On Earth Day, the Washington Post compiled a series of charts that showed how Americans view climate change. While many trends remain disturbing and continue to hinder our ability to properly plan for the future, there's also hopeful news.
The Good: Seeing the Light
The Pew Research Center has shown that Americans' knowledge that the world is getting warmer because of human activities is rebounding, after an embarrassing low from 2009-2011.
One of the biggest reasons for this dip in knowledge was a disinformation campaign from oil and gas lobbyists. From 2009-2011, the industry spent a reported $471,456,040 on lobbying. They bought politicians to be their mouthpieces, in addition to forming fake “scientific” think tanks such as the Heartland Institute.
A common but silly argument that lobbyists try to pass off as scientific is that the Earth has had warming periods before the Industrial Revolution, and therefore could not currently be warming because of all the carbon we’re releasing.
That’s like saying, “There was a stain on the carpet before I got here, so when I spilled cranberry juice on the rug that couldn’t have made an even bigger stain! The stain getting bigger must be whatever made the first stain!”
The “heat-trapping” capabilities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been known since the 19th century. We know we’ve been releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
The Bad: What’s Right Under our Noses
The majority of Americans still do not think climate change will seriously affect them in their lifetimes.
Increased possibilities for trade led to many of our major cities being located along the coast. But what was once an economic boon, could prove increasingly expensive and even deadly as sea levels continue to rise.
This and other climate-change effects such as rising temperatures and increased wildfires are already impacting the United States, and these events' level of frequency is expected to accelerate.
The Ugly: Distrust of Climate Scientists
A 2012 Washington Post-Stanford University poll showed that only 26% of Americans trust scientists “completely” or “a lot.”
This doubt in science has primarily also stemmed from massive campaigns by the oil and gas industry. Researchers around the world have been threatened and had their names dragged through the mud by lobbyists for telling the truth about climate change.
Michael E. Mann, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist, was attacked throughout the media for for performing quality research on climate change. After his emails were hacked by industry groups, they twisted his words around in an attempt to discredit him. He was later completely exonerated by independent investigators, but the media did not cover that aspect of the story with nearly as much vigor.
The fossil-fuel industry would like us to believe that scientists are “just in it for the money.” Which is very strange logic indeed, when you consider that oil and fas companies are some of the most profitable in history, while research and academic positions are not known for being very profitable.
In the End
While the fossil-fuel industry is a powerful agent of misinformation, there is still hope for the future. After all, there was a time when cigarette companies also managed to keep the truth under wraps (often with help from the aforementioned Heartland Institute). The question is, will we be able to move forward in enough time to save our species from extinction?