Climate change is a complicated subject that has taken many years to raise public consciousness. Although having achieved mainstream status, climate change continues to be ridiculed by naysayers and non-believers. Why should we care about their reactions? The reason is that, despite their small numbers, the climate deniers belong to powerful business and political groups who constantly put up roadblocks against environmental protection. To achieve better results, the climate conversation should emphasize getting economic, political and moral supports from the public rather than dwelling on scientific details about the environmental damage of greenhouse gases which is more or less self-evident by now.
An effective conversation only involves a little twist of the language, for instance, from the old term global warming to the new one climate change. The former is subject to frequent mockery by the climate deniers (This winter is colder than usual, is global warming a hoax?) On the other hand, the new term climate change implies extreme weather conditions such as hotter summer, colder winter, devastating hurricanes, and severe droughts and floods. They will lead to less fresh water available, declining agricultural outputs, rising food prices, business failures, and economic and political chaos worldwide. The extreme weather speaks for itself. The deniers will wake up to the truth sooner or later, and will see the urgency of the problem.
Since the beginning, humans have been living on the resources of the earth with great contradictions. Our energy comes from fossil fuels that pollute the atmosphere. Our houses and furniture come from the trees that absorb carbon dioxide. Our food comes from clearing away forests and wildlife habitats to grow crops that depend on a benign climate. Our fish come from the oceans, rivers and lakes increasingly being polluted. All the benefits we have taken for granted while we wish the negative human impacts to go away. Can this last forever in view of rising population, heavy industrial development, fast urbanization, and overutilization of natural resources?
The answer is no if the climate continues to worsen and the natural resources continue to be depleted. The worst scenario is the point of no return that may occur several decades from now. After that, nothing we do will really matter. The urgency is now when we still have sufficient time to make amends. This will give Mother Earth time to regenerate and replenish its resources such as fresh water, fish, forest, grassland and wildlife. The key is for humans to consume rationally at a rate not faster than that of the earth’s regeneration process. In short, we must achieve an ecological balance. The climate conversation will be more productive if we stress rational consumption, efficient production, renewable energy, saving instead of wasting natural resources, and recycling of used materials. All of the above carry great economic benefits for now and the future.
Faced with extreme weather, the deniers employ the excuse that climate change is not a result of human factors. We don’t need to waste time to convince ossified minds. We only have to point out that reducing our carbon footprints and environmental impacts are an insurance policy against climate change, just like maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent diseases. It is about efficient production and rational consumption to save natural resources and minimize wastes. We also need to stress personal responsibility, that is, a little restraint or good action by an individual everyday will go a long way for the benefit of the world.
The biggest obstacle in the climate conversation is the fact that all the countries in the world are at different stages of economic development. Consequently, their consumption of natural resources and pollution levels differ. The richest countries with smaller populations consume a much larger portion of the world’s natural resources. They also account for most of the world’s pollution and carbon emissions. If there is such a thing as democracy and justice, the poor countries have the right to demand more equity. They want a bigger share of the world’s resources for development. The rich countries want the poor ones to make equal sacrifices to minimize the effect of climate change. The poor countries respond by citing injustice and the fact that they need more natural resources to improve their people’s living standards. This explains why it is so hard to achieve a world consensus.
The 2014 US-China agreement represents an initial step between the developed and the developing worlds. It requires the US to cut total carbon emission up to 25% by 2025, and China to start cutting carbon emission by 2030. It means the developed world starts first and the developing world to follow later. Although not aggressive enough, this is the first compromise between the two biggest environmental polluters from two different camps. It serves as the basis for tough negotiations in the coming years. Despite opposition from the fossil fuel industries, this initial agreement opens huge opportunities for alternative energy. The objective is to move away from the argument of equal economic sacrifice which is a non-starter, to reorient the world’s production and consumption to alternative energy.
The increasing opportunities for alternative energy is already evident worldwide. This is seen in the millions of electric bicycles and tricycles in China; the popularity of hybrid and electric cars in the developed world; the rise of wind power in Europe and China, even in oil-producing Texas; and the dramatic drop in solar prices resulting in more solar panels being installed, even in the oil kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
At present, the technologies of renewable energy are still in their infancy as illustrated by solar with an efficiency of only 25%, and the car battery with a limited range of around 100 miles. As technology advances, these numbers will rise leading to increasing usage of renewable energy. As it always happens, there will come a time when a new technology causes the renewable energy market to explode. The climate deniers will suddenly find themselves missing the boat if they continue to bury their heads in the sand.
The climate conversation must also take the moral high ground in order to find more supporters. Rather than dwelling on love for the environment which most people take for granted, we should stress the responsibility of this generation to safeguard the benign environment for the next generation, just like what the previous one has done for us. If we fail to do that, we should be ashamed of ourselves because our selfishness prevents us from seeing the greater benefits for the long term.