Why Even the God-Fearing Should Believe It’s Up to Us to Halt Climate Change

September 10, 2017

God’s creation is on the brink of destruction, potentially at biblical proportions. Scientists say we have as little as three years to stabilize the climate or risk environmental catastrophe. Others say that climate change is already upon us, contributing to flooding that reached ‘unprecedented’ levels in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and now Texas this year.

Some people believe that it’s beyond our power to harm the climate, and even if we could, God would intervene before climate change destroys our world.

There is scant hard evidence though that a divine being participates so directly in human affairs, at least in modern times. Human misery caused by natural disasters, civil wars and genocide seem to go unchecked by Providence. 1.4 billion people are expected to lose their homes by 2060, largely due to rising seas. Most of these people will feel as if their world has been destroyed. If God did not stop these previous tragedies, why do we expect Him to intervene now?

I believe in an inspirational God, rather than an interventionist one. This means turning to God for guidance on how to live life with a higher purpose. This also means taking action to fulfill this calling with the tools at our disposal. As the parable goes, when God sends a canoe, a motorboat and a helicopter to pull us from the flood, He is not ignoring our calls for help, but rather answering our prayers — by providing us with the means to help ourselves.

Like with other natural disasters, God is not going to swoop down and halt climate change. Instead, we must be inspired by a higher purpose — saving the planet for future generations — to do so ourselves. This means eliminating our carbon footprint, and convincing others to do the same. We already have the tools and technologies to do this. Instead of canoes, motorboats and helicopters, we have renewable energy, electric cars and building insulation. It’s time for all of us to act.

–Originally published on Medium, 2017

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How to be a trusted messenger on climate change

September 10, 2017

A recent study indicates that only 40 percent of Americans believe that they will be harmed personally by climate change. Instead, most of us view climate change as a phenomenon that will affect people in another region or a future generation.

Such detachment makes it challenging to motivate meaningful action to reduce climate change. Generally speaking, we are more inclined to act if we believed our personal well-being is threatened.

Such beliefs are not all that surprising, though, as most of us go about our daily lives insulated from changes that are happening in the natural world.

And, when we do experience Mother Nature’s wrath, we have a hard time telling whether human beings bear some of the blame. This is especially true when effects are transient. On one day, temperatures may set a record. On the next day, they swing back to within seasonal norms.

Even extreme weather isn’t persuasive. Because storms are so familiar to us, we tend to discount evidence that climate change is increasing their intensity and frequency. Moreover, the passage of time makes it all but impossible for us to objectively compare any two events. And when we try, our memories easily can fool us, as it’s easy to exaggerate past events in our minds — extreme weather included. Remember, the fish grows bigger every time a fish story is told.

The local angle

Unbeknownst to most of us, however, climate change is already affecting our lives and our local communities. This impact tends to vary greatly by person and by region. Some of us have experienced only minor inconveniences, while others have seen our income, health or way of life compromised.

Here are a few examples:

  • In Florida and along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic seaboard, drivers often find coastal roads not passable because king tides flood them even on sunny days.
  • From Minnesota to Maine, moose hunters find the number of permits halved as populations decline. Warmer winters compromise moose survival by allowing ticks to gorge unchecked on their blood.
  • In the Upper Midwest, allergies sufferers contend with allergy seasons that are lasting a month longer than before.
  • In the Carolinas, commercial fishermen must steam hundreds of miles farther to catch local fish that have migrated north seeking cooler waters.
  • In Alaska, homeowners find their foundations are no longer stable but tilting and collapsing as the underlying permafrost melts.
  • In Louisiana, coastal property owners find their land no longer livable, but instead continuously flooded as sea levels rise. Now, residents are relocating to higher ground.
  • In Montana, anglers no longer find trout at familiar places along the river, but upstream in cooler headwaters. Local guides lose money when streams are closed because warmer water temperatures put too much stress on the fish that remain.
  • From New Jersey to Florida, home prices in flood-prone areas have fallen as flood insurance premiums rise. Investors across the country buy mortgage-backed securities that do not price in the risk that rising seas pose to coastal property values.

Despite these impact, many of us are not aware of their connection to climate change. Communicators have an opportunity to make that connection, and by doing so, motivate action to reduce climate change’s impact. Here are three ways how:

Local impact. Climate change already has caused harm to people in many local communities. Some recognize the impact, while others only sense that something has changed. Most do not yet attribute what is happening to a changing climate. Communicators have the opportunity to engage people about climate impact, particularly those living in affected areas. One way to do so is to contrast how things were before with how they are now, and explain the role that the climate has had in making this change happen.

