Climate change is understandably a very controversial issue. While the facts are there with respect to global warming — the planet is heating up, and heating up fast relative to our history — most people aren't directly affected by it. It's a classic issue of being narrow-minded in that collectively, if something isn't immediately alarming, we have a tendency to brush it aside entirely or at most earmark it for later. Of course, such a "cross that bridge when we get to it" mentality doesn't really work on a global scale.
Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate have predicted that the average global temperature could increase between 1.4 and 5.8 °C by the year 2100, and effects of such a shift could result in higher sea levels due to polar ice cap melting, more frequent storms, and more severe weather events in general. Immediately counteracting these potentially disastrous global conditions won't work when they start happening, because they'd be the result of decades of consistently poor behavior with respect to emissions.
Shockingly, even though by now most Americans are pretty well aware of global warming, a majority don't see it as a major threat, likely because their lives today are pretty much exactly the same as they were yesterday.
But what about tomorrow?
In a recent poll of 1,058 Americans, fewer than 25 percent of people said they were either extremely worried or very worried about climate change, roughly 33 percent said they were moderately worried, and 38 percent said they weren't too worried or not worried at all.
"The big deal is that climate has not been a voting issue of the American population," Dana Fisher, director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, told the Associated Press. "If the American population were left to lead on the issue of climate, it's just not going to happen."
That's not super comforting, but the silver lining is that the American population is not in fact in charge of enacting policy surrounding climate. And while a change in mentality would go a long way in pushing the needle forward, "the issue hasn't quite boiled up enough so that people have put it on the top of things they want to focus on," Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said.
So how can we zoom out a bit?
Part of the issue with climate change stems from the fact that it feels far away and abstract. In world that seems cluttered with political issues, people have to prioritize their worries, and although something like gun control may ultimately have a much smaller negative impact in the long run, global warming doesn't pervade our lives as loudly and devastatingly as something like a school shooting.
To bring everyone on the same page, it'll take more than a series of strict warnings from members of the scientific community. "More facts are not going to fix the problem," climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe of Texas Tech told a meeting of leading climate scientists in Washington. "Nearly every human on the planet has the values they need to care about climate change. We just need to connect the dots."
So although foreboding warnings and time-lapse maps of the Earth's polar ice caps between now and 2100 will likely continue to pop up as they always have, ideally there will be a more grounded way to inspire people to take the issue seriously. Strength in numbers, as they say. And we'll need as high a number as possible to enact policies worldwide that'll steer us clear of catastrophe down the road.