The threat of climate change does not require all of us to become Prius-driving, solar-roofed, wood-burning, stay-at-home vegetarians.
Seeing the pope buzz around in a tiny car altered my perspective on this. We will still demonstrate on this blog that, for us, a lower-consumption lifestyle is fulfilling and fun. But I think it’s arrogant — and ineffective — to assume that all people can instantly change their life patterns. Who heeds a message of “You should be like me”?
I think the best message could be: Do what you can, but do something. It’s unrealistic to say that everyone should instantly lower their carbon consumption by 50 percent. But all of us can cut back by 10 percent.
Do we need more evidence that the problem is urgent? How about 17 inches of rain in 17 hours in the capital of South Carolina (photo at right)? Or scientists’ prediction that if emissions continue at their present level, the worldwide temperature will increase by 8 degrees by 2100? We’re seeing now what happens with a 1.5-degree increase.
Unfortunately, facts often have less impact than compelling emotional stories that speak to people’s values, according to George Marshall’s book, “Don’t Even Think About It.” Climate change doesn’t feel threatening, like toxic chemicals do, and while its long-term costs aren’t certain, its short-term costs are, Marshall says. It’s difficult to explain climate change in an engaging way, and the mainstream media isn’t helping.
Government can make a difference, through carbon taxes, financial incentives for renewable energy, and mileage standards for vehicles. But I believe that real change flows from changed attitudes. Appeals to our hearts work better than appeals to our minds.
Public perception of smoking and same-sex marriage has changed dramatically. Maybe there’s a lesson here.
Banning TV commercials for cigarettes and banning smoking in public places convinced millions of Americans that lighting up is just not cool. And, over time, a critical mass of people realized that they knew gays and lesbians personally, and liked or admired them, and saw the injustice of unequal rights.
I’d love to get rid of TV commercials that imply that buying a truck will make you seem more masculine or that owning an enormous SUV means you’re taking care of your family. But that’s not going to happen. Maybe, over time, a critical mass of people will know someone in South Carolina or New Orleans or coastal New Jersey who has lived through flooding that’s supposed to happen once in 1,000 years. Or someone out West who has lost their home to a raging wildfire.
But people yearn for normality, and they don’t want to be reminded of a global threat that we all share some responsibility for, Marshall writes. We respond more to social cues and cultural self-perception than we do to information, he writes.
Perhaps the pope’s visit, and the climate summit in Paris this December, can lead to a moral awakening. Perhaps we need counter-commercials on TV (which were effective against smoking) featuring older people talking about how they want their grandchildren to have a livable planet. Perhaps we need to talk about how our fossil fuel-based lifestyle isn’t worth it if it produces violent weather, mass migration, species extinction and crop failures.
As the leaders of two Christian traditions wrote in the New York Times, we should “choose charity over greed and frugality over wastefulness in order to affirm our moral commitment to our neighbor and our respect for the Earth.”
For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of more than 140 past posts in 13 categories, including climate change, simple living, frugality, cooking and gardening.