Will the Paris Climate Accord Put an End to Climate Denial?
Climate denial has been tough to overcome. Despite a mountain of scientific evidence and the belief of most Americans that climate change is real and serious, many prominent political leaders (and all of the major GOP presidential candidates) still remain skeptical. But as this Washington Post article explains, the groundbreaking climate agreement in Paris may finally lead to denial’s demise.
The article suggests two potential reasons that people resist climate action: status quo bias, and solution aversion. Status quo bias is the tendency to favor the familiar and reject the unfamiliar. Up until now, fossil fuels were the status quo – but the Paris accord turns that reality on its head by establishing a new, global energy strategy based on addressing climate change. Once people see that the world is moving towards low-carbon economy and that climate solutions are already at work, they will begin to accept the new system as an established fact.
Solution aversion is the tendency for people to deny that a problem exists because they don’t like the solutions. Some Americans oppose climate action because they believe the remedies will be costly or require sacrifice – but when people are made aware of the benefits of solutions, such as cleaner air and lower energy bills, they are much more likely to be supportive. Solar and wind power are growing by leaps and bounds and getting more affordable every day, establishing them as viable energy sources and making arguments against them less and less convincing.
However, as the author points out, the battle isn’t won yet – conservative members of Congress have vowed to overturn the Clean Power Plan, and a GOP president, if elected, could withdraw from the climate accord. That’s why it’s important for us to keep highlighting the health and economic benefits of clean energy, show that the shift to a low-carbon economy is not only desirable, but inevitable, and frame climate solutions as investments in our future.
By Chris Mooney, contributor to The Washington Post
After 195 countries agreed in Paris Dec. 12 to a sweeping agreement to try to bring global warming under control, there has been much analysis of what this means for the future of energy. But there are reasons to think that it also may have a surprising impact on the future of politics, even in the U.S. — namely, by taking away some of the motivations and dynamics that, for so long, have driven global warming skepticism, doubt and denial.
That may at first seem surprising — after all, even as negotiators drove toward an agreement in Paris, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz was hosting a hearing in which he once again claimed that there hadn’t even been any “significant global warming” in the past 18 years (even as we’re witnessing what is by far the warmest year on record). And we can expect to hear more of the same throughout the campaign season (although climate change was curiously absent from the latest GOP presidential debate).
However, if you take a longer term perspective — and if you examine the history of politicized, public scientific debates — then you see that the world is littered with forms of scientific doubt and denial that eventually declined and dwindled away. There used to be huge skepticism that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were damaging the planet’s stratospheric ozone layer — or that smokestack and car emissions were causing acid rain. And we all know how much doubt there used to be about the health dangers of smoking.
Image credit: C-SPAN