The science is settled; the consensus among scientists is undeniable. Yet according to Pew Research in 2016, only 48% of Americans believe that global warming is a result of human activity. The poll results go on to show that the campaign of misinformation and mudslinging that has been perpetrated by politicians, oil executives, and other wealthy business interests has permeated the public mind and poisoned perceptions of science and truth.
In class, we discussed whether we thought action would be more effective if it were driven by institutions or the public. However, much of this debate relies on definitions. Institutions can often be restricted to simply the government, or may extend to include large companies, regulatory bodies, even characteristics of the products we buy and the buildings we inhabit. Another meta-problem with the debate was the conflict between what is realistic and what would be ideal, as well as how success ought to be defined.
However, watching Before the Flood brought a new perspective to that discussion by depicting the urgency and importance of finding solutions to temperature increases, ocean acidification, and ice cap melting. We cannot afford to wonder what the best course of action might be in an ideal world, and in acknowledging this fact, the answer to the debate itself becomes clear.
Historically, institutions (be they legal, formal, economic, or even customary) are slow to change and incredibly difficult to alter without the support of the public. The abolition of slavery may have been accomplished by the passing of a law, but the ramifications of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and centuries upon centuries of discrimination and prejudice have left a mark that will take many decades to erase, if not more. Gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court in 2015, but this was only accomplished following decades of activism and a growing share of public support for equal rights. Even now, the legal protections of LGBTQ individuals remain shaky at best, and social acceptance remains a lofty goal for many.
In short, the government is not going to do anything about climate change until the cries of the public overwhelm the power of the millions of dollars that are poured into the pockets and SuperPACs of politicians by individuals, lobbyists, and corporations. Citizens will have to be louder than those who would prefer to have the country look the other way so they can continue to profit off of fossil fuels and unsustainable use of natural resources. And even if the institutions decide to listen to the public, change will be slow in coming, and as the documentary depicted in heartbreaking fashion, by that point it may be too late for some people. Individuals must lead the charge to make lifestyle changes on a broad scale because we live in a real and flawed world, not an ideal one. When faced with a challenge as great as the one that exists today, we have to rely on each other to be the change we want to see in the world, not the climate change we must bring ourselves to acknowledge now.
Pew source: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists/