Last week my wife and I travelled to a family gathering. My family is used to the fact that I advocate action to mitigate global warming. In fact, maybe they’re a little tired of it, so I don’t harp on the point. But they know that I’ve never been a doomsayer — in fact I’ve always scoffed at such things — so when I mention that it’s an existential threat to their children and grandchildren, they can’t help but take it seriously.
Here on the blog, readers are already aware of the issue. You already take it seriously. Even deniers take it seriously. That means we can talk about it in a different way than is meaningful for others. Most people don’t care to hear about sea ice retreat or humidity increase or sulfate aerosols. They aren’t interested in looking at graphs of climate-related data (which is too bad, because I do love graphs). And until global warming affects them personally, they won’t give it much thought.
Lately, it’s been affecting them personally more and more. It was pretty hot here in the eastern U.S. last week. Yes, there have always been heat waves, but lately they’ve been more common, they’ve been hotter, they’ve lasted longer. I take that opportunity to mention that the disappearance of Arctic sea ice seems to be altering the jet stream, making weather patterns (like heat waves) more sluggish and hence longer-lasting. I emphasize that the reason for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice is: us. And I never forget to mention that it’s going to get worse. A lot worse.
I also noted two people who had some interest in the issue themselves. One was a driver at a gas station with a bumper sticker saying “Global Warming is a Hoax.” Didn’t talk to him — lost cause. The other was a waitress at a restaurant. She mentioned, in idle conversation, that her husband was a firefighter and that he was presently several thousand miles away fighting wildfires out west. When I stated that wildfire has become a much more serious problem in the last few decades and that it’s due to man-made climate change, she didn’t respond with some lame denier excuse about how it’s entirely natural. She said, “Oh yes!”
If there’s one group of people who don’t need convincing about global warming, it’s those who fight wildfire. The problem has gotten much much worse, and they can see it with their own eyes — they can feel the heat. Their families know the worry of loved ones being in the line of fire. If you want to find some global warming deniers, don’t bother looking among the ranks of those who risk their lives to combat wildfire. Look instead in the U.S. senate and house of representatives.
When people ask me what they can do, I think I know what to tell them. Vote. Vote against any politician who denies that global warming is a serious problem which we need to address now. Make this your #1 voting issue. When we, the people, start to vote based on how candidates address global warming …
I’m curious to know what others’ experiences are about how best to talk to people about global warming — not the passionate advocates who populate blogs comment threads, but the everyday people who do the everyday jobs which make the world work.