Better Safe Than Sorry

Right now one of the hotly debated issues both in environmental and political circles, is whether or not climate change actually exists. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the discussion, this may come as a bit of a surprise. Most of us can recall learning about the dangerous effects of climate change and how it was projected to impact millions of lives. However, recent events have begun to challenge the very essence of this phenomenon, seriously calling into question its validity. Last fall emails and exchanges between top scientists studying climate change were leaked to the public. The leaked documents outlined some of the uncertainties or concerns these scientists shared regarding the legitimacy of their research. To some, these materials were proof that scientists had been exaggerating the seriousness associated with climate change. This in turn sparked an intense and fairly messy debate between climate change believers and non-believers, which many began referring to as the “climategate scandal.”

Since the debate began, there has been a general decline in public attitude toward the severity of climate change.
A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month illustrated that within the past two years Americans have become increasingly apathetic about the potential long-term effects of climate change. The poll found that almost half (48%) of Americans feel that the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated. In 2009, this number was at 41% and in 1997 it was 31%. This upward trend of skepticism has the potential to produce catastrophic consequences.

Scientists have found that one of the biggest causes of climate change is the emission of greenhouse gases produced by humans. Most of these gases are created by the combustion of fossil fuels from vehicles and factories. Research on climate change has revealed a variety of ways in which people can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. Efforts such as carpooling, walking or biking instead of driving, as well as taking part in recycling, changing light bulbs, properly inflating the tires on your car, and using energy-efficient appliances in your home can all make a huge difference. However, with the increasing skepticism surrounding climate change, people may feel that they are now exempt from doing these things.

Amidst this wave of renewed skepticism, I think that it is more important than ever for scientists, educators and the media to teach those less informed of the risks associated with environmentally irresponsible behavior. Debunking a major theory of how we as humans are damaging the environment could cause people to become skeptical of proven methods of environmental responsibility and conservation. This in turn could produce a general decrease in “green” practices among the public—and this is exactly what we don’t want.

I think it is important for advertisers and PR professionals to convince the public that adopting more environmentally sustainable practices is still of utmost importance, regardless of how this debate surrounding climate change ends. If valid research emerges that somehow proves that climate change actually does not exist, then great, we dodged just one of many bullets. However, if we find out that it could spell disaster for us in the coming decades and we’re unprepared, based on marginal or misleading evidence, then we are in an even worse predicament then we were before.

This recent “eco-scandal” is interfering with and stalling efforts to adopt greener, more sustainable methods.  It is my hope that people spend less time debating and more time looking for ways to increase green practices as this critical research unfolds. Being environmentally responsible is crucial to our survival regardless of how the debate of climate change turns out; and as far as climate change itself, my thinking is, better safe than sorry.

What do you think? Do you believe scientists made a major mistake in predicting climate change and are trying to cover it up? Or, do you think this “scandal” has surfaced at a very convenient time?

To learn more about climate change click here: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/index.html

>To see what you can do to help combat climate change, click here: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/index.html

Contributed by Jessica Boardman.  Follow her @jboards