Last week, CBC radio – Canada’s national radio station – were discussing a question: why don’t people care more about global climate change? Now, there was a lot of discussion back and forth, much of it from people that were genuinely surprised that there even WERE people who don’t care about it.
It doesn’t surprise me at all.
There was a study done once on how people donate to charity. (I promise this will relate to the climate change thing in a moment.) The study did two tests. In the first test, people were given $5 for performing a survey, but after the survey, they were told about how there were a million people in some African nation who were in desperate need of food, water, and medicine. They were then given the chance to donate some of their $5 towards the charity.
In the second test, other people were still given $5 for performing a survey, but after the survey, they were told about a single child in that nation who was in desperate need of food, water, and medicine, with some details were given about that child’s life and family. The second group was also given the chance to donate some of their $5 towards the charity.
The people who donated towards the million people in Africa gave an average of $1.14. The people who donated to the child gave an average of $2.38.1 That’s more than double. Crazy, but true. See, when people see a challenge that they truly can’t do something about on their own, they’re less likely to even try. A million people? I can’t possibly help that many. One person? Sure, I can help!
So, what does this have to do with climate change?
As an average observer, here’s how I’ve seen it. For decades, environmentalists got very good at conveying a very simple message: “Don’t pollute”. This message was very easy to understand, and it was also easy to see the effects. “Look! There’s trash in the stream! That’s pollution, and pollution is ugly! We should clean it up! Yay!”
Then, about six years ago (for me, anyway), the main message changed to “We should all stop burning fossil fuels, because in 100 years it will change the balance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of the entire world, causing a difference in global temperature of up to six degrees.” And scientists worldwide are mystified that this hasn’t been received with the same level of acceptance. Wow.
If climate change had a PR department, they would have been fired by now. You can’t care enough about climate change when it’s on a global, intangible level! The only way you can care is when it hits close to home in some way… and this year, it seems that it finally is. 2012 (at least on the East Coast of North America) has been shattering a lot more heat records than normal. Apparently this is changing quite a few minds on the issue.
I know it’s been changing mine. I’ve been on the fence about it since I’d first heard about it. Oh sure, I wasn’t going to argue with the temperatures that scientists were recording; in an argument with a thermometer about how hot it is, I’ll always lose. But I was caught up in the whole question of whether people caused it. If this was just a natural earth cycle thing, why mess it up?
But now? I don’t know if it matters whether or not humans caused it. We’re going to have to adapt to it. We’re going to have to do something about it.
(If there are any climate change PR people, and they happen to be reading this, wondering how to “convert” the people that are still ignoring it… start associating climate change with pollution. After all, if climate change is man-made, it is pollution, right? And there isn’t a politician in the world that will come out in favour of directly polluting the environment.)
- Source: “Made To Stick”, written by Chip and Dan Heath, 2007 ↩