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Are You Deep-in-the-Gut Worried About Climate Change? Take Our Survey.
Climate change doesn't have the emotional characteristics that make it truly deep-in-your-heart scary. Leaders will have to act anyway.
Yet another survey of public opinion about climate change has confirmed what was already well-understood. Most people believe that the climate is changing. Fewer, roughly half, think humans have anything to do with it. And overwhelmingly, people aren’t all that worried.
Before discussing this new survey, may I invite you to participate in a mini-survey on climate change. It has only one question, and requires only a simple Yes or No answer. But by itself, this survey will explain the lack of serious public concern about such an enormous threat to life on earth as we know it. Can you name one way that climate change is seriously, negatively, going to harm you or your family, personally, in the next five years? Or, more simply put:
I’ve been asking that question for several years wherever I speak, or teach, or just whenever the issue of climate change comes up in conversation. Even among the most devout environmentalists, few people answer "Yes." Few people can identify even one way that climate change is going to seriously, negatively, personally threaten them in the near future. And without that — without making people feel a sense of being personally and imminently in danger ... no risk evokes significant concern.
As I have written again and again, climate change does not evoke that kind of worry. Do you wake up in the morning and check the climate report? No, you check the local weather. Do you check the weather for the year 2050 or the year 2100? Of course not. You check it for today — for right now. Do you check on how polar bears are doing, or whether your mobile phone battery is charged up enough to last for the day? Here, and now, is where we live. We don’t think, or feel, globally. We don’t worry about others as much as we worry about ourselves. And we don’t worry about the future as much as we worry about the immediate. After all, we have to get through today before we need to worry about tomorrow.
So it is no wonder that the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey tells only what many previous surveys (the most informative repository of which is at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which has this great graphic summary) have already confirmed. Concern about an immense threat to life on earth as we know it is mild, far short of the level necessary to get people to act, or vote, or campaign, or change their lifestyles much. In our hearts — and risk is a matter of how we FEEL, not just a matter of the facts alone — climate change is more of an idea than a danger.
The new survey, conducted just after Pope Francis visited the U.S., found
+ 65 percent believe climate change is happening.
+ 51 percent think it is either entirely or mostly human-caused.
+ 35 percent believe the causes are half human, half natural.
+ 10 percent believe the causes are mostly or all natural.
+ 8 percent are extremely worried.
+ 14 percent are very worried.
+ 34 percent are moderately worried.
+ 22 percent are not too worried.
+ 17 percent aren’t worried at all.
The AP story on their joint survey (by friend Seth Borenstein) perfectly captures the conundrum with the comments of “Linda Gebel, a 64-year-old retired bookkeeper who lives north of Minneapolis, (who) has read up on global warming.
"Everybody's life would be totally disrupted," Gebel said. "It will cause famines and wars, huge problems. I don't know why people wouldn't be worried about it."
And yet because she lives in the middle of the country — joking that she'll be "the last one who will be submerged" — Gebel added she doesn't "feel worried personally. I'm not sure this is going to happen in my lifetime...”
There is the problem, in a nutshell. Her worry is intellectual. In her gut, she’s not concerned climate change is going to happen to her — soon.
Only, this is not the problem that many people lament. Yes, major changes are needed, especially to the way we manufacture energy, and political support would make it easier to accomplish those changes. But such support is not required. Big changes are already happening. Cities, states, and nations are committing to significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Major corporations are committing billions to investments in renewable energy and sustainable operations. (Google is carbon neutral. There is no carbon footprint for all those YouTube cat videos.) Markets are cropping up to put a price on carbon pollution. Even “Communist” China has announced such a free market approach, an approach resisted in the U.S. by conservatives who deny climate change not so much because the science isn’t convincing, but because they don’t like the idea of the government butting in — which will be required to address the threat — especially if it butts in on the economy.
No one thinks these changes are nearly enough. The chemical changes we have already made to the climate system — and continue to make — will almost certainly produce cataclysmic harms, harms that are already probably happening. The unusual and alarming run of extreme weather events around the world these past several years, which climate change may be causing and is almost certainly exacerbating, are just a sign of what’s to come.
But political and corporate leaders are acting, even without public concern really pushing them. Good thing too, because climate change just does not have the psychological characteristics that will make it feel scary enough, in time, for public pressure to play a significant role in driving solutions. We really have to hope that despite public complacency, and the Tragedy of the Commons inherent human tendency to put personal interests ahead of the common good, that our leaders can find the courage, and wisdom, to do what’s necessary to minimize how bad things are going to get.
IMAGE: PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 20: A participant walks in front of a poster during the 'Business and Climate Summit 2015' at the UNESCO headquarters on May 20, 2015 in Paris, France; 200 days before the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, the May 20-21 Business & Climate Summit provides a unique forum for business and government leaders to demonstrate bold action, adopt forward-looking strategies and call for ambitious policies that will allow to scale up solutions. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
David Ropeik is an Instructor at Harvard, a consultant in risk perception and risk communication, author of How Risky Is it, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts, and principal co-author of RISK, A Practical Guide for Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Really Dangerous in the World Around You. He runs a program called Improving Media Coverage of Risk and was the Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of the Harvard School of Public Health, for 4 years, prior to which he was a TV reporter, specializing in environmental issues, for a local station in Boston for 22 years.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.