Trusted messengers. Climate change clearly has become a politicized issue. One way to overcome this is to tap messengers that are trusted across the political divide. For example, when it comes to the impact of climate change on human health, primary care physicians (PDF) enjoy significant public trust regardless of someone’s personal beliefs on the issue. Arguably, local guides, fishermen and others in the community whose livelihoods have been affected by climate change would make compelling messengers, too.

Broad storytelling. People who have been personally affected by climate change have a story to tell. Communicators should encourage everyone to share their stories on social media (tweet every time you witness climate change impact) or with neighbors. The more that we document the harm that climate change is having in our communities, the more compelling the message will be to those still on the fence.

Today, many of us have been personally harmed by climate change, although we might not recognize the cause. Communicators can best engage people if they focus on the impact that it has had in our local communities, and do so through a trusted messenger that transcends the political divide.

–Originally published on Greenbiz, 2017


Outdoor recreation can’t beat the heat of climate change

September 10, 2017

In Montana and similar big-sky places across the U.S., outdoor recreation is core both to the local economy and a way of life. Climate change is beginning to undermine this as it alters the natural systems and habitats that outdoor recreation depends upon. 

Many product companies and resort destinations are positioned to adapt to this change. Others businesses, including local outfitters and guides, may not be as fortunate. Regardless, all companies have the opportunity to take a leadership role in responding to climate change, and in the process, to help preserve a way of life that dates back generations.

Outdoor recreation economy

Outdoor recreation represents a significant share of the U.S. economy: $646 billion in annual spending that supports more than 6.1 million direct — and countless more indirect  jobs. Spending includes $120 billion on outdoor recreation products and $543 billion for trips and travel-related spending.

Climate change is expected to affect this. While comprehensive national studies are hard to come by, state-level impact has been documented. Take Montana. Today, the economic contribution (PDF) of outdoor recreation in that state is significant: $5.8 billion in consumer spending and 64,000 jobs — or more than 12 percent of total employment across the state. According to a recent report (PDF) prepared for the Montana Wildlife Federation, climate change is expected to eliminate 11,000 jobs related to outdoor recreation, or one in six in the state.  

Jobs are only part of what is at risk. Nearly three-quarters of all Montana residents (PDF) participate in outdoor activities each year, one of the highest participation rates of any state. Climate change is forecasted (PDF) to have a dramatic impact on this and expected to cause a 33 percent decline in snow sports, a 15 percent decline in big game hunting and a 33 percent drop in angler days.

Adapting to climate change

Certain outdoor recreation companies are better positioned than others to adapt to climate change. For example, product companies can diversify their product lines, such as reducing their dependence on cold-weather products. Columbia Sportswear, a leading outdoor apparel company, recently acquired PrAna, a yoga and climbing apparel company. Newell Rubbermaid recently floated the idea of selling off winter sports brands that it acquired with Jarden this year.

Similarly, ski resorts are making investments to attract visitors year round. For example, Big Sky Resorts in Montana made investments in warm weather activities such as bike trails and zip lines. Last year, summer revenue was up 10 percent.

Mitigating impact

When it comes to climate change, adaption is not the only thing product companies and resorts can do; they also can take a leadership role to help mitigate it. This means reducing impact across their supply chains — from the sourcing of materials to selling products at retail.

One way to do so is by having more companies adopt the Higgs Indexto guide internal decision-making and vendor selection. Another way is by encouraging more companies to switch to renewable energy to power their facilities.

Climate action should not just be limited to operational decisions. Climate leadership also means being more transparent with consumers. One way to do so is by transforming the Higgs Index into a consumer-facing label in order to allow consumers to make their preferences known with their wallets.

While product manufacturers and resorts are positioned to take action, other types of businesses such as fishing outfitters and guides are in more precarious positions, as their prosperity is highly dependent on the health of local rivers.

Last summer, for example, many of Montana’s rivers were subject to “hoot-owl” fishing restrictions from afternoon until midnight when higher-than-normal heat put excessive stress on cold water fish. Those that remained open ended up overcrowded with anglers.  

Worse, climate change is impacting the aquatic habitats where Montana’s prized trout live. As temperatures rise, warm water fish such as the smallmouth bass are moving upstream into higher elevations, encroaching upon trout that thrive in colder headwaters.

