Climate change is real and happening now. The vast majority of scientists are agreed on this. Measurements show that the global average temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1850 – and scientists expect that it will probably continue to rise by two to four degrees Celsius this century.
The consequences of global warming can already be seen and felt. Arctic sea ice is shrinking, melting glaciers are causing sea levels to rise and extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods are more common because of climate change. Yet, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, there are still people who doubt the science.
Climate scepticism is a broad tent. Sceptics range from those who deny any temperature rise at all, to those who acknowledge climate change is happening but consider it a natural phenomenon. However, even if there has always been climate change, scientists agree: the global warming we are witnessing today is largely caused by humans. In particular climate change is being driven by burning fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum, which humans use as a source of energy, and which releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which cause climate change.
In the EU there are fewer climate deniers than in the USA and China, though in recent years climate scepticism has also grown in Europe. Climate scepticism is particularly widespread in right-wing populist parties in Europe, which have made climate denial one of their main themes.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Chris, who thinks the problem is that climate change has become such a partisan issue. He says people believe climate change is a hoax simply “because they are right-wingers”, and right-wingers are expected to naturally be climate sceptics. Would making climate change more bipartisan help convince climate sceptics to take it seriously?
To get a response, we put this question to Jytte Guteland, a Swedish MEP who sits with the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) Group. She is a member of the Environment Committee and rapporteur for the European Climate Law, which would set a legally-binding target for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050. How would she respond to Chris?
Yes, I think it’s important that we don’t divide it up in a partisan way. I think it’s important that we know it’s about all of us: it’s about survival; it’s about our planet; it’s about preventing crises in the future and now.
On the other hand, I think that we have different values in the different political parties, and we see the way we live differently. And, of course, if you have a very free market or a very conservative point of view, you might think that the state should not intervene. That could be a problem when it comes to climate policy, because today it is necessary for the state and the EU to intervene. I don’t think the market can solve climate change by itself.
We really need to work together as a society. I think that could prevent some conservatives and some free market parties from being as active as they should be. But, of course, that does not apply to all (conservatives), I know that many in the conservative faction are really pro-sustainability, so I think if we get together it will be possible.
Next up, Aris thinks the timescale of climate change is a problem for convincing people to take it seriously. He says “humans care what happens today, they don’t care what will happen 50 years from now because most of them will be dead.” Would drawing a stronger link between climate change and extreme weather events today help convince climate sceptics?
We put this comment to Lena Puttfarcken, a science journalist whose focus is on effectively communicating about the climate crisis and on countering science denial. What would she say?
I think this is really important, because if people think about climate change as a problem for the future, as something that will only happen in 50 years time, then they are really wrong. Because we are already seeing the forest fires in the USA and Australia, and also the cold weather that we currently have in Germany is something that will occur more frequently with climate change.
Climate change is already a problem. If more people realised what climate change is already doing to our environment, our world, and the way we live in it, then perhaps some people would be convinced that we have to do something about climate change now and not wait until it’s really bad. Because it’s bad now and it’s only going to get worse. So, I think it would help to show that the consequences are immediate and that they are already happening. But I don’t think we can convince everyone with this argument. I think we can convince some people, but not all.
What does Jytte Guteland think?
Thank you, Aris, for that comment. I really believe there is a connection like the one you described; I think some people believe that climate change is very far away and we are going to have a big crisis at some point in the future. They don’t see that this is something that’s happening right now. But recent reports show that extreme weather is linked to climate change. And we have seen multiple reports over the past few years that not only show how today’s extreme weather is related to climate change, but also that in maybe 10 years we could have a very serious problem in countries that were previously unaffected. That’s because of the ice in the Arctic and other climate-related phenomena that are causing the oceans to rise, and this will soon have an impact in many countries.
So, I think we could make this connection clearer and describe it more often so that people understand it. And I think that now, with the Covid-19 pandemic, people know that the way we live is fragile and that things can change and we can be forced to change the way we live – and we don’t want to. We want sustainable change. A change where we can make sure everyone is on board, where we have a democratic process where nobody becomes the loser in this situation. So, it’s about sustainable change for both the climate and people. And to do that, as you say, we have to show people that it is happening now.
Finally, Julia thinks the problem is interest groups aggressively lobbying against sustainability. She says: “Some people think climate change is a hoax because people serving or profiting from the resource industry say so. They obviously do not want people to stop buying their resources and convert to green energy.” Would highlighting links between climate scepticism and the fossil fuels lobby help convince sceptics?
Thank you, Julia, for that comment, because I’ve also thought about it. And I also thought about the climate sceptic movement in the US around former President Trump and also about the fossil fuel connection that he stands for and the fossil fuel economy that he got money from and is part of. I really believe this is a very strong bond, actually.
The fossil fuel economy is big, of course, but there are some companies that will be harder hit by the change, and of course they are trying to work in different ways. And not all, but some might further these stories and this non-belief in science that we see on the internet. And I really believe there is a connection.
It’s not between everyone, so we shouldn’t associate it with every company that has benefited from fossil fuels. Of course, there are those who understand how serious it is and understand that they are a part of it, and maybe even try to change. But there are also some with the connection you are describing. I really think that, for democratic reasons, it is very important to always try to have a democracy that is as transparent as possible and to really try to explore the connections between people, between politicians, between economies. That is why we should show in the European Parliament who we are meeting, and why we have a transparency register to show who we are meeting when we are responsible for a piece of legislation. And I think we need more of that. It’s a way of preventing what you’ve described and pointing out the connections that can hinder a sustainable future.
How can we convince climate sceptics? Is the problem that climate change has become such a partisan issue? Is the timescale of climate change a problem for convincing people to take it seriously? Or is aggressive lobbying from the fossil fuel industry to blame? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts!