- First, the words we’ve used have been confusing. The term Global Warming sounds relatively innocent and is misleading on many levels. Climate change doesn’t mean every day will be hotter than the last. And the impacts go well beyond higher (average) temperatures. Our changing climate is also affecting precipitation patterns, including too much rain (or snow). This makes sense, since warmer air holds more moisture. In fact, the heaviest rain events in the Northeast U.S. are already 67% heavier than 50 years ago. So, both Superstorm Sandy and Snowmaggedon are EXACTLY the kind of events we expect to see more of with climate change. Climate change is also marked by extremes in the other direction – too little rain or snow, resulting in drought.
- Second, the images we’ve used have been unfortunate. In some ways, polar bears (though definitely at risk from shrinking sea ice) were a bad choice for the flagship species to represent climate change. They are cute, but live far away from nearly everyone on earth (truthfully, no one is running into them on the way to the mailbox). Climate change, in fact, will bring impacts to all of our communities and back yards. Just like polar bears, our children will suffer.
- Finally – the message has been problematic. I guess on one level, the comedian hit the nail on the head with his “buy a hat” comment. His joking, and that of many others, has arisen in part because people aren’t sure what to do. The issue seems so big and abstract they don’t know how they can make a difference. Yet, personal behavior (such as installing LED light bulbs or insulating your home) certainly adds up to big benefits, not just on the planet, but also on our pocketbooks. [For more ways to reduce your footprint, visit The Nature Conservancy’s Carbon Footprint Calculator]
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think climate change is all doom and gloom. If I did, I couldn’t wake up every day to work for solutions. I think our collective efforts to reduce carbon pollution, and help nature protect us from the impacts, will give rise to innovative transportation and energy technologies, clean up our air and water, and bring communities closer together. This shift to a more sustainable world may not be a laughing matter, but it’s certainly something I can smile about.
Sarene Marshall is a Senior Advisor for The Nature Conservancy. The author’s views do not necessarily reflect those of The Nature Conservancy.
[Image credit: Flickr user fruchtzwerg's world via Creative Commons.]