Dan Vermillion, chairman of the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission and owner of a local fly fishing guide company, reported that smallmouth were being caught along stretches of the Yellowstone River which were 1,000 feet higher in elevation than previously recorded. Last summer, a parasite caused a massive fish kill in the Yellowstone. The primary reasons for the outbreak: “near-record low [water] flows and warm water temperatures.”

Today, many anglers still attribute poor river conditions to bad luck, rather than a changing environment. Climate change awareness is growing, however, as occurrences happen more frequently. As it does, outdoor destinations will end up with fewer customers as visitors shift their travel plans elsewhere.

Certainly, local actions can mitigate some impacts from climate change. In fact, the Northern Adaptation Partnership, a collaborative effort that includes 16 National Forests and three National Parks across Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, has created a comprehensive plan (PDF) to do just that. Mitigation efforts along local streams include restoring floodplains, reducing habitat fragmentation and increasing tree shade adjacent to streams. 

Educating consumers

Despite these efforts, most fishing outfitters and guides will remain largely dependent on local conditions for their livelihood, and have limited ways to mitigate the impact. One thing that outfitters can do is to educate their customers as to how climate change is affecting local ecosystems. In fact, such efforts could be quite effective, as studies suggest that “perceived personal experiences” with climate change have a greater influence on consumer attitudes than even previously held beliefs.  

Of course, some may see such a move as risky as it might discourage some visitors from returning. But, it is equally probable that it will prompt more people to visit places such as Montana before outdoor conditions get decidedly worse.

–Originally published on Greenbiz, 2016


For the tourism industry, there’s no vacation from climate change

September 10, 2017

Vacations are supposed to be spent in paradise — on sun-kissed beaches with palm trees gently swaying overhead and clear blue waters that extend to the horizon. This is a narrative (PDF) that many tourists have come to believe — and that industry marketers have nurtured in their advertising.

But climate change is making it harder for resort owners and tour operators to make good on this promise. Climate change is having more of an impact on tourist destinations by eroding beaches and bleaching coral reefs. Mountain destinations are not immune either, as a warming climate melts glaciers and snow pack.

The latest bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef has again brought to the forefront the growing impact of climate change on tourist destinations. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, warmer than usual waters have caused bleaching (PDF) along much of the reef, and have killed nearly a quarter of its coral.

Such an extreme event not only degrades the reef, but can lead to the collapse of the ecosystem as fish and other aquatic life forms move on to find other sources of food and shelter. Making matters worse, these events are expected to occur more frequently going forward, which will leave less time for the reef to recover between events.

Observed Coral Mortality

This type of climate impact can be devastating for the local economy, too. The Great Barrier Reef directly supports69,000 jobs in reef tourism and fishing, and contributes more than AUS $6 billion to the Australian economy each year. The reef is also a national treasure of Australia and the reason that many tourists travel to this far-off continent in the first place.

Over the last 40 years there have been eight significant coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef caused by higher than normal water temperatures. Historically, the Australian tourism industry has tiptoed lightly around the issue of climate change. While many tour operators have borne witness to past bleaching events, they have hesitated to raise their concerns with sympathetic politicians or the press, fearing that any negative publicity would scare away tourists — and profits — in the near term.

It is not surprising then that with the latest bleaching event, the local tourism industry association in Queensland immediately sought to downplay the impact. The Australian government went one step further and had the United Nations actually remove a chapter from the U.N.’s latest climate change report that discussed impact to the reef.

Faced with the worst bleaching on record, tour operators found themselves with few viable options. They could simply ignore it and continue to market to tourists as if nothing had happened. In fact, studies suggest that some tourists would not even notice that conditions materially had changed because they do not have the context to know otherwise. For them, diving on a less-than-pristine reef would be fine as long as conditions exceeded a minimum threshold for seeing fish and other aquatic life.

Alternatively, tour operators could try to adapt to their new reality. For example, they could shift dives to deeper waters that tend to remain cooler and less susceptible to bleaching. But, adaption may be only a temporary solution at best, as bleaching is expected to become an annual occurrence by 2030 without a significant global reduction in carbon emissions.

Organize to fight an existential threat

This time, with the bleaching too devastating and the industry outlook too grim, tour operators were compelled to take a stand. Climate change had become an “existential threat” to the reef and to their livelihood. Instead of remaining silent as they had done in the past, 175 tour operators banded together to urge governmental action to address the underlying cause of the bleaching: greenhouse gases emissions warming the planet.

