A recent report links one’s geography to a belief in climate change. Unsurprisingly, people who live closer to the coast are more likely to believe in climate change than people who live elsewhere. The study attributes this to the ability to observe the effects of climate change and also the concern about how they will be affected as the sea level rises. Fortunately, this is not an issue for people in North Carolina who have passed a law that one cannot devalue property based on potential sea level changes. Observing the effects of climate change can be a motivating factor not only in belief but in taking action to mitigate climate change’s effects. The experience of true consequences, however, may be a sign that we have acted too late. In other words, many people must be convinced that climate change is serious in the future before experiencing the direct, severe effects if it is to be stopped. There are some important points illuminated in this study about demographics and belief in climate change.
First, media continue to label climate change as a “belief” where people do or not believe in it, as if climate change were Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Climate change is still not considered “fact” by many and denialists and non-believers are prominent voices in the conversation. To call climate change a belief is in part to give it religious, farcical qualities instead of presenting it as empirical, scientifically-observed reality. This type of language reinforces that taking action is a choice based on one’s belief, absolves people of responsibility, and paints climate advocates in a negative light.
Second, it is strange how well demographics predict one’s “belief” in climate change. There are statistics that link church attendance and conservativism with a distrust of science. Liberals are more likely to care for the material world, one’s situation and circumstances, and look at the larger picture. Females and youth are more likely to advocate for the environment. But why is it not simply a matter of education? We learn about the facts, we listen to the experts, we interpret the information and immediately are drawn to act to protect, communicate about, and care for the environment, right? For many, it is not simply a matter of education, understanding the science, or knowledge about the risks. Many people are aware of the science behind climate change and evolution, but choose not to believe. This can be attributed to the valuing of political or religious loyalties over what science may say is true, or a simple distrust of science as a whole. If people do not trust the source, why would they trust what they say? Education is not the cure-all for apathy and denialism; a re-structuring of how people identify with their faith and political party at the expense of the environment.