Organizing

Climate Change for the Apathetic

In any nationwide initiative to move the American population to change course, the two key demographics are the apathetic and the complacent. Unfortunately for most of our polling experts, these demographic groups nest comfortably within all age cohorts, zip codes, races, and economic profiles. Two representative projects seeking to push the general populace to address climate change are taking the challenge to rouse these lethargic individuals to pay attention. The question is whether these well developed, well presented efforts work as intended.

While The En-Roads Initiative presents an accessible presentation of what we need to do to address climate change, the academic presentation defines the audience who will interact eagerly with the webpage. The player can toy with all the sliders and watch the graph rise or fall as the player attempts to drop the rise in temperature to 1.5 oC. Those who enjoy science and who enjoy learning will embrace the site wholeheartedly. Developed and sponsored in part by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the academic approach is on clear display.

Back in 2019, CNN took a different approach to much of the same scientific evidence, offering an interactive quiz. The designers of the quiz offered a short piece of seven questions with four choices for all but one section (it had three). Each choice was ranked as a comparison to “how many millions of cars would be removed from the road.” After attempting to place the four choices of any question in the proper order, the quiz offered instant answers, rewards (you did better than 50% of others), and snippets of information. This worthwhile exercise led the quiz-taker to set priorities of what must be done first. According to the science, the top five choices most affecting the release of carbon in descending order are:

  1. Getting rid of chemicals in refrigerators and AC’s
  2. Wind generation installation
  3. Throwing away less food in every setting
  4. Eating a plant-heavy diet
  5. Restoring tropical rain forests

The CCN quiz ends at this point. The quiz/interactive article is short, working within the typical length of an online news media presentation of articles. Conforming to CNN publishing conventions, the articles convey the evidence-based information in a topical manner, allowing the reader to examine the presented evidence and make conclusions.

The data behind the quiz leads to a diversity of actions-to-take within the top priorities. Getting rid of chemicals is a regulatory process; wind generation is national legislation together with the free market economy; and changing diet while also changing how we treat food is individual action and free market economy. The top five solutions create a convincing conclusion of the necessity of a variety of approaches to solving the climate crisis.

Variety and diversity are anathema to addressing apathy and complacency though.

Both interactions with the climate science data are designed to convince and engage people who are asking one question: “Climate change is real, so, what do we have to do?” The presented solutions signal several angles of attack to address the crisis. Not stated, but certainly one concrete conclusion is no one elegant solution to climate change is possible. Several solution sets are necessary and within each set, a variable number of different tasks and protocols are required for success.

The disconnect between the reality of solution sets and the human desire for simple directions is daunting. When the apathetic are roused enough to ask, the request is typically circumscribed by the demand to “just give me the back of the envelope version of what I’ve got to do.” Such a thing does not exist. Even the plea for a one-page executive summary is probably not possible. Yet, the request is an opening for meaningful change to occur.

The Pew Research reports an aggregate of 62% of Americans believe in climate change, broken down at 90% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans in 2019. About 70 percent of the surveyed believe the United States should prioritize developing clean renewable energy. The numbers indicate a large popular movement willing to accept climate science. None of these recorded shifts in attitude give direction on how address the large groups of complacent or apathetic people captured within the findings though.

All the solution sets require these groups not only to accept but to participate. People need to participate in all the solution sets and in all the facets of each solution set. One set of solutions may examine personal actions such as beef consumption or electricity providers, but other sets are demanding from politicians legislative and regulatory action at the local, state, and national levels. Such behavior is contrary to the attitudes these people and their households are presenting, which is a request for a simple set of directions. Not only a simple set of directions, these groups want easy-to-follow directions.

To date, the challenge these two demographics present has not been met. For example, New York State mandates that its utilities must provide a community solar option for all its customers, which is an excellent development. On the Con Edison site, which serves New York City, the customer must log into their account online account first, then navigate three pages, clicking the correct buttons to land on the Choices page. On this specific page, the customer must navigate through pages on ratings, tips for selecting, and choosing. Only after these pages can the customer click the “find offers” button, only to be confronted with more choices before providers are posted. The customer then must navigate the page to find the correct filters for renewable energy providers (they are at the bottom of the webpage). Choosing a community solar provider is a complicated process complete with dead end tangents, misplaced buttons, and pages upon pages of text to navigate. Even the most dedicated are challenged.

These two demographics, the apathetic and the complacent, demonstrate the grassroots challenges that continue to thwart efforts to address climate change. Climate change is not simple to explain, to understand, or to address. Swaths of population are demanding that organizers, scientists, engineers, and lobbyists keep it simple. Their lack of actions indicate they will not rise reduce their carbon footprint until the process is simplified. The requests are not reasonable nor fair, but they must be addressed.