The polarizing views regarding climate change
This is my draft for my Eng-102 final. Please give me feed back on how it can be improved,
It is agreed upon by nearly all members of the scientific community that climate change is very much present on Earth and is, in fact, destroying the global ecosystem. In America, climate change is already taking a toll on the weather patterns. Despite the existence of climate change being agreed upon by a majority of scientists, the topic has become controversial - especially among Americans. While many Americans do accept the existence of climate change and the damage it is causing, there are, however, a significant number of individuals who reject the existence and/or underestimate the destructive ability of climate change. This is mainly because of the spread of false information and the fear of the economic determinants of climate action. However, this misinformation can be inoculated by presenting these climate change deniers with factual evidence that climate change exists and that it will have a great impact on their livelihood.
The Earth's climates are mainly influenced by two factors, temperature and precipitation. Temperature and precipitation rates are different from region to region. Depending on the temperature and precipitation levels, different climates form. For example, regions with high temperatures and low precipitation rates form desert climates and regions with high temperatures and high precipitation rates form tropical climates. Climate change causes a change in the Earth temperature and precipitation rates. As the climate changes, the ecosystem of that region is also drastically affected. Organisms that cannot survive in the changing climate die out.
The climate change that is currently affecting the Earth is called global warming. Which, as implied by the name, is the gradual warming of the Earth's surface. The main cause of global warming is the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect takes place when greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide, are released into the atmosphere. These gases radiate and reflect off of the Earth's atmosphere back onto the Earth's surface. This radiation causes the Earth's temperatures to become warmer. The release of excess emissions into the atmosphere, mostly due to human activities, is significantly contributing to global warming, causing the Earth to warm at dangerous levels. Global warming has not only affected global temperatures. Other aspects of the weather have also been disturbed because of the phenomenon.
The detrimental effects of climate change, specifically global warming are already showing itself in the United States. In recent years, the state of Texas has experienced an increased amount of precipitation, to lengths that are otherwise unnatural to the region. Two research groups found a record amount of rainfall in Texas when tropical storm Harvey swept throughout the region, the rainfall 38 percent higher than would be expected of a storm in the Texas region in a world that was not warming (Fountain, New York Times). Hurricane Harvey is just one of many examples of natural disasters which have stemmed directly from climate change. Thousands of people had lost their homes, and many more were struggling to survive both during the tropical storm and in the months that followed.
Because of the severity of damage that global warming could hold for the global climate, the United Nations has set a goal of keeping global temperatures under 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre industrial climate level by 2030, otherwise the detrimental effects of climate change may become irreversible. Former UN Secretary-General and Chair of the Board of the Global Center on Adaptation Ban Ki-Moon says at the 2019 UN Climate Vulnerable Forum in New York,
"Global emissions need to be cut by 7.6% each year between now and 2030 to keep the 1.5 [degrees] within reach. Action cannot wait. We cannot possibly 'build back better' without doing more on climate. 2020 is the year for action." (Ban, 2019)
The United Nations has urged countries to develop and submit NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) that detail their plans to cut down their emissions in order to contribute towards achieving the 1.5 degree limit by 2030. If the countries do not take proper action, then the consequences of global warming could take their toll on the climate at a global scale. This means warmer temperatures, rising water levels, and even more destructive natural disasters.
In the United States, there is a polarization in beliefs when it comes to climate change. Some people do not believe that climate change exists, or do not take the threats of climate change seriously. This polarization often causes conflict when it comes to passing legislation aimed at keeping global warming under control. Noticeably, the divide is split mostly based on political views. Thomas Dietz, a University Distinguished Professor of Sociology from the University of Michigan has written several scholarly articles about the public views on climate change, including the split between beliefs on the topic. In his article "Political events and public views on climate change" he writes,
"Over the last decade, while Democrats, Independents, and even liberal to moderate Republicans have increasingly accepted that global warming is happening and that it is worrisome, conservative Republicans have become less likely to see climate change as real and a cause for worry " (Ballew et al. 2019; qtd. in Dietz)
In the United States, this political polarization, especially regarding climate change, is more prominent than in many other countries. However, it was not always like this. In the very beginning, at the time of the first Earth day and the start of the environmentalist movement, there was not much of a split in views when it came to climate change. When science and environmentalism started to become a popular political topic the split started to appear. Especially as political campaigns often used identity as an appeal to the intended audience's support. This campaign tactic has only contributed to deepening the political divide in America.
There is an even deeper reason why some individuals do not believe in climate change and why others do. It all comes down to the way people process and interpret information. Most members of the General Public are not educated about climate change in a setting where they can learn about it in a thorough manner. Instead they become exposed to snippets of information on television or advertisements or other mediums where the information may not be portrayed accurately.
Dietz also covers this in "Political events and public views on climate change" , "our values, our existing beliefs, and our social networks substantially shape how our beliefs evolve." ( 2020) . This means that people are less likely to accept information that goes against their values and beliefs and are more likely to accept information that is in line with their beliefs. They are also more likely to align their views with people who they deem similar to them and keep a social circle of people with the same beliefs as them.
