A full 70 percent of Americans agree that global warming is happening.
Only 41 percent believe global warming will harm them personally, even though 70 percent believe it will harm plants and animals and hurt future generations.
Maybe it’s universally recognized that a mother can face no greater loss than the death of a child. Or perhaps it’s because the image of a mother carrying around the dead body of her baby for weeks on end is especially haunting. Whatever the reason, Tahlequah’s public display of grief resonated with people, capturing attention and sympathy around the world. For 17 days this past summer, the killer whale swam more than 1,000 miles through the Salish Sea, pushing her dead calf just above the surface off the coast of Washington and British Columbia. Also known as J35, Tahlequah is a member of the endangered southern resident J Pod of orcas. Their numbers are dwindling, in large part due to a lack of salmon and diminishing habitat. In researchers’ August 2018 photos, the whale is captured delicately balancing her baby’s progressively discolored body as she moves through the sea in mourning. Weeks in, she finally lets go. Not long after, J50, another young orca in the pod, goes missing, apparently starved to death. For many, the orcas’ plight is much more than a devastating closeup look at the circle of life. It’s a grim warning sign, an indicator of what’s to come. Then came October, and the United Nations’ latest climate report that delivered less-than-cheerful news: The world has little more than a decade to band together Orcas will mourn the loss of a and drastically reduce baby, scientists say. This is a 2010 greenhouse gas emissions photo of an orca carrying a dead if we are to avoid the most newborn, like Tahlequah did for devastating impacts. Then 17 days last summer. in November, the U.S. ROBIN W BAIRD/CASCADIA RESEARCH PHOTO released its own climate report, regionally showing which crops will suffer, which industries might fail. Interest spiked in climate change, with Google searches for the topic surging in the weeks the reports were released. The weight of the issue has certainly hit home for a
lot of people. Just after the U.N. report drops, 32-yearold Maria sums up for an Elle article why she, like many millennials, doesn’t plan to have kids, “If my hypothetical children were to ask me one day, ‘Why did you bring me onto the planet knowing what a dire situation it was in?’ there’s no reasonable answer I could give to justify my actions. There’s not much I can do as an individual to stop climate change, but I can do my part to not leave a future generation to suffer through global catastrophe.” Suddenly, climate is on the agenda, activists say. The new freshman class in Congress has come in excited about the idea of a Green New Deal that could drive jobs and push the country toward clean energy sources. At the state level, Gov. Jay Inslee has announced that he and Democrats will push an aggressive climate-conscious agenda to get the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. It all seems to put climate activists in a unique position to make 2019 the year of the climate. But if climate fighters are going to capitalize on this moment, part of the challenge facing them is how to motivate people to tackle the systemic contributors to climate change without driving them to the point of despair. How do you make the stakes real without making people feel anything they could do is already too little too late? “The challenge,” says Jesse Piedfort, Washington chapter director for the Sierra Club, “is figuring out how to connect with people about the urgency of the problem in a way that inspires them instead of gets them to pull away.”
he thing about climate change is it’s kind of the perfect threat, explains Dan Gardner, a journalist and author who literally wrote the book, called Risk, on how people analyze danger. “Climate change is — you couldn’t design a threat better in order to avoid our sense, our feeling of danger,” Gardner says. “It is extremely difficult for us to grasp on
an intuitive level, to feel it’s a threat.” Part of that’s due to how we’re hardwired, he says. Modern psychology theorizes that we basically have two systems for making decisions. System 1, he says, is our intuitive, quick-thinking, experiential system. “If you are out for a walk and a dog approaches you and the dog snarls, you instantly have the sense this is a threat,” Gardner says. “You didn’t engage in any conscious analysis. You didn’t look at the statistical prevalence of dog attacks. You knew it instantly.” That’s System 1, and for the vast majority of human existence, that’s what rules our decision making. System 2, on the other hand, manages our analytical, logical, scientific thought, Gardner says, and that’s the system that can grasp climate change. “System 2 can understand gradual increases in global temperatures, and increases of gas over decades and centuries,” Gardner says. “But System 2 … can’t ring the alarm bell. It can’t say, ‘This is huge! Be worried! You’ve gotta do something!’” Gardner says that’s why people overwhelmingly say in surveys that they agree that climate change is happening, that we’re influencing it, and that something should be done, “but if you look at their behavior, it doesn’t really reflect that, does it?” So how do you overcome that? Well, you have to make it real, which is why Gardner says he thinks science fiction writers will really be the ones to successfully drive home the reality of what climate change could bring, and inspire people to take action. “We know what science says about climate change,” Gardner says. “What we need are works of imagination that bring our feelings into alignment with what our brains know.” Obviously, for some people, like the millennials choosing not to have children due to climate change, the situation already feels real. To many of them, it’s purely ...continued on next page
JANUARY 24, 2019 INLANDER 23