Climate change denial in the wake of global climate crisis

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Climate change is a pressing issue worldwide, dominating headlines for the past 50 years and sparking fear of what will happen if we continue down the same path. Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Climate change is a pressing issue worldwide, dominating headlines for the past 50 years and sparking fear of what will happen if we continue down the same path. In June of 1988, Dr. James Hansen testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee stating that global warming had reached a level such that a relationship could be found between the greenhouse effects and warming. 

This testimony, along with growing publicity surrounding the threats posed by climate change, appeared to have had a dramatic impact on society, yet, almost 50 years later, the world has continued to resist suggestions and remedies posed by climate scientists.  

The UConn Reads program hosted a panel discussion titled “Truth, Democracy and Climate Change,” which focused on the political aspect of the climate crisis facing our society and how climate change denial, which refers to dismissal or doubt that contradicts scientific evidence that climate change exists, acts as an existential threat to society and is detrimental to future progress.  

The UConn Reads program hosted a panel discussion titled “Truth, Democracy and Climate Change,” which focused on the political aspect of the climate crisis facing our society and how climate change denial acts as an existential threat to society and is detrimental to future progress. Photo courtesy of the University of Connecticut Humanities “Future of Truth” webpage.

“The policies we choose now and in the near future will determine how bad the crisis becomes and for how long,” Thomas Bontly, a philosophy professor at UConn, said.  

Climate scientists have been warning people for decades about how greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically changing the climate and threatening human health. There is overwhelming scientific evidence to support this, however, many segments of the population are unconvinced, and it has become an issue that has polarized the political parties even further within the United States. 

“The greatest challenges of the climate crisis are arguably political,” Bontly said.  

“The greatest challenges of the climate crisis are arguably political.”

Thomas Bontly, a philosophy professor at UConn

As with many other societal issues, progress always seems to be slow in terms of lasting policy change. According to Pew Research Center, Democrats are more than three times more likely than Republicans to say that dealing with climate change is a top priority. This polarizing issue has created a deadlock between the parties and halted progress.  

In 2015, the Climate Clock, a collaboration of artists, scientists and activists, was launched to show how long humanity has until emissions rise past the one-and-a-half degrees Celsius threshold that, if exceeded, could result in many negative consequences. This initiative, along with many others, is trying to show people how dire the current climate crisis is and work to gain more support for renewable energy sources and other climate-friendly practices. 

An interesting side effect of the coronavirus pandemic was that carbon emissions actually went down. This is not surprising given the fact that, for months, many parts of the world were locked down and people only left their houses to go grocery shopping and complete other necessary tasks. Although COVID-19 helped carbon emissions fall by over six percent, this is far from what is necessary to solve the climate crisis. As restrictions have lessened and people have begun returning to semi-normalcy, these rates have once again begun to rise, and the momentary progress has appeared to have run its course.  

So what happens now? 

Solving the climate crisis cannot be done overnight and much of the damage done cannot be reversed. Given this grim outlook, you might think that we’re doomed, but climate scientists are confident that the Earth can continue to be livable for generations to come. Panelists spoke on the importance of a holistic approach that takes into account people’s identities, backgrounds and levels of knowledge to gain support for scientific knowledge on climate change.   

“When people feel that their identities are affirmed, rather than threatened, that opens up their minds to the evidence and enables rational discourse to proceed.”

Elizabeth Anderson, a philosophy professor at the University of Michigan

“When people feel that their identities are affirmed, rather than threatened, that opens up their minds to the evidence and enables rational discourse to proceed,” Elizabeth Anderson, a philosophy professor at the University of Michigan, said. 

The climate crisis is far from over, and climate denial is one of the leading forces preventing meaningful change from happening. On an individual level, some changes that people can make is to consume less, invest in renewable energy, reduce driving time and invest in energy-efficient appliances. These are just a few of the many ways that people can help stop global warming and create a healthier planet for future generations. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time and more needs to be done to ensure that politicians and policymakers make it a top priority.  

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