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Rant: The real danger of global warming…

is not the phenomenon itself but the discourse surrounding it. Terms such as “global warming” and “climate change” are becoming marginalized in the mainstream media, and increasingly in product marketing. I see PG&E commercials in California with light bulbs talking about us being able to stop global warming and I recently heard an E-surance radio ad that discussed discounts on energy-efficient cars that “reverse the effects of climate change.” The fact is, it’s not that simple.

I’ve had many discussions on how the biggest hurdle facing environmentalism in this country is simply to burst into the mainstream. In other words, I have always thought the secret would be to “make environmentalism and sustainability fashionable.” However, I’ve also joked that this implies it may one day go out of fashion. In a way, as I see the increase in mainstream discourse surrounding this topic, we are setting ourselves up for a possible downfall. Climate change and global warming are still not fully understood. Even among environmental scientists from various disciplines, there is still much disagreement about its source. So, while we may be noticing more and more effects of these phenomena that perpetuate this ideology, one day we may see less noticeable effects. For example, we were supposed to have an even more active and deadly hurricane season last year than the devastating 2004 season-but this never happened. This year has again shown to be a disappointment in that regard (though, I think we are still on track for around 4 more hurricanes in the Atlantic U.S.). I’m not drawing conclusions from this that global warming doesn’t exist, I’m predicting that many other people will. It’s often that I hear in everyday conversation someone predicting climate through the weather. “It’s so dry and hot today, this global warming is killing me”. This line of thinking is not helpful.

I no doubt want environmentalism and sustainability to become a part of mainstream American culture and media. However, I want it to be for the right reasons. My observations worry me that we have created this mainstream movement on false pretenses-that global warming and climate change have been proven to be direct results of human activity. These pretenses may one day disappear, creating a backlash against the movement. If we all start driving hybrid cars and still suffer what we “believe” to be effects of global warming, the public may lose faith in the “science” and essentially give up (for lack of a less drastic way of putting this). This, of course would be harmful to the cause because any climatologist will tell you it’s impossible for people to judge climate change about what they can possibly notice on a day-to-day basis. These phenomena are trends that must be studied over long periods of times subjected to numerous models (which is difficult and is a large reason why there is still so much contention about the subject).

Of course, I have no real support for anything I’ve written but it’s been an ongoing and growing problem I have as there is more and more marginalization of scientific, environmental terms. Regardless of whether my fears are well-founded, I argue that the public needs to be better informed on what these environmental terms actually mean before we start acting upon them. Let media and marketing push us, rather, to become better environmental stewards but leave the science behind the movement to the scientists.


1 Dave Roedl { 09.24.07 at 6:06 pm }

Environmental talk does seem to have hit the the mainstream. Its prevalence in advertising and the marketing strategies of major corporations is evidence–and yes a lot these messages are ill-informed and superficial. (‘Green washing’ is a term I’ve heard to describe business’s hollow claims of sustainability).

I’ve long hoped for environmentalism to become popular, but now that it has, the responses are somewhat unexpected. Last night I had dinner with a rather conservative family member and the talk shifted to global warming. A few years ago, this topic might have been dismissed with a derogatory remark about ‘tree-huggers’. Instead it was a welcome discussion, and he was eager to admit that global warming was real, BUT the important thing is that no one knows if humans are causing it. I was a little baffled about how to respond. Scientific findings which I take for granted as logical and sound, remain in complete contention.

I’m not sure what to conclude. Its a great thing that environmental issues now have a place at the table. But apparently this has not come with any clear understanding of if or how we need to change.

2 Josh Olmsted { 04.28.08 at 6:05 am }

Completely agree. There are so many companies and products out there pushing people to “be green”. Of course that is really a hidden message. What they are really advertising is for people to “consume green”. Consuming products we don’t need or throwing away a perfectly good product to buy a greener one doesn’t solve the global warming issue. What about the waste created from throwing away the old product? What about the waste that was created during the production of the green product? When your washing machine breaks down and is beyond repair, going green is awesome. But when you are throwing away (and likely not recycling) a perfectly good machine to buy a green one is it really worth it? I guess I feel like giving people awareness is a start, but I also fear that the we are being tricked into thinking that we’re all “doing our part”, when really we might be making little to no impact.

3 Joe L. Ogan { 11.18.08 at 1:52 pm }

It should be possible for our Scientists to get a majority opinion on the dangers of Global Warming. Why are they not doing that?

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