Another Climate Change Report Is Released: Why Society Is Not Taking Sufficient Steps To Proactively Address Climate Change
The Fourth National Climate Change Assessment has been released by officials from 13 federal agencies working under the leadership of the Trump Administration, which pushed up the release date of the report to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday week. The extensive report details the various risks posed by climate change to the United States as well as what is being done to blunt the impact of climate change and what more needs to be done. It concludes the economic impact of climate change could very well top 10% of GDP while thousands of people could die from the fallout of climate change. For President Trump, who has questioned man’s hand in climate change and suggested climate change might reverse itself, the report is a rebuke from career professionals working under the Executive Branch and, therefore, a political embarrassment to him. For activists, it is a definitive call to action. In reality, it is simply a reminder that climate change will have a meaningful impact on the US and the US needs to take more proactive steps to address it, which is where the problem lies.
While the failure to wear seat belts already costs more lives than climate change might cause, issues like alcohol consumption and excess debt, both public and private, already financially impact the American People at a similar level, so the need to act is not as dire as some suggest. It is also questionable as to whether or not action will actually blunt the impact of climate change. The right policies will help and are helping, as the report showed, but the impact of climate change can only be mitigated. Unfortunately, there are those in positions of influence who want to overreact to this news and those who want to bury it. This creates a situation were sensible, measured policy shifts capable of having a constructive impact become the victims of partisan dysfunction. Issues like climate change can be addressed without bankrupting the US and the US economy can continue to grow without neglecting issues like climate change, which is a conclusion the aforementioned report reached. Climate change is, however, one of those issues that seems to garner a great deal of buzz, yet fails to gain enough traction to muster the magnitude of response needed to address the issue.
One of the reasons is that those eager to tackle climate change appear to be on the verge of hyperventilating every time a new report comes out calling attention to their cause. Hype can draw public attention to issues, but it can also lead to apathy. Those opposed to environmental regulations have used the hype surrounding climate change to delegitimatize the concerns of environmentalists. Quite frankly, if scientists and economists were to scrutinize any number of human behaviors or societal issues, they would find a significant cost to society. To inspire action, which most people do care about the environment to a large degree and have been willing to embrace eco-friendly trends, activists need to forgo the hype and focus on the solutions. They need to focus on limiting the costs of climate change solutions. They need to discuss how the failure to take specific actions will have costs. Asking people to act on a issues, because there is a known impact, is asking people to just do something. Just doing something is not going to solve climate change and not making progress on climate change is making people not want to act.
Social inertia dictates society is resistant to change. When there is a need to take action, people as a group must be properly motivated as the natural reaction of people and communities to any issue is to act on their own diverging interests. This typically ensures a lack of meaningful action. Society is not proactive, in general, because it is difficult to compel a critical mass of people to take action and agree to adopt the same solutions. Without proper guidance, society will always take the easiest path, which is usually inaction. Even when it comes to a purely human-created issue with clear solutions like the Brexit, society cannot take proactive action to avoid the dire costs of a failure to reach a political settlement, because the personal cost of taking action is either too high or the personal consequences of not taking do not seem serious enough. When it comes to issues like climate change, which are influenced by factors that go beyond human control, inaction is favored to win. The personal cost of climate change is just too abstract and insufficient while the personal gain of addressing climate change is simply too small. Outside of providing easy solutions that make people feel good and give them a personal profit, such as recycling and the use of solar panels, most climate change solutions attempt to appeal to the altruistic side of human nature, which only works on certain segments of the human population.
After decades of embracing insufficient climate change solutions and failing to take more meaningful action, people have only grown more resistant to the idea that society can reverse climate, which is a sentiment reinforced by the reality that prolonged inaction is making climate change impossible to address. The modern political age is also defined by extreme polarization and dysfunction, thus issues like climate change have become increasingly difficult to address, in general. Even before this latest report, the impact of climate change was fairly well-known. Affirming and reiterating the impact of climate change inflames the political divide over climate change while helping to transform the issue into a fixture of the political system, thus inaction against climate change has become the status quo. It is true that climate change needs to be addressed. It is also true that society needs to be more proactive on a myriad of issues. Understanding the impact of an issue is an important step. Creating buzz and hype are not. Addressing issues like climate change requires advocates to take what is known and rally people to take specific action, to embrace specific public policy solutions, business solutions, and personal solutions.
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