The failure to communicate the dangers of climate change to the public is “the single greatest failing of the scientific community,” said CAP Action Senior Fellow Joseph Romm at a CAP Action event April 19. The event, which was moderated by CAP Action President and CEO John Podesta, saw the release of Romm’s new book, Straight Up: America’s Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions.
The reliance on high-carbon fuels for the last 200 years to create prosperous, globalized societies has “been great progress,” said Podesta. “But the great progress that came with the industrial revolution also came with substantial costs: environmental degradation, negative public health effects, and of course, national security risks, particularly those associated with our oil dependency.”
A clean energy future where societies rely less on fossil fuels and use energy more efficiently will create new markets and jobs, boost economic activity, and create new infrastructure while also helping our planet, our communities, and our lives. But a major step to getting to that future is to embrace the science of climate change, and if we don’t, extreme climate and weather changes will no doubt lead to human suffering.
Romm emphasized how serious the situation is. “Future generations, they’re not going to judge us on the war in Afghanistan and they’re not going to judge us on the deficit, and they’re not going to judge us on health care,” he said. “If these scenarios play out as the overwhelming majority of the scientific literature and climate scientists say, that’s all we’re going to be judged on and no one’s going to be writing any books on us called ‘The Greatest Generation.’ It is the greatest moral issue of our time.”
According to Romm, the scientific community was wrongly convinced that the political world would heed their warnings, so their research focused not on what would happen if we kept on the same course but primarily on what would happen if we moderated our emissions and attempted to change our behavior. Romm believes not enough attention was paid to the devastating effects of “business as usual.”
Making matters worse, the mainstream media, which should have taken up where scientists left off, has been hemorrhaging science and climate reporters. Though they have a responsibility to thoroughly cover this issue as clearly as possible and give voice to the scientists who cannot properly communicate, they have “certainly let us down greatly,” Romm said.
The good news is that new media websites and blogs, such as ClimateProgress.org, have stepped up to fill that gap, and they can deepen the mainstream media dialogue on climate change. But this is not enough. Progressives need to talk more about how serious the issue is, and the scientific community should blog directly and “hold regular media phone calls every time disinformation gets out there,” Romm said.
There is no shortage of disinformation, either, and it has consequences. “The conservative movement has just decided to…stake their entire future and the entire future of humanity on what can only be called willful ignorance,” Romm said. Public health is affected by this disinformation and “the public needs to understand what’s coming, even if it’s bad news,” he said.
Not taking enough action on climate change affects public opinion, too, and creates a “self-reinforcing spiral” where we don’t take action so it therefore becomes harder to convince people that it’s something you have to take action about, Romm explained. But it is possible to change opinions. Saving the ozone layer is just one past example where progressives achieved success by building on various pieces of legislation and alarming the public enough to act.
While no individual piece of environmental legislation will solve the global warming problem that doesn’t mean we should ignore bills that don’t do enough. They are important stepping stones for change. For now, Romm suggested we raise the price on carbon and shrink greenhouse gas emissions to help reverse course.
Copies of Straight Up will be available for purchase at the event.