Tour operators did not just go public with their concerns; they took an aggressive stance against one of Australia’s other leading industries, big coal. They demanded that the government withhold financing and investment support for the proposed Carmichael coal mine, which, if opened, would be the largest coal mine in Australia. They also demanded that new coal mines be disallowed. As Australia is the third largest coal producing country in the world, these demands provide a direct challenge to the status quo and a competing vision for the future.

While it is too early to know how successful these tour operators will be in halting new coal mines from opening, such collective action marks an important step forward in the fight for the long-term survival of the reef.

Reframe the prevailing narrative

While tour operators feel embolden to take on big coal, there is little to suggest that they are ready to challenge the status quo with tourists. Today, many tourists favor vacation destinations that are picture perfect (PDF). Climate change, however, makes it increasingly difficult for tour operators to meet such lofty expectations.

The recent bleaching is a great example. In response, local tourism officials have sought to downplay negative news about the reef. But press coverage already has been so widespread that this would be nearly impossible to do.

Moreover, returning travelers are sharing stories with prospective travelers on social media and travel sites such as Trip Advisor. The upcoming premiere of Disney’s “Finding Dory,” the long-awaited sequel to “Finding Nemo,” inevitably will invite the press to draw comparison between the vibrant Great Barrier Reef portrayed in these movies and the existing state of the reef today.

NOAA

Potential bleaching and mortality across global oceans in 2016.

Alert Level 1 means bleaching is likely; Alert level 2 means mortality likely; NOAA Coral Reef Watch, February-May 2016.

 

Given all of this, the best response by the tourist industry may be to have a direct and open conversation with prospective tourists about the conditions on the reef, while stressing the importance and excitement of seeing it even if it is still recovering from the bleaching. As part of this exchange, the industry also can start to change the prevailing narrative about what makes a perfect vacation. Conditions may not be pristine on the reef, but seeing an adaptive environment — recovering from the effects of a climate change event — is still worth the experience.

Tour operators may be concerned that such an honest conversation simply will motivate tourists to book a dive vacation elsewhere. Sadly, the bleaching of this reef is not an isolated phenomenon. Coral bleaching and mortality is expected to be widespread across the globe this year, leaving fewer pristine reefs to choose from.

An honest dialogue may be the best way to attract tourists to the reef, while at the same time start to unwind the prevailing narrative that the best vacation destinations have to be picture perfect.

–Originally published on Greenbiz, 2016


Why physicians are on the front lines of climate change care

September 10, 2017

In today’s polarized society, Americans trust few sources for information on climate change. One trusted source is physicians.

In fact, according to a joint study (PDF) conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, primary care physicians are the most trusted source for information on climate change issues related to health.

Moreover, this trust is largely consistent across all consumer segments regardless of current beliefs and attitudes toward climate change. This puts physicians in a unique position in society today to influence such sentiments.

Climate change is already having an impact on human health through extreme heat and weather events. It is also exacerbating pre-existing conditions such as asthma and allergies. This is especially true on days when conditions such as high ozone levels or pollen counts make symptoms worse.

This impact on human health differs by region based on local climate conditions. For example, the ragweed pollen season has lengthened by nearly three weeks in the Upper Midwest, no doubt exacerbating symptoms for allergy sufferers there.

Such impact on human health also has a cost: A recent study (PDF) estimates that health-related costs associated with climate change were $14 billion between 2002 and 2009. Without aggressive mitigation efforts, costs are expected to climb further and could reach $14 billion per year by 2020.

As this public health risk increases from climate change, physicians will find themselves on the front lines of patient care for those that are affected by it. As such, there is a growing role for physicians to play in and out of the exam room.

Two good first steps

Political advocacy

Certainly, physicians can advocate for policy change — as individual practitioners or collectively through professional associations such as the American Medical Association and the Global Climate Health Alliance.

While climate change is a politicized issue, it is “easier for a policy maker to pay attention to climate change when it is positioned as a health issue,” said Cindy Parker, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

Indeed, physician advocacy is having an impact on policy makers, as evidenced by the first Summit on Public Health and Climate Change at the White House last year.

