty energy supply.

Fact: an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline will create jobs. Unfortunately, these jobs are temporary, promote antiquated methods, and get energy from some of the filthiest sources on the planet. Further adoption and construction in the renewable energy industry and economy will create permanent jobs, cleaner air and water, generate trillions of dollars in revenue, and curb population migration due to catastrophic weather events.

Leiserowitz: The dismissive… various politicians trying to get rich.

Maher: The greedy… the Koch brothers, who would rather choke on their own fumes than not have an extra billion.

The burning of fossil fuels is embedded in everything we do in modern society. Burning these fuels releases toxins into the air and this process warms the planet. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication’s researchers try to understand how mass publics understand the threats and impacts of global warming, how much they understand, and how socially engaged they are with the problems. The Project breaks down the United States into six types of people, including the “dismissive” and Bill Maher’s additional suggestion, the “greedy.” How do we get over these obstacles of greed? How do we make the uncaring care? The first step is a more informed, educated, and energy literate public.

Leiserowitz: People who are most concerned about climate change have strong egalitarian values, whereas people who are most hostile to the issue of climate change have strong individualistic values.

The six types of people the Yale Project signify can really just be placed into two categories: the egalitarian and the individualistic. Or more simply… do you care or do you not care? Do you care about the needs of the many or your own personal, short-term well-being. And when I say “own,” I mean it: yourSELF, and nobody else. It’s a perplexing thing to me that those with children or grandchildren aren’t conscious or sympathetic to the issues of climate change. Should something so cut and dry as caring or not caring be rooted in politics as well? Floods, fires, toxic food, and contaminated water don’t acknowledge whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. Shouldn’t mothers and fathers be conscious of what they eat, what they feed their children, where it comes from, how they consume?

Maher: It’s not American warming, it’s global warming.

Leiserowitz: India and China recognize they are some of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Leiserowitz goes on to say that China is outspending the United States by $30 billion in renewable energy technologies. He also goes on to point out that there is an estimated $2.3 trillion that is available to be made over the next seven years and that China is already winning the race. Do you see an argument here? I don’t. Horace Cooper can probably create one out of thin air. Conventional wisdom about clean energy is still way out of date. The time to act is now.

Unfortunately, the language “climate change” gained traction a few years ago during a period of political campaigning. It was used to divert the public’s attention from the “too negative” sounding “global warming.” But 97% of scientists involved in climate studies believe manmade global warming is real. It’s real. It’s absolutely real. All you need to do is watch Chasing Ice or The Island President to witness it in action. Or better yet, talk to Hurricane Sandy or wildfire victims… refugees of climate change. And then tell your kids.

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