Is climate change a question of belief?
George Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network seems to think so. In a recent article in the New Scientist (25 July 2009, p24) he writes “People tend to put most trust in those who appear to share their values and understand their need”. This is probably true generally, but it is very striking in discussions about climate change. There are groups of scientists, business people and activists that among themselves are totally committed believers, but somehow, the community at large does not seem to be overly concerned. Perhaps a majority is neither believer nor disbeliever. In general, people are aware of the issue but they do not seem to think that there is a need for them to do anything in particular.
A reason could be that the change is coming so slowly that it does not seem very threatening. Most people have enough of day-to-day problems, so climate change is far away. Even if most places on the planet have changed drastically during the past hundred years, few have been around to see the change and thought of documenting it. For many, climate change may not be a threat just now. That it may be a problem for their kids is indeed serious enough, but they may think that let’s deal with it when we are there. However, this approach is a disaster when the problem is coming slowly, imperceptibly. It is the error of “creeping normalcy”. You tend to think the new situation is normal, because you did not, or could not, compare.
Perhaps climate change is not a question of belief after all. If James Lovelock is even remotely right when he says that by the end of the century the global population will decline to only 10-15% of what it is today, then the problem is comprehension. Can it be true that something like that could happen? What does it mean? How would it happen?
In my opinion climate change requires a paradigm shift, a different concept of life on the planet, of mankind and of the role of mankind in shaping the living conditions on this planet. We should not blame the disbelievers or those occupied for the moment with other issues. They have not got the full message yet. Therefore there is a need to communicate much, much more effectively. We may certainly be able to do a lot to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios, but the paradigm shift will come to this planet no matter what we do. Here I agree with George Marshall when he writes: “It is clear that the cautious language of scientists is now inadequate to inspire concerted change, even among scientists. We need a fundamentally different approach”.
We must start to discuss how we will live on a warmer planet. We must start now. Right now!