This past Monday, Colorado College hosted its first official First Monday talk of the 2017-18 year with speaker Anthony Leiserowitz, who addressed the reality of climate change and the American mentality. In the light of the natural disasters occurring around the world—the flooding and monsoons in South Asia, the threat of a volcano eruption in Bali, the hurricanes and major earthquakes in North America, the landslides and drought in Africa, and the threat of tsunami in Central America—Leiserowitz’s talk is dramatically relevant. Leiserowitz is a senior research scientist at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, as well as the Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Leiserowitz started his speech by reassuring the audience that there is in fact still hope, and that the resistance to climate change is something Americans can reverse.
Still, today only approximately 70 percent of Americans accept the existence of climate change, whereas in Japan, for example, the figure reaches closer to 98 percent. In his talk, Leiserowitz focused on climate change risks, support and opposition to climate policies, and the willingness (or lack there of) to make individual behavioral change. His research investigates the psychological, cultural, political, and geographic factors that drive public environmental perception and behavior. A large portion of Leiserowitz’s talk introduced statistics that addressed these factors. One fact that stood out from the rest was that climate change is a more politically polarized topic in the United States than gay marriage. Leiserowitz divided Americans into six types: “the alarmed” (18 percent), “the concerned” (29 percent), “the cautious” (24 percent), “the disengaged” (6 percent), “the doubtful” (12 percent), and “the dismissive” (10 percent).
Leiserowitz addressed our disconnect from our planet’s suffering, and the disasters happening all around, claiming that most Americans sit at a safe-enough distance from the reality of global warming and climate change that they are able to really disconnect from the issue. At one point, he asked the audience to close their eyes while he said the words “climate change,” later asking what images popped into people’s minds. A large majority of the crowd raised their hands when he asked if images of melting ice caps, drowning polar bears, and holes in the ozone layer arose, which he then stated as one of our biggest problems—that the issue of climate change and global warming extends past that. Climate change is affecting the lives of individuals all around the world. At the end of his talk, Leiserowitz left the audience with a piece of advice in an effort to incite greater awareness and improvement in the American mentality around the issue of climate change. He suggested initiating climate change conversation as a means of addressing the issue of ambivalence or unacceptance of the reality of our planet: a starting point.