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Guest column: Climate change beliefs don’t match the facts
Though most scientists agree on humans’ impact, majority in North Ga. aren’t in sync
05022018 FOSSIL FUEL CLIMATE

By Brian Moss

Guest columnist

Through the magic of mathematics ​The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has created a model of our 9th Congressional District’s beliefs about climate change. Out of an array of 28 possible beliefs, I would like to delve into the implications of just a handful in order to answer why people might hold certain beliefs about climate change and why those opinions really matter. Answering these questions should help us to have a more accurate view of where we stand and where we’re headed.

According to YPCCC, only 38 percent of adults in our congressional district agree with the following statement” ​“Most scientists believe that global warming is happening.”

​This low percentage, if accurate, is surprising in light of the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists believe in human-caused global warming​. What could account for this misconception? Maybe citizens have an erroneous perspective because the petroleum industry’s campaign to discredit climate change has been effective. ​Exxon alone has spent $30 million on “think tanks that promote climate denial.”

What makes their denial egregious is that we know through their own studies beginning as early ​as the 1970s and ’80s, the oil companies were aware of the damage that carbon emissions would cause to our environment​. The petroleum industry has been denying the very fact that its own research has established: Burning fossil fuels causes global warming.

So in reality, not only do climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change, but so do the oil companies, who are actually facilitating climate change while concomitantly denying its existence.

The petroleum industry’s disinformation campaign, however, only partially explains why so few citizens fail to recognize something considered common knowledge. A further explanation is provided by Yale’s data that only 21 percent of adults in the 9th District “hear about global warming in the media at least once a week.”

What we don’t know is if this low estimate of exposure to reports of global warming is a consequence of people not paying attention to the media, if it is their media that is not paying attention to stories about global warming, or if Yale is mistaken. If Yale is right, then one can be forgiven for assuming that a lack of information on the one hand and a disinformation campaign on the other has likely skewed local beliefs about climate change.

In another area, Yale’s data suggests that only 36 percent of people locally agree with the following statement: ​“Global warming will harm me personally.”

If this data is accurate, then an unfounded optimism may be due to misunderstanding the type of harm that climate change poses here in Northeast Georgia. Simply put, we are all vulnerable to the extreme weather which will become more common: storms, droughts, and heatwaves. ​If you are poor or work outside, or you are a small child or an elderly person, you are at greater risk from heat​. But we are all susceptible to mosquitoes, bugs in general, and the diseases they carry. These, too, will become more common. The harm caused by climate change affects everyone.

Under “Policy Support,” Yale’s Climate Opinion Map indicates that 63 percent locally and 68 percent of people nationally believe ​that corporations should do more to address global warming. But the corporations that could do the most to mitigate global warming are the ones responsible for global warming, so perhaps we should look elsewhere for help.

What about the government? Its job is to look out for its citizens, right? Its job is to protect citizens from the greedy indifference of big business, right?

Most Americans seem to agree with that notion. In fact Yale says 61 percent locally and 70  percent nationally believe that ​the federal government should set strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants.

​That seems reasonable. After all it’s common knowledge that because of the free market, ​cheap natural gas is pushing coal out of the power business​. Who could oppose this idea?

According to the Aug. 21 edition of the ​Washington Post,  “The Trump administration ... proposed relaxing pollution standards for power plants nationwide, a move that could slow the decline of US carbon emissions and lead to hundreds more premature deaths and thousands of asthma attacks and missed school days.”

Well, that ​is​ unfortunate particularly since another Yale study as reported in ​The Guardian, clearly asserts that without the support of the federal government, we’ll never achieve the necessary CO2 reductions to return our atmosphere to a stable condition.

Current federal policies undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions. These policies run counter to national opinion. According to YPCCC, nationwide 70 percent of adults believe that ​environmental protection is more important than economic growth.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby is dedicated to persuading congress to pass legislation that will reduce carbon emissions. Legislation trumps policy. The local chapter of CCL regularly meets with our congressman’s office in order to advance this legislation and change our country’s stance. With sound opinion based on accurate information, we can head our country toward clean energy and build a sustainable future.

Brian Moss is a retired high school English teacher and Gainesville resident who has lived and voted in the 9th Congressional District for more than 30 years. Contact him at beymoss@gmail.com.

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