How You Get People to Take Climate Change Personally, with EPA Head Gina McCarthy

The administrator of the nation's top environmental agency discusses strategies for encouraging actionable responses to climate change.

Gina McCarthy: We are seeing now climate impacts that are tremendously costly and tremendously challenging. And EPA’s role is to try to turn that challenge into a positive message moving forward, give communities the tools they need to adapt, you know. Recognize that the time for action is now. So in many ways, the problem that we had in the past was two-fold. People didn’t see the impacts as much as they’re seeing them and feeling them today. It wasn’t already, "It’s happening; what do I do?" And so we were predicting things that might happen, but it’s taken so long to take action those predictions are already here. And frankly we never predicted the kind of impacts that we are seeing today. Climate is always portrayed on newscasts as being some kind of big debate, you know. The big debate among the scientists is that 97 percent of them know it’s happening and are really worried about it — 3 percent are skeptical. That’s not a balance. That’s an overwhelming majority and that needs to drive the decision, especially in a democracy. That’s how we work. We’re working really hard with faith leaders in this country because many of the people listen to their faith leaders for direction and the faith leaders are extremely concerned that climate change is an issue, which most importantly and more significantly impacts low-income and minority communities. The least of these are going to be the most impacted in a changing climate. So we are moving with an ecumenical constituency in the faith community to bring this message to their constituents.

It’s extremely important to recognize your own limitations about who you’re good at talking to and who’s going to believe you and who are the people you are trying to influence listen to. Because we can talk all we want about the science at EPA, but you need to put that into people’s homes and ears in a way that they’re going to listen, absorb, and know they can be part of the solutions moving forward. That gets them off the dime and builds the constituencies you need to succeed. And something that is really as big as this, the challenge of climate change is enormous for us and so you need to attack that from all different angles and make sure to get everybody engaged. I don’t need to fight the climate deniers now. That’s not what I think we need. The rallying cry needs to be: What actions do we take that are going to address climate both from, you know, we need to mitigate and make sure that we’re reducing those impacts, but also let’s do it in a way that grows a low-carbon economy. Let’s make the United States flourish because we stood up to this problem and we took action.


How to you get the notoriously inert American people invested in actionable responses to climate change? Gina McCarthy, the head of the nation's top environmental agency, discusses EPA strategies for bringing the climate conversation into the homes and meeting places of those likely to be most affected by severe shifts. These invariably include low-income and minority communities, which is why McCarthy wishes to see stronger outreach to educate the public and encourage participation in response to these issues.

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