It’s fitting that President-elect Donald Trump will be running the show as humanity officially enters the Anthropocene, an entirely new geologic era defined by humankind’s impact on the planet. Trump made his name by marking the planet with big buildings, lavish resorts, and sprawling golf courses (often literally marked with his name) and as president he’ll have the unprecedented opportunity to continue subjecting the planet to his towering demands.
Trump also excels at elevating rhetoric, and when it comes to climate change he has a track record of misinforming and making stuff up. Trump has somewhat softened his tone since being elected—but not his actions. Many see his high-profile meetings with climate champions like Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore as mere diversions from the scorched-earth agenda clearly playing out with his Cabinet picks.
So when Trump says things like “nobody really knows” if climate change is real, as he did recently on Fox News, it’s an insult not only to the thousands of scientists who do know, but also the intelligence of the American people.
Many have noted that climate change deniers are feeling empowered in the wake of Trump’s election—and why wouldn’t they? Just when it seemed like a record numbers of Americans—Republicans and Democrats—might be getting seriously concerned about human-caused climate change, Trump has thrown a big wrench in the works. (One bright note: clean energy remains popular across the political spectrum and there’s little evidence that that will change in the near future.)
With Trump’s cadre of climate change deniers taking to the airwaves to do things like compare the current state of climate science to the ancient thinkers who believed the earth was flat, it seems like there is no limit to how warped the discussion can get. Scientists have already expressed grave concern over the situation, and they fear everything from losing government data to losing scientific funding to losing their jobs (not to mention the death threats).
So where can someone dearly concerned for the future of the planet and just wanting to make a positive impact look in these dire times? Ironically perhaps (if we can't trust climate science, what science can we trust?), a few new studies offer insight into how to talk about climate change without getting lost in a soup of preconceived notions.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that tapping into conservatives’ idealization of the past is one way to make potential inroads into the climate discussion. As Quartz reported:
The researchers played around with a bunch of variables. In one experiment, participants read one of two messages about climate change: “Looking forward to our nation’s future…there is increasing traffic on the road” or “Looking back to our nation’s past…there was less traffic on the road.”
Here, conservatives looked less favourably on the future-focused message while reading the past-focused language increased their support for environmental conservation. In another experiment, participants were asked to allocate money between two charities—one past-focused and the other future-focused. conservatives said they would donate about $0.15 to future-focused charities vs. $0.30 for past-focused charities.
Analyzing the results of the various experiments, the study found that while liberals expressed more pro-environment views in general, when climate change rhetoric focused on the past the difference in how conservatives and liberals responded to calls to act on climate change was reduced by 77%.
It’s true, while many things were actually not better in the past (human rights, quality of life, issues of equality, and most everything else), the environment actually was much, much healthier and stable before humans overran it with…all these people and their resource demands.
Another new study shows that human opinion on climate change can at times seem as mercurial as weather itself, and suggests that if you’re going to try and discuss global warming with a bunch of people who think it’s baloney, it would behoove you to turn off the air-conditioning.
Also published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found that local weather may play an important role in Americans' belief in climate change and that people experiencing more record lows than highs may be less likely to believe in climate change.
"Climate change is causing record-breaking heat around the world, but the variability of the climate means that some places are still reaching record-breaking cold,” said Utah State University researcher Peter Howe. "If you're living in a place where there's been more record cold weather than record heat lately, you may doubt reports of climate change."
Climate change activists hate polar vortexes even more than the rest of us, it turns out.
The study notes that part of this dichotomy may be because of how climate change was initially often described as a simple warming of the planet rather than the innumerable ways it is actually weirding the planet through drought, floods, sea level rise, extreme weather, and other long-term changes.
“This might have led residents living in areas that experienced an unusually cold winter to doubt that climate change is occurring,” states the media release.
While this may seem like a silly way of forming an opinion on such a scientifically complex topic it's not outside of Trump's logical realm, and that is worrisome in a number of ways.