Leading by example

Some suggest that physicians lead by example: by greening their office; switching to renewables, or promoting recycling. This enables physicians to communicate a “lifestyle message” to their patients, according to Parker. This includes posting signs or distributing reading materials and pamphlets in the waiting room about how climate change could affect their health and what they can do about it.

Physician-patient dialogue could improve patient outcomes

Patient care

While some physicians might be reluctant to take a public stance on climate change, most physicians will have to consider its implications when it comes to patient care. Already a growing chorus of physicians is calling for more direct dialogue with patients about the health risks associated with climate change. By doing so, physicians hope to promote better disease management and prevention.

Emerging model for physician-patient dialogue promote patient care

Emerging human behavioral models focused on adaptation to climate change suggest that physician-patient dialogue could have a discernable impact on patient outcomes.

An essential first step is that patients need to be aware that climate change impacts human health. As a recent study points out that while many Americans have “a general sense that global warming can be harmful to health, relatively few understand the types of harm it causes or who is most likely to be affected.”

As such, physicians can play an essential role in ensuring that patients — especially those most at risk — have a cognitive understanding of this connection.

Yet, awareness in of itself is likely not enough for people to take action to minimize personal health risks. In a study (PDF) about human behavior in response to extreme weather, Sander van der Linden, director of the social and environmental decision-making lab at Princeton University, demonstrates that personal experiences can motivate adaptive behavior change.

But to do so, personal experiences not only must be associated with a perception of risk but also negative feelings toward that risk.

“Personal concern can be harnessed into a vehicle for positive change,” said van der Linden, when combined with “adaptive knowledge” regarding what to do about it.

This study has applicability to physicians when communicating with patients about climate change-related health risks. As trusted authority figures, physicians can validate what their patients are already experiencing (allergy seasons are growing longer; summer heat waves are becoming more severe).

By doing so, physicians can help patients connect personal experiences with greater health risks. When coupled with suggested ways to reduce these risks, patients may feel more empowered to take action.

Climate change is already having an adverse effect on human health. There is a growing role for physicians to engage with policy makers and patients to promote better patient outcomes. With the allergy season fast approaching, there is no better time for action.

— Originally published on Greenbiz, 2016


Can Hollywood save us from climate catastrophe?

September 10, 2017

By taking on the link between football and brain injuries, the recently released movie “Concussion” reminds us of the potential for Hollywood to shape attitudes and beliefs about controversial topics through entertainment.

The film has put America’s most popular sport under a microscope and sparked a dialogue about children participating in contact sports and the role of the National Football League in preventing injuries to its players.

Certainly, there is the potential for a similar movie to be made about climate change — one that builds on “An Inconvenient Truth” and speaks to a new generation.

Perhaps it’s a film about a whistleblower who stands up to oil company executives, who have known since the 1970s that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming. Such a movie would confront head-on the impact that our car culture is having on global warming.

But movie dramas that directly tackle a controversial topic might not actually be the best way to appeal to a broader audience. While lackluster box office receipts for “Concussion” simply might reflect a crowded field, it also may reflect a public reticent to confront a controversy that taints a beloved sport, especially one so core to our identity as Americans.

Apocalypse now

While a similar claim could be made about “An Inconvenient Truth,” this may not be a universal truth about climate change movies in general.  In fact, one could argue that Hollywood has had more success in tackling climate change as an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic story.

“The Day After Tomorrow,” a movie where ice sheet melting shuts down thermohaline circulation in the oceans, resulting in the rapid onset of a new ice age, was the No. 9 highest-grossing disaster movie of all time. “Waterworld,” where humanity is forced to live on water when melting ice caps raise sea levels high enough to flood all land, was the 11th highest grossing “post-apocalypse” movie (adjusted for 2015 dollars).

Such movies are not made without criticism, given the artistic license taken to tell such doomsday stories.

Some from the scientific community argue that interjecting Hollywood into the climate debate may be a bad thing, as it could further blur the lines between fact and fiction, especially with a public that remains skeptical of science.

But, with a public that holds views on climate change that largely align with political affiliation, Hollywood might offer a rare opportunity to cut across these lines with a message that is both entertaining and eye-opening. Indeed, there is already evidence that movies such as “The Day After Tomorrow” can change consumer attitudes and beliefs about climate change.

According to a study (PDF) conducted by Anthony Leiserowitz at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, viewing “The Day After Tomorrow” increased movie watcher “concern” and “worry” over climate change. Not only did movie watchers say they were more likely to purchase a fuel efficient car and share their concerns with politicians, but they were also more willing to talk about global warming with their friends and family, reflecting the increased importance that movie watchers placed on this issue.

