Shifting Attitudes to Win the Global Climate Battle
We are in a race against time. We are making dramatic progress in decarbonizing our economies, but dangerous climate impacts are also coming at us faster than predicted. We need concerted action now, in all major economies, to accelerate the transformation of a world that currently relies on fossil fuels for more than 80 percent of its primary energy and will have to reach net-zero emissions in the next 50 years or less.
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We know what to do and can do it. Clean-tech innovation is in full bloom and progress happening all over the world. We know how to set policy standards, provide incentives, introduce carbon pricing, stoke up research and development. And a clean-energy transformation at full speed and scale would likely be cheaper than continuing our dependence on fossil fuels, even before counting the projected costs of disruptive climate damage.
But the key ingredients that are in short supply are the human factors: political will and the rapidly evolving norms and attitudes about climate change that can generate that will. Major shifts in attitude and behavior have occurred time and again in the social and economic spheres.
We are living in a rapidly evolving world when it comes to climate change and clean energy. When our context and surroundings change, new initiatives are launched and the nature of our public discourse shifts, all these things can affect our attitudes and our sense of what seems right and necessary, of what we demand, of what we will no longer countenance.
If trusted leaders and spokespersons raise their voices and make the case to people in their own communities and “tribes,” it could make a difference. Initiatives should be funded and launched that could hasten the change of norms and attitudes. Plenty of Republicans outside Congress understand that climate change is real and getting worse, and they believe the stance of their party’s leadership is untenable. Of course, all of this is more difficult with a president who beats the anti-climate drum. But he won’t be there forever, and work done now to open minds will pay off.
The fact is that we have only one home and are subjecting it to extraordinary stress. As Jared Diamond demonstrated in his book Collapse, humans don’t always muddle through. Civilizations have disappeared because they lacked the wherewithal to both recognize and address looming environmental crises. Yet the solutions we need are at hand. We can be defeated by the greed of those who know better but can’t walk away from the next dollar; by apathy; by the demagogues whose only objective is to score points, get ratings, get paid. Or we can recognize the stakes, we can learn and discuss, we can vote, and march, and rise to meet this challenge.