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Bill Moyers: Why Are We Giving the Silent Treatment to the Crisis Which Could Make All Others Irrelevant?

Global warming is a planetary emergency on that should be on every politician’s mind, so why are any of us still silent? And what can we do about it?

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ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: They are. And, in fact, 2011 was an all-time record year in the United States, for example. We had 14 individual climate and weather related disasters that each cost this country more than $1 billion. That was an all-time record, blew away previous records. And in 2012 we had events ranging from the summer-like days in January in Chicago with people out on the beach, clearly not a normal occurrence, an unusually warm spring, record setting searing temperatures across much of the lower 48, one of the worst droughts that America has ever experienced, a whole succession of extreme weather events. And I haven't even gotten to Hurricane Sandy yet.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: And the real question is at what point do we put on the brakes? So let me just use a simplifying analogy here. In some ways this issue is kind of like we're in a car driving through a very dark night, there’re kids in the back, they're not buckled.

We're fiddling with the radio, we're probably eating something at the same time and we're passing warning signs that are saying, "Curvy road up ahead. Mountain road up ahead. Be careful, there are landslides.” And yet we're going probably 70 miles an hour and our foot is on the accelerator.

So the real question is we are going to hit this patch of really rocky road. It's there up ahead of us. We're not exactly sure how soon we're going to get there, but it's coming. The question is do we start applying the brake?

There's a big difference between entering that stretch of road at ten miles an hour where even if we have an accident it'll be, you know, just bumps and bruises and a little body damage perhaps versus hitting that same stretch of road at 70 miles an hour.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the problem with that as I see it. The global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has warned that even if we doubled our current rate of reducing carbon emissions we would still be facing six degrees of warming, an almost intolerable situation, by the end of this century. Now the driver of that car with her children in the backseat hurtling down the road, not paying attention to the signs, is hardly going to put on the brakes because they heard about a report from the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: That's right. It is about the warning signs. But here’s one of the real dilemmas, is that we've done a really good job at helping people understand that there is this thing called climate change. Almost all Americans have at least heard of it. But we've in our own work showed that in fact there is no single public. There are multiple publics within the United States. In fact, what we've identified are six Americas.

BILL MOYERS: Six Americas?

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Six different Americas that each respond to this issue in very different ways and need different kinds of information about climate change to become more engaged with it. So the first group that we've identified is a group we call the alarmed. It's about 16 percent of the public. These are people who think it's happening, that it's human caused, that it's a serious and urgent problem and they're really eager to get on with the solutions.

But they don't know what those solutions are. They don't know what they can do individually and they don't know what we can do collectively as a society to deal with it. We haven't done a very good job of explaining what we can do. Then comes a group that we call the concerned. This is about 29 percent of the public. These are people that think okay, it's happening, it's human caused, it's serious, but they tend to think of it as distant.

 
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