Flipping the script

Given the past financial success of such doomsday stories, one might think that moviemakers would be clamoring for new scripts. Today, there is increasing awareness of climate change impact among Americans, especially given the extreme weather events occurring across the U.S. as a result of a usually strong El Niño this year.

This type of script would be especially appealing to Millennials, who are especially passionate about this issue and remain a coveted target audience for studios.

As scientists learn more about the potential impacts of climate change, more stories are emerging that easily could be spun to read like nightmarish sci-fi movies. Here are a few examples:

  • Ancient bacteria brought back to life as glacier ice melts cause pandemic
  • Global food stocks collapse from widespread drought, ocean acidification that dissolves shellfish and the spread of neurotoxins in fish, unraveling social order and leading to war, or worse, nuclear confrontation
  • Rising temperatures shut down photosynthesis by phytoplankton, the source of most breathable oxygen on earth, suffocating all life

In the “Terminator” movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger saved humankind from apocalypse by traveling back in time to change the course of human history before it was too late.

Perhaps when it comes to climate change, Hollywood can inspire humanity to save itself the first time around so it doesn’t have to rely on time travel as a last-ditch effort.

— Originally published on Greenbiz, 2016


Why we should shift to local climate metrics

March 6, 2016

The world recently surpassed an increase in average global temperatures of 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) as compared to pre-industrial times. This was a significant milestone, as it marked that we are halfway to a tipping point at which scientists believe the impact of climate change may become irreversible.

One might think that such an ominous milestone would have been met with broad public concern. After all, a 1 C increase in global temperatures means that climate change no longer can be considered a future phenomenon, as the adverse effects are being felt today. Instead, this milestone barely made it into the daily news cycle.

While other global events often drown out focus on this critical topic, another reason may be that average change in global temperature is a flawed metric for communicating the seriousness of the issue with the broader public.

First, a 1 C change is an abstract concept for most. In the human experience, no one would bat an eye if the ambient temperature changed by so little, so it is not intuitive that such a seemingly small temperature change on a global scale could wreak such havoc on our environment.

Second, an average implies uniform change globally, when, in fact, it has been highly variable across geographies, topographies and seasons. For example, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, over the past four decades, surface temperatures have risen 2.5 times more over land than over the oceans. Such a dramatic increase in land temperatures is lost when using averages, even though it disproportionately will affect the human condition in the near term.

Climate communicators need not to look far afield to understand the flaw in relying on averages. As the marketing adage goes: “There are no average customers. Some people like iced tea and some like hot tea, but very few ask for lukewarm tea.”

Communicators should rethink how rising temperatures are communicated to the broader public. One logical shift would be to more broadly communicate local or regional temperature changes and trends. This could be based on annual regional averages or by season. Doing so also would highlight dramatic changes that disproportionately affect local environments and ecosystems.

For example, while global temperatures have risen 1 C on average, average local temperatures already have risen 1.7 C in Alaska, and a whopping 3.2 C during Alaskan winters since 1949.

Similarly, the Southwest has experienced a dramatic increase in summer temperatures over the last four decades, now averaging 2 C higher. While some might expect such increases in a largely arid area such as the Southwest, average temperatures also have risen dramatically in other regions such as the Northeast where average summer temperatures are up 1.7 C during the same period.

Yet while local metrics may be more effective than global in communicating the seriousness of climate change, research suggests that there may be a limit to how effective any metrics are, as people tend to value their own experiences over statistical evidence.

Such preference for personal empiricism can be detrimental, of course, if it if it leads people to dismiss scientific evidence such as the very existence of anthropogenic climate chance.

But it also can also be a good thing if personal experience and intuition concurs with scientific findings. In fact, studies indicate that humans are able to perceive local temperature changes as well as changes in the onset and duration of seasons. Significantly, “individuals who live in places with rising average temperatures are more likely than others to perceive local warming.”

If the public already senses rising local temperatures then the proper role for metrics is not to use them solely as evidence to convince individuals that change is actually happening, but rather as affirmation of a change already being felt locally. This would necessitate a shift in how we communicate metrics from reporting to validating personal experience.

Such validation would strengthen conviction around what many people already know and embolden them to share their views with others, amplifying word of mouth.

–Originally published on Greenbiz, 2015

 


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