Bill Moyers: Why Are We Giving the Silent Treatment to the Crisis Which Could Make All Others Irrelevant?
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. These days what should be scaring the daylights out of us, the crisis which could make all the others irrelevant, is global warming. Get this one wrong and it’s over, not just for the USA but for planet Earth. That’s the message delivered by Hurricane Sandy last fall, and by almost all the extreme weather of the past two years.
And it’s the message from the most informed scientists in the world. They’re scared, for real. And they say that unless we slow the release of global emissions from fossil fuels, slow it enough to keep the planet’s temperature from rising by two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the earth’s polar ice sheets will melt away -- with catastrophic consequences.
Time’s running out. Recently not one, but two major scientific reports in the last few weeks have concluded that the rapid increase in fossil fuel emissions makes that increase of two degrees Celsius all but inevitable. This headline in the “National Journal” spells it out: "It's Already Too Late to Stop Climate Change."
So why isn’t this planetary emergency on every politician’s mind? Why are any of us still silent? Those questions prompted me to ask Anthony Leiserowitz to join me at this table. He’s director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and a research scientist at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
He’s a geographer by training, with a specialty in human behavior, the psychology of risk perception and decision making -- an expert on the public’s perception of climate change and whether people are willing to change their behavior to make a difference. He has said, quote, “You almost couldn't design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology."
Tony Leiserowitz, welcome.
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Oh thank you, Bill, it's great to be here.
BILL MOYERS: What did you mean that we almost couldn't design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology? What did you mean by that?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Well, look, as human beings we are exquisitely attuned to what's happening in our immediately environment and what we can see around us and what literally touches us physically.
If you're walking through the woods and you hear the crack of a stick behind you, your body immediately goes into a fear response, a fight or flight response. Climate change isn't that kind of a problem. It's not an immediate, visceral threat.
And I can say right now, this very day we can look out the window and there's CO2, carbon dioxide, pouring out of tailpipes, pouring out of buildings, pouring out of smokestacks. And yet we can't see it, it's invisible.
The fundamental causes of this global problem are invisible to us. And likewise the impacts are largely invisible to us as well unless you know where to look. So it's a problem that first of all we can't see. And secondly it's a problem that is seemingly faceless. It's not like terrorists who we can imagine who are coming after us trying to kill us and challenge our fundamental values. It’s a problem that we can’t see, that’s going to have long term impacts that aren’t going to just impact us now, but impact us into the future; impact our children and our grandchildren.
BILL MOYERS: But you've seen the stories: 2012 the hottest year on record; 2011 carbon dioxide emissions the highest on record; Arctic sea ice shrank to a record low; the world's largest trees are dying at an alarming rate, I could go on and on. These are signs and signals, are they not?