Why DOES the climate change issue bring out so many cynics... and how do we convert them?

With 96% of Irish people accepting climate change as fact, we need to stop scaring people and 'raising awareness', and start sending more positive messages, says John Dolan
Why DOES the climate change issue bring out so many cynics... and how do we convert them?

BURNING ISSUE: Just 4% of Irish people do not accept climate change is happening now

IT’S a big number, 96%.

If your daughter got that mark in a maths exam, you might want to enrol her in Mensa.

If Sinn Féin get that percentage of votes in the next election, we can safely say the independents would not be invited to form a coalition.

At a guess, I reckon perhaps 96% of people believe the Earth is round, and 96% of Irish citizens could point out the Irish flag in a line-up (as long as the Ivory Coast’s wasn’t there to muddy the waters).

Let’s just say 96% is as near to ‘everyone’ as you’re going to get, it’s certainly a vast, vast majority.

Well, according to the biggest ever survey of Irish attitudes to climate change published just over six months ago, that is the percentage of Irish people who accept as fact that climate change is already happening.

Just 4% do not accept it.

In other words, it’s a done deal. There is no debate, no argument, and certainly no real need to go chasing the other 4%, to nudge that figure up to 97% or 98%.

Safe to say that some of those outliers could be roasting on a spit over the burning Lee Fields, and still insist that it’s a bit chilly around here, and that climate change is a hoax.

So, my question is: Why - whenever we have an ever-more frequent episode that underlines the fact climate change is real and happening now, on our doorstep - do so many scientists, experts, politicians, and pundits react by taking on that 4%? What is the point? What will it achieve?

All it does is wind up deniers into a frenzy, and gives them a platform to emit more hot air.

We live in a world dominated by social media discourse, where culture wars are constant. Some people online want a row, a heated debate, to trade insults... leave them at it, I say.

My problem is with those who constantly seek to engage with the 4%, to either mock them or convert them. Why?

The debate is over, the jury vote is in - 96%. A victory for common sense, for science, for rationality and reason. Leave the 4% to shout into the void.

Here’s a radical thought.

Why don’t those scientists, experts, politicians, and pundits instead try to offer something tangible to the 96%. Something optimistic and positive, something a bit hopeful?

Because that’s what the entire climate change debate is missing.

The problem we have isn’t that people are in denial, it’s that, individually and collectively, we don’t know how to solve it. That feeds into a sense of fatalism and defeatism, which will not solve the problems before us.

The climate change issue is guaranteed to prompt fierce debate on social media, and amplify the voices of the dissenters - you will see it on virtually every news story on Facebook, including this one!

Forget about these people, ignore them.

The trouble is, even the people who are part of that 96% - who say climate change is a real and present danger - are sick of the lectures and blame games. Give us solutions and positivity.

That survey which gave us the 96% figure was produced by the Environmental Protection Agency with the help of Yale University in the U.S. Its answers, from an in-depth questioning of more than 4,000 Irish people, were actually quite encouraging.

It found that people are willing to take some pain to help manage the climate crisis, but that most do not trust businesses, celebrities, religious leaders or politicians to give them the truth about it.

Some 85% said climate change worried them, which is interesting, since it reveals 11% of us believe climate change is already happening, but are not worried about it. I feel I belong in this group, and it is a good place to be. Anxiety will not solve anything - and anxiety is often all the experts can offer.

I do not seek to blame myself or anyone else for climate change. It is what it is. I have a faith in humanity that, through science, ingenuity, and enterprise, we will find a way to reduce levels of CO2, both in Ireland and around the world. If we don’t, then we will have to face the consequences.

It is easy to be defeatist about climate change, especially when Ireland contributes just 0.1% to global emissions, and when the likes of China and India are such huge emitters and sitting on their hands.

But I prefer to call my stance part-fatalistic and part-pragmatic.

What turns me off the issue are people shouting and screaming that we’re doomed.

I certainly do not want any talk of the end of the world being nigh to permeate our primary schools - that’s just exchanging one doomsday scenario religion for another. And when the subject arises in our secondary schools, I want it to be framed positively, for the mental health of our young people.

What turns me on are policies, solutions, and progress reports. The fact we fixed the hole in the ozone layer is surely pertinent.

In that survey, 78% of people said they believe climate action will increase jobs, economic growth and quality of life. That’s a positive right there.

A similar number say climate action should be a high or very high priority for our government - that’s surely a mandate for our politicians to stop quibbling over peat and cattle quotas and start effecting real change - while supporting those who will suffer.

As the author of that study, Dr Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, said: “There is almost no climate denial in Ireland. Its people overwhelmingly accept the findings of climate science and strongly support a whole-of-society response.”

So, next time a heatwave hits Europe, let’s stop trying to ‘raise awareness’ or trying to convert the 4%, let’s have positive words and action instead.

I have been on something of a climate change journey myself. It took a while before my critical faculties as a journalist accepted it as fact - and I’m not ashamed of that.

Way back in 2007, I wrote here: “What the debate needs is less of a guilt trip, and more proper solutions to the possible problems ahead. After all, isn’t that what scientists are for?”

That still stands.

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