Are We Changing Our Collective Attitude on Climate Change?

The World Ocean Observatory advocates through communications, using every tool available to reach a growing international audience of Citizens of the Ocean to inform, unite, focus, and enable public engagement and response to global challenges to the sustainable ocean. Who do we reach? How many? What are the available means to measure the effect of such an endeavor?

Our team looks at web stats, program links, subscriber numbers and reactions to relentless messaging on social media. On Facebook alone, the World Ocean Observatory has more than 784,000 followers worldwide, a continuous measure of reach, growth, and reaction. Our weekly podcast, World Ocean Radio, is syndicated through 44 stations in the United States, additionally selected through the Public Radio Exchange and the Pacifica Network, delivered weekly to podcast subscribers, re-posted and shared through internet sites such as our own World Ocean Forum, Medium and via this platform. It is heard abroad in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and along both costs of Africa through internet stream. A reasonable calculation of the interconnected size of this audience potential could legitimately claim connection to hundreds of thousands of listeners, possibly millions.

But even so, does it make any difference?

I was heartened recently by a report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, the result of an annual survey taken in the United States, measuring the state of public awareness and political views on issues relating to climate reality, global warming, political bias, and the implication of measured opinion for the future. The Yale Program, directed by Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, has its own excellent website that features Yale E360, a daily distribution of climate news, plus other excellent features, analyses, and publications; I urge you to read and to subscribe.

Surveying results from 2008 though 2018, the Yale report (Climate Change in the American Mind, March 2018) notes in the last year a significant upward shift of 5 to 7 to 9% by registered voters in terms of understanding and concern over the existence and human causing of climate change, registered voters who are “somewhat” or “very” worried about global warming and the need take reactive measures. While the increases vary according to political party orientation, the numbers in support are at an all-time high.

The survey also addresses four different types of proposed national policies for the United States to reduce carbon pollution, decrease dependence on fossil fuels, and promote clean energy. Specifically, it sought opinion on 1) The Green New Deal, a ten-year plan to invest in green technology, energy efficiency, and infrastructure to make the nation 100% reliant on clean renewable resources; 2) The Clean Power Plan, the setting of strict carbon dioxide emission limits on coal-fired plants to reduce global warming and improve public health; 3) A Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax, requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax that would be directed to reduce other taxes, such as income, in equal amount; and 4) A Fee and Dividend Proposal, requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a fee on carbon pollution, the funds to be distributed as dividend to United States citizens in equal amounts.

These would seem controversial and unlikely given the survey just a year ago. But here are the 2018 results for support of the Green New Deal: 81% positive for all registered voters; 92 % of Democrats; 88% of Independents; and 64% of Republicans. Or how about these results for Fee and Dividend? 63% of registered voters; 78% of Democrats; 66% of Independents; and 39% of Republicans. The results for the other plans were similar.

Frankly, I found these numbers astonishing. Yes, you can quibble about methodology and all the rest when challenging the accuracy of such surveys, but consider the relative shift in favor of ideas that just a few years ago would have not even been considered by the public. I take heart from this response. It signals a serious shift in awareness and understanding of the need for new values, structures, and behaviors if we are to meet the critical challenge of changing climate, made more evident to us all everyday.

Let’s credit communications. Credit the press that has reported the climate-related consequences affecting people all over the world. Credit the scientists who have steadfastly promoted the data and the evidence in the face of irrational denial. Credit the authors of a library of important books on the environment predicting the impacts to come, even if not then yet apparent to us all. Credit the few, dedicated politicians who have spoken constantly to the legislature and the leadership, even if persistently ignored. Credit the citizens themselves who have seen the evidence, taken stock, and now intend to apply that understanding as political will.

It would appear we are not a minority to be dismissed after all. It would appear that we are substantial majority prepared to act. Through communications, we are now measurable numbers of informed citizens prepared to take control of our lives, our environment, our politics, and our future. There is hope after all.

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the W2O and is author of The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society. He is also the host of World Ocean Radio, a weekly podcast addressing ocean issues, upon which this blog is inspired.