You asked; Climate Change expert Svein Tveitdal answered.

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Without further ado…

1. What do you think is the best way to convince people to take responsibility for the climate? What things or details can we highlight to help sway people’s opinions? What channels would be effective? from Joshua T.

To take responsibility for the climate, we first need to individually behave in a climate friendly way, and convince others to do the same. Ultimately, we need to vote in politicians at all levels who will produce a climate policy in line with what is needed to avoid a global climate catastrophe. We are facing very strong opposition from folks, particularly in the fossil fuel industry, who use billions of dollars to preserve business as usual to be able to “burn it all”.

When people are aware of what climate experts are saying, they are more likely to accept the fact that humans are causing global warming. When people doubt the experts, they also create a significant roadblock in taking action against climate change. A famous 1969 memo from a tobacco executive read: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

The film, Merchants of Doubt, explores how many of the same people who once lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry are now climate deniers. While 97% of experts believe that humans are driving global warming, only 50% of the American public believe them. Similar figures are found in Europe. This so-called “consensus gap” is—in my view—the biggest obstacle to overcoming climate inaction.

You may have experienced that some of your good friends may get angry if you confront them with what we know about climate change, the threat it poses to us, and ask them to take responsibility. Those friends are most likely part of the consensus gap, and there might be very little you can do about it. Solid arguments might not work.

I think the best you can do is to join an organization or nonprofit that focus on climate action, like, Friends of the Earth, or Greenpeace. As a group, you have a stronger voice and will have more leverage in closing the consensus gap. If we can close this gap, there will still be hope to act appropriately to save the planet for future generations.

Last September, I participated in the Climate March in New York City with my wife, two grandchildren, and 400,000 others. I recommend joining groups that participated in the march to strengthen the grassroot movement.

2. In your opinion, what is the most readily consumable public resource/literature for laying out the evidence of human-caused climate change? I find myself at a loss for such material when faced with a climate denier. from Christian Marenbach.

In my opinion, there is plenty of reliable, convincing, and digestible information that explains how humans have influenced the environment. The problem is that it’s hard to change a climate denier’s mind even if you have the best documentation available.

I’ve been involved in the climate debate for over 20 years, and I’ve reasoned that I must—if possible— avoid engaging with climate deniers. Climate deniers and climate-denying institutes spread doubt and confuse the public using misleading information. Their strategies have proven to be effective.

Climate deniers impact public opinion by participating in public debates or meetings. Any climate denier would happily engage in a debate with you and provide misleading information. If layfolk do not understand climate change, they will not be able to distinguish between expert information and bad information. Therefore, they become victims of doubt. It’s not surprising that these victims would distance themselves from a problem they view as nonexistent.

Avoid the temptation of shooting down a climate denier with scientifically correct information: instead, use media and the excellent resources available to communicate your message with such folks indirectly.

You might also be interested in this free online university course that aims to explain the science of climate science denial and give the public the best tools to fight misinformation. More than 10,000 people from 150 countries have signed up so far.

3. Is the water situation in California going to get so bad that we should consider living somewhere else? from Mark Blinder.

The snowpack in California this year, which historically has renewed the state’s water reservoirs each spring, is at merely 8% of its usual levels. Reservoirs are mostly dry and residents downstream wonder where water for showers, washing dishes, and drinking will come from. 98% of the state faces drought conditions, with 32% of the land labeled as experiencing extreme drought. The drought is undeniably influenced by climate change.

We have been pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, warming the planet by 0.85 °C. This number is projected to double even if we stop all emissions today because of the long term impact of greenhouse gases. A very best case scenario for global warming now seems to be a 2 °C rise within the century. If we continued business as usual and do not put forth measures to curb emissions, the earth can warm another 4-6°C in the coming century.

The number of climate refugees will skyrocket if the earth warms another 4-5 °C. California would be severely impacted by this increase in temperature, and parts of the state might not be suitable for living. Even another 2 °C of warming would lead to problems more serious in the state than the water situation today. I am surprised that fracking, which used 70 million gallons of water last year, is even allowed given the current situation.

If you live in California, I think the best you can do is to involve yourself in the fight against climate change. Instead of running away, fight for the future. If we take measures to reduce pollution, a low-emission future seems possible. The squeeze, however, is ruthless. We only have 15-20 years to decide if next century will be the best or worst for humanity.

Further Reading

Image Credit: docentjoyce from Flickr

About The Author

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Tveitdal is the former Division Director in the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and Environmental Ambassador to the Norwegian city of Arendal. He is currently Chairman for Klima2020, a climate change consultancy.