Debate: Do We Still Care About Climate Change?

Just one year ago it seemed that most of the world’s politicians, diplomats, media and environmental activists converged on Denmark’s capital to fashion what many termed the “world’s last chance” to formulate a united response to climate change.

Now, in December 2010, the universally acknowledged failure of the Copenhagen COP15 climate change summit has given way to extremely low expectations for the COP16 Cancún climate change summit. You would barely know it is taking place, if coverage given by major media organisations is any indicator. There appears to be little urgency among world leaders, too, of the need for a global agreement to mitigate climate change through emissions reductions. Climate change, to put it bluntly, is falling down the list of priorities on the international agenda.

A more positive view is that the “off the radar” Cancún meeting can allow national representatives to focus on aspects of any global climate regime less controversial than trying to agree on fair and equitable emissions reductions by reluctant nation-states. Foremost among these would be an agreement on climate finance mechanisms such as the Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund where rich countries fund climate change adaptation projects in vulnerable developing countries.

In the final Our World Debate 2.0 of 2010, we ask whether or not the world still cares about climate change? Have you noticed a decline in attention given to this issue amongst your social and work circles? If so, how do you think the issue of climate change can bounce back onto people’s agendas?

Or more specifically has the world given up on trying to seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to instead focus on the inevitable adaptation that will need to take place? Is this prudent prioritisation or just an admission of our collective inability to deal with an inconvenient truth head on?

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Debate 2.0: Do We Still Care About Climate Change? by Mark Notaras is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Author

Mark Notaras was a writer/editor of Our World 2.0 for the United Nations University (UNU) Media Centre from 2009–2012. He is a former researcher in Peace and Security for the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP). He holds a Masters in International Affairs (Peace and Conflict Studies) from the Australian National University and the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) and in 2013 completed a Rotary Peace Fellowship at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Currently Mark works in Timor-Leste advising local NGOs on community agriculture and conflict prevention projects.

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  • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

    What, you don’t think that adding carbon capture & storage to CDM is progress? Seriously, I have a sneaking feeling that prudence has little place in the grand scheme of things, which is just more of the rich/emerging world’s head-in-the-sand inability to deal with its oil addiction.

  • AlanZulch

    As OW 2.0 may have already seen, the November 2010 issue of Scientific American published the results of a poll of its readership (the following is from, ironically, the Cato Institute, in a “we could have told you this all along” way, of course):

    “SciAm probably expected a lot of people would agree with the key statement in their poll that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is “an effective group of government representatives and other experts.”

    “Hardly. As of this morning, only 16% of the 6655 respondents agreed. 84%—that is not a typo—described the IPCC as “a corrupt organization, prone to groupthink, with a political agenda.”

    “The poll also asks “What should we do about climate change?” 69% say “nothing, we are powerless to stop it.”

    “The real killer is question “What is causing climate change?” For this one, multiple answers are allowed. 26% said greenhouse gases from human activity, 32% solar variation, and 78% “natural processes.” (In reality all three are causes of climate change.)

    “And finally, “How much would you be willing to pay to forestall the risk of catastrophic climate change?” 80% of the respondents said “nothing.”

    Sadly, these poll results only confirm what I sense among all too many neighbors, childhood friends, and others: The issue of climate change is best ignored because it is most likely just a leftist scam, and what can we do about it anyway? Go shopping!

    Bottom line: My sneaking feeling tends toward agreement with Carol.

  • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

    Oh Alan, I pressed ‘like’ on your comment only as thanks for the info (i had not seen the poll) but ‘like’ isn’t an accurate word to describe the sensation of a stone dropping in one’s stomach. How can leftist scammers continue to hold up their heads and soldier on?

    • AlanZulch

      Carol, it really does make one wonder. If the numbers of ‘scientifically-minded’ people – who, say, wouldn’t pay even a penny to mitigate the risk of climate change – are that skewed, it certainly seems hopeless that substantive efforts will ever be initiated (or supported) at the popular level.

      Instead, our addictive civilization seems compelled toward hitting bottom. And then what?

      • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

        Hi Alan, to some relief, I found this SciAm response to reports on the poll. Apparently it was co-opted/skewed via links in from two skeptic-dominated sites. Right now reading this v.interesting piece on the psychology of our climate beliefs.

        Anyway, nice talking to you, as always, Alan!

  • AlanZulch

    Carol, thank you for shedding light on this. I’m glad to read the SciAm response! Wow, I’d really been duped, but apparently was not alone. Nonetheless, that’ll teach me to go back to the source for some fact-checking before posting. Mea culpa.

    The “Blinded to Science” piece you linked to was indeed very interesting and insightful. Thanks for that. One thing I get from it is a more nuanced understanding of WHY voicing doomer alarm only crystallizes the resistance of those who hold opposing views. That is helpful.

    It seems that in this age of polarization, attempting to use the force of argument to try to break through opposing resistance – only serves to reinforce the defensive bulwarks and reactivity.

    The fear, I think, in withdrawing from that approach is that it feels like we’re giving up and going passive, but I think we have to get over that (speaking for myself). Better, it seems, to move away from polarizing reactivity and just Be…for awhile…Step out of the boxing ring and take a deep breath…and see if we can transcend the duality.

    In doing so, we might well find that Einstein was correct when he said that to solve a problem we have to transcend the consciousness (of duality) that gave rise to it. Then we can move into action again, but this time in response, rather than reaction.

    So easy to say…so challenging to put into practice…but I’ll keep trying!

  • BrendanBarrett

    Alan and Carol,

    Sorry for not chipping in sooner. I am glad that the situation surrounding the Scientific American poll was cleared up.

    My view is that global attention on climate change peaked at the COP15 negotiations in Copenhagen and that the failure to reach a comprehensive global agreement at that point resulted in many people feeling disappointed and disillusioned.

    What we appear to be witnessing in 2010 is a gradual rebuilding of the scientific and political consensus that action is both essential and possible. The approach now is not to think in terms of one big breakthrough agreement, but rather a series of small steps that work together to achieve the same result.

    In this context, the outcomes from Cancun, although modest, appear to be taking the world in the right direction.

    So I would say that people still very much care about climate change. They care about moving now from talking to real action at all levels. This is inspite of the current economic woes facing the world and the difficult times that many people are going through. Lets hope that the momentum can be maintained.

  • marknotaras

    mmm…if this debate (at least going by the number of comments made) is to be gauged against others we’ve had then maybe people don’t care as much as when climate change was front and center in the news.

    Interestingly with these massive floods in Australia now taking place, I have noticed a distinct lack of commentary referring to climate change in that country’s national media. This could be due to sensitivity as people are genuinely worried about losing their loved ones and houses. I am no expert but I gather that the relationship between an individual natural disaster and climate change is too tricky to confirm whether or not one disaster is climate change derived. I suggest over the long term we will see more of these so-called 1 in a 100 year disasters and make any climate change connections more evidence-based. But what is amazing is that in Australia alone there have been once in a generation floods, droughts, sandstorms and bushfires in the recent years alone. To say nothing of much more deadly events in Pakistan for example.

    Of curiousity is that notable outspoken Australian National Party politician and climate-change sceptic Barnaby Joyce’s home town of St George is on the receiving end of a major flood for the second year in a row – again this may not be evidence of climate change but it will be interesting to see at what level of repetition of these disasters will people start believing the climate has changed, and not just the weather. You can catch some of his finest work here.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYT7XzmVk9c