TRENTON — Growing up in the 80’s, my friends and I always thought that everyone was exaggerating about climate change, and that it could not be as serious as the experts were making it out to be. We thought, yeah pollution was bad, but the earth was huge, and if it ever did get really serious, we still had a few lifetimes until we hit the danger zone. I now think we underestimated the severity of the concern.
According to national surveys conducted by programs on climate change communications at Yale and George Mason Universities, a large majority of Americans think global warming is happening now, outnumbering those who don’t by more than 5 to 1, regardless of political beliefs. And, a study by the World Wildlife Fund in 2002 states that by the year 2050 all natural resources on planet earth will be exhausted. That means clean water, soil, vegetation and even animal life, gone or very close to it. We don’t know what that means for us as humans, but that is a very terrifying outcome to have to deal with and apparently we are going to be alive to see it happen. As a matter of fact, we already are.
The first question that pops into my head, like most people is, “What can we do about it?” There are so many answers to this question: composting, solar energy, eliminating meat from our diets, recycling, electric vehicles and just reducing personal waste by buying less.
Even as average Americans start to do these things, the solutions to this problem always seem to come from the upper echelon people in our society, who happen to be more financially secure and well educated. These individuals seem to control the narrative around global warming and climate change through super technical and factual scientific data. Thankfully, these are the people who actually take the time and make the effort to figure those solutions out. However, I think we still need to create a narrative in this country, one that speaks more to everyday people.
A study from the Economic Policy Institute, found that in 2017 the bottom 90% of all wage earners in America earned a total of 60.9% of the total wages nationwide. In 2015 the Census Bureau reported that 67% of U.S. residents do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher education. I believe that these are the two groups, the 90 and 67 percenters, that we need to create a different narrative for.
I believe the current narrative doesn’t effectively register with these two groups. Even when the information is fact driven and spot on, it is also boring to a majority of Americans, who do care about these issues, but are not used to dissecting an overload of academic, technical and scientific information. So what usually happens to people like this, who are on the fringes is that they just zone out and don’t think about it much.
We have to figure out a way to make the topic of Climate change or Global Warming, appealing to those who have been zoned out, purposely or subconsciously for a long time. We don’t necessarily need to do anything to the current narrative, we just need to have a different one too. One that talks to the larger segments of the country. It should still be factual, just without sounding like a college dissertation. Let’s simplify and shorten the message and most of all, make it practical on a personal level. Without that people just get turned off, myself included.
With a less technical but more practical narrative, we can act and engage better. I honestly think this is the best way to increase the effectiveness of the solutions and actually see the environmental conditions improve. Because this is such a large segment of the population, the 90 and 67 percenters are the most important groups that need to be involved and engaged in the solution. Even if a small fraction of this populous gets involved in a significant way, its impact would be great, based on sheer volume.
I often wonder why so many people seem passive and uncommitted when it comes to fixing the environmental problems we face? Many people feel totally hopeless when it comes to these issues, and I understand and have often felt the same way.
I heard the feeling best described by Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live when he said, “We don’t really worry about climate change because it’s too overwhelming and we’re already in too deep. It’s like if you owe your bookie $1000, you’re like, ‘Ok, I’ve got to pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie 1 million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just going to die.’” What a great analogy! When put like that, most people, myself included, could absolutely relate!!
This story was produced in collaboration with the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project. It was originally reported by Kelly Ramos for The Nubian News, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.