Since 1970, the average annual temperature in New York has risen 2.4°F. This rise in temperature represents only a fraction of the warming we could see over the next 60 years under climate change scenarios. Recently, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) published a report detailing how the State’s economy and environment may be affected by climate change. By understanding climate change and its associated risks, New York State can plan more effectively to adapt, mitigate and prepare for these vulnerabilities.
While there are many uncertainties associated with climate change, climate scientists agree that the frequency and intensity of extreme events will increase. This means that the Hudson Valley will experience more extreme flooding events (à la Hurricanes Irene and Rita last year), heat waves, and droughts. Researchers estimate that the average temperature in the Hudson Valley will increase 3 to 5 degrees by 2050, threatening many popular apple varieties of the region. The effects of climate change will create many challenges for energy production, agriculture, water supply and human health. Therefore, it is imperative that we begin to take steps to address these challenges. However, the current lack of understanding and acceptance of climate change has hampered attempts to take serious action.
Recently, vocal climate change deniers have successfully dominated and driven the debate on climate change even though the climate science community overwhelmingly agrees that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming. When thinking about climate change communication and education, trusted messengers play a crucial role in changing this trajectory to move the conversation toward addressing how we will deal with the effects of a warmer climate.
Research at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has focused on the underlying psychological, social and political reasons that people choose to engage or disengage regarding climate change issues. Since 2007, there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of Americans who believe climate change is happening. Between 2008 and 2010, Yale researchers estimate there has been a 13 point drop in the percentage of Americans who believe climate change is occurring; additionally, almost 40% of Americans think there is a significant amount of disagreement between climate scientists. This statistic illustrates that the concerted campaign on the part of various interest groups to convince the American public that the science of climate change is still unsettled has been extremely effective at sowing seeds of doubt. In light of this research, “perceived scientific agreement” has emerged as a gateway belief that can fundamentally change one’s perception of climate change.
In order for climate change communication to be effective, it must be personable and connect the effects of climate change in a tangible way to every American’s well-being. Since the slow economic recovery and preoccupation about jobs has dominated the conversation in the United States in recent years, media coverage of climate change has declined. General confusion regarding the difference between climate and weather and previous winter events such as “Snowmageddon” have confirmed in the minds of some, that climate change is a hoax invented by scientists looking for funding. On the contrary, extreme droughts in the Southwest and the warm winter we just experienced in the Northeast have been framed by some climate change activists as proof of climate change.
Global Warming’s Six Americas, a joint project between Yale and George Mason University, groups Americans into categories across a spectrum from “highest belief/most concerned” about global warming to “least belief/least concerned.” The messenger, and how trustworthy they are perceived to be, emerges as a critical component for successful climate change communication. Different people have different concerns and will connect to a tailored message that speaks to their life experience. It is possible, however, for everyone to find common ground; research shows that all Americans support renewable energy research and rebates for fuel efficient cars and solar panels. Interestingly, when it comes to issues such as preparedness and resilience at the community level, everyone believes it is important to implement policies to protect the local water supplies and environment in light of a changing climate.
Concerned about the effects of climate change? Consider reaching out to the editors of your local paper and requesting information regarding climate change to show that interest in the issue exists. Since many people still tune in daily to the local weather report, television weather forecasters could serve a critical role as climate change communicators to their viewership. Weather forecasters are generally perceived as trusted individuals by their audience, so call up your local weather forecaster and ask about climate change. Ask if this weird weather we’re experiencing is related to climate change. Maybe it could engage some of the doubtful and move them along the spectrum towards being concerned about climate change.
Take the quiz online to find out which of the “Six Americas” you belong to: http://environment.yale.edu/climate/
Image Credit: The GOES-13 satellite captured this stunning visible image of Hurricane Irene at 8:32 a.m. EDT, just 28 minutes before Irene’s landfall in New York City. The image showed Irene’s huge cloud cover blanketing New England, New York and over Toronto, Canada. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.
Ariadne Prior-Grosch is a first-year graduate student at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. She blogs for the Center on the National Climate Seminar and writes about environmental topics for La Voz, a free monthly publication in Spanish that serves the Hispanic communities of the Mid-Hudson Valley, http://lavoz.bard.edu. She is a member of Few for Change, a scholarship program for students to continue past primary school in the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca in Panamá. Visit http://www.fewforchange.com/ to learn more.