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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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BILL MOYERS: How, then, do you reconcile the religious and secularist imperatives?

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Well, it really actually boils down to this fundamental question of what is the proper relationship between human beings and the natural world, okay? That is really at the heart of it, what our challenge is in this century. Are we going to live in a world where we believe that we have mastery, domination over this planet, where it is basically a stockpile of resources for us to use and to use as quickly and rapidly as possible to give us all the things that we like?

Or do we have deeper responsibilities to the life of this planet? Because in fact species, ecosystems are not just inert warehouses of resources. They have evolved along with human beings. Our own evolution itself is inseparable from the climate system, the biophysical world and the other species that we ride on this rock with.

What is our responsibility to them? And I think one of the most interesting things that comes out of science that challenges some of our long held cultural beliefs that somehow human beings are fundamentally different than the natural world is the recognition that at root, when you look at the DNA, we are kin, okay? You and I share a lot of genetic material with a tree, other animals, with fish, and so on.

We are literally relatives, okay. That is an idea that we haven't even really begun to process as a complete culture. What does that really mean when you understand that we are inseparable in that way? We are descendants of the same lines of other animals and plants on this planet. Does that change the way you perceive your relationship with the rest of the world?

BILL MOYERS: So why isn't the message getting through?

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Well, one, the volume has been really low, okay. So that's one side, and we've done media analysis as an example. The media plays an enormously important agenda setting role in this. Because, again this is an invisible problem to most of us. The only way we know about this is because of what we've learned through the media. As a normal American I don't know a climate scientist, I don't read the peer review literature. I only know about this issue because of what, excuse me, you, the media, tell me about it.

And so when the media doesn't report it it's literally out of sight and out of mind. And we've seen that this issue gets just a tiny proportion of the news haul. Of all the stories that the media focuses on every year climate change is miniscule. And in fact, even the environment as a category never gets above say 1 or at most 2 percent of total news coverage.

But it's not just the amount of media coverage. It's also the fact that there's been a very active disinformation campaign that's been going on for many years, it's very well documented, that was primarily, certainly originally and still to this day, driven by fossil fuel company interests who are the world's most profitable companies. I mean, they're very happy, thank you very much, with the status quo, okay?

BILL MOYERS: So what are they saying in this disinformation campaign?

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Well, historically this has been the key strategy all along and in fact it's a strategy that was lifted explicitly directly out of the tobacco wars.

Which is make people think that the science is still unsettled. And if my perception is that the experts are still arguing over whether the problem exists, as a layperson my tendency is to say, "Well, you know, I'll let them figure it out. And you know, I'll take this as, much more seriously once they've reached their conclusion." Okay, so that has been the primary message. That has been the primary strategy of that disinformation campaign is to get people to believe that the experts do not agree.

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