People process the information that they are exposed to through cognitive shortcuts. In this process, they take the information that they hear or read, and compare it to the information they already know. This is why when people are presented with any information, including scientific facts, they think about how the information would affect them on a personal level. After they process that information, they make decisions about whether or not they shall accept the information. This phenomenon is best called biased assimilation (Dietz 2020).
Cognitive shortcuts are not necessarily a negative thing, however, cognitive shortcuts also make it easier for people to be taken advantage of. One of the main reasons that climate has become a divisive topic amongst Americans is due to the effects of politics in America. Political ideology, driven by the influence of wealthy conservatives and politicians, has infiltrated the environmentalist world and fueled climate skepticism. It was found by a research group in Australia that there is a correlation between conservatism, conspiracies, and climate change skepticism. This correlation was found to be significantly stronger in the United States than in the 24 other Angolo countries studied in the report (Hornsey et al. 2018).
"People who subscribe to individualistic and hierarchical values are more likely than others to value elites, free enterprise and the status quo: as such, they are inclined to favour 'big business' and to view 'big government' with moral and ideological suspicion." (Horseny, Harris, Fielding, 2018)
America has been known as the country where individualism has flourished. It would not be a stretch to say that the country was built on the idea of individualism itself. In modern America, suburban areas still subscribe to these individualistic views. The people of these suburbs are also the people who identify as conservative and vote republican. They are also more likely to reject government involvement and regulation in their homes and at their workplaces.
Since the government needs to be heavily involved in order to regulate global warming and its causes, these conservatives prefer to stay away from the idea of climate change in general because they are highly suspicious of the government. This suspicion has also led to a spur of conspiracies amongst people with these beliefs. The conspiracy theories include those of science being a hoax, and of the government planning to control Americans or conduct experiments on them. Because of their individualist and hierarchical views, these people are more likely to believe conspiracies of climate change being a ruse created by the government than they are to believe that it is a real threat that requires regulation and lifestyle changes to stop.
The spread of false information about climate change is also one of the biggest reasons why climate skeptics exist. There are entities present who want to spread false or miscontexted information in order to manipulate people's views on climate change for their own benefit. An example of this is mentioned in a research paper by Psychology Professor Sander van der Linden and 3 others. It is found that there are groups of individuals who do in fact purposefully spread false information for manipulative reasons.
"ideologically motivated, vested‐interest groups known as "Merchants of Doubt" have orchestrated influential "disinformation campaigns" in which they publicly dispute the scientific consensus on various issues, including human‐caused climate change. These campaigns have not only successfully undermined public understanding of the degree of scientific agreement on climate change, they have also increased existing political polarization and limited deeper societal engagement with the issue." ( Sander van Der Linden et al., 2017)
Merchants of Doubt exist to misinform the public for the benefit of entities who would face damage, especially financial loss, because of climate change regulations. These entities are often oil and gas companies who could be put out of business as the world switches to more sustainable energy sources, or manufacturing companies who could face larger expenses as their production processes face stricter regulations.
As harmful as misinformation can be, especially in the case of climate change, it can also be inoculated. In the same research paper, " Inoculating the Public against Misinformation about Climate Change", the researchers conduct an experiment to test different inoculation methods. They conducted an online survey of about 2176 people. The researchers told the people that the survey would ask them questions about one social topic out of several, in order to avoid any preliminary biases. The researchers also included a pre-post survey estimate about the consensus of the 6 different experimental groups. Each experimental group used a different inoculation method. There was a control group, a group that received only a consensus treatment, a group that only received a counterargument (which contained a statement that countered with climate change deniers' beliefs), a group that received a consensus treatment followed by a counterargument, a group that received a consensus treatment followed by a general inoculation message then a counter argument, and a group that received a consensus treatment followed by a general inoculation message then a detailed inoculation message then a counter argument. The researchers hypothesised that consensus treatment would be the most effective method of inoculating misinformation.
The result of the treatment was in support of the hypothesis. The highest outcome came from the consensus treatment only group, the next highest results came from the consensus , general inoculation, detailed inoculation then counter-argument group, and the lowest outcome came from the counterargument only group, which actually gave a negative impact. It was also found that all of the experiment groups that contained counter-arguments in general gave less impact. The results of the research showed that inoculating the public against misinformation about climate change is possible. It was found that the most effective method of inoculation is to avoid directly threatening the targeted audience's beliefs, and to instead present them with consensus messages.
In conclusion, climate change is one of the most pressing modern world issues and requires immediate action. If the necessary steps are not taken, then the damage will be inevitable and irreversible. The polarizing reviews regarding climate change make it increasingly hard to pass legislation that would keep global warming under the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit set by the United Nations. Climate Skeptics and deniers usually doubt climate change because of biased assimilation. Their doubt of the government also leads them to doubt anything that would cause the government to regulate or change their lifestyles. This doubt is only fueled when misinformation about climate change or science is spread by "Merchants of Doubt'' and big businesses and politicians. However, this misinformation can be inoculated through consensus treatment. This is best done by simply informing individuals of the facts without threatening their beliefs with a counterargument.