Climate Change Is An Existential Threat To Humanity, Just Don’t Mention Protecting ‘The Environment’


A recent study found that some conservatives would not choose an efficient lightbulb with an environmental message, even when they would choose the same bulb without the message. The Atlantic Cities details this cognitive dissonance:

The study then presented participants with a real-world choice: With a fixed amount of money in their wallet, respondents had to “buy” either an old-school light bulb or an efficient compact florescent bulb…. Both bulbs were labeled with basic hard data on their energy use…. When the bulbs cost the same, and even when the CFL cost more, conservatives and liberals were equally likely to buy the efficient bulb.

But slap a message on the CFL’s packaging that says “Protect the Environment,” and “we saw a significant drop-off in more politically moderates and conservatives choosing that option,” said study author Dena Gromet, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

They chose the less-efficient option because the option they would ordinarily choose mentions the environmental benefit. Though some have found more success in making the argument for climate action and energy efficiency to conservatives in talking about preserving the “purity” of the natural world, focusing more on direct human impacts of air pollution and carbon pollution may be a better strategy.

Washington Monthly‘s Ryan Louis Cooper, who remixed Dave Roberts’ TEDx Talk “Climate Change Is Simple,” is at it again with a video making the case of why climate change is not an environmental issue.

Watch it:

No really, watch it.

He does a good job underlining the reality that while climate change does concern the environment, it concerns a lot more than that:

I’m not saying that climate change isn’t a major threat to the current biosphere (it definitely is), nor am I saying that other species don’t have moral worth, but the point is that there is not some kind of easy trade-off between humanity and nature. When we dammed Glen Canyon to create Lake Powell, it was a monstrous crime against all that is sacred, but we humans continued to live our lives largely without disruption. Climate change, on the other hand, is a direct, existential threat to the biosphere AND all of human civilization. It’s just too big to fit into something like environmentalism.

The military gets it. The insurance industry gets it. Those dealing with global poverty get it. Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it is an existential issue for modern human civilization.

18 Responses to Climate Change Is An Existential Threat To Humanity, Just Don’t Mention Protecting ‘The Environment’

  1. Mark E says:

    PS typo in first sentence (missing words). Please delete the first attempt to post this comment.

  2. BillD says:

    Yes climate change is an existential issue that far out ways other environmental concerns. On Monday I gave a lecture on environmental impacts and devoted 65% to climate change and 35% to everything else. But why can’t we call it an “environmental problem” and still recognize a threat to the existence of modern civilization? Do we really need to avoid talking about both environmental issues and climate change because they both offend conservatives? I do agree that I am now less concerned about species extinction, toxic pollution, eutrophication and habitat destruction, because working on these issues gets us no where unless we address climate change.

  3. Nell says:

    He does a good job underlining the reality that while climate change does concern the environment, it concerns a lot more than that:

    To me the environment is our life support system. It does not get bigger than that.

    There seems to be conflation of big E Environmentalism and our environment. Some folk identify Environmentalism as people who camp in an old growth tree for a year to keep it from being cut down… not the water, air, plants and animals that they depend on to survive. It’s an unconscious, emotional response for them, and you can’t get through to their logical mind.

    Why don’t we call it what it is. It’s a life support system. That way they can consider it belongs to them, not to some tiny fish or butterfly endangered by civilization.

  4. Nell says:

    As in, let them be selfish and anthropomorphic

  5. Endofmore says:

    watched the video
    saying all the right things, telling it like it is
    he drops the ‘pearl harbor’ thing…we can fix this if we roll up our sleeves and get to work
    i banged my head on my keyboard in despair
    Everything that followed Pearl Harbor was entirely dependent on digging up hydrocarbon fuel and setting fire to it, and using that heat to manufacture wartoys.
    The allied powers won WW2 because the enemy ran out of gas first. I was that simple. it kicked off the consumer boom and the current phase of global warming
    We cannot repeat that operation because there is not enough fuel left to run major wars or support major economies.
    If the ‘enemy’ in Afghanistan or wherever had equal fuel resources for head on battles, the US economy would collapse in a matter of weeks. As it is, the US economy is collapsing anyway, trying to sustain a cheap energy infrastructure by using expensive energy, and burning fuel to keep warfactories open
    The Pearl Harbor nonsense implies work, and work means energy consuming machines—which is what got us into this fine mess in the first place.
    Hurricane Sandy is another nonsense reference. It caused $50bn in damage, that means we have to spend another $50bn plus to rebuild.
    Pretty soon anything that nature knocks down is going to stay down, climate change or no climate change we wont have the energy to rebuild anything

  6. Rob says:

    Hate to tell you this, but Hurricane Sandy had no more to do with ‘climate change’ than did Hurricane Katrina…. NOTHING.

  7. Endofmore says:

    no problem then—it will cost nothing to rebuild

  8. Joan Savage says:

    I dislike product labeling that exhorts me to do something that goes way beyond the product usage. I don’t like politicization of products.

    I’m fine with “Dispose of properly” or “Wear protective clothing” when those are relevant directions.

    If the light bulb label had said “Protect the Flag” instead of “Protect the Environment,” it would probably have raised the hackles of a different group of consumers!

    Old Bauhaus saying: “Less is more.” That could apply to labeling.

  9. fj says:

    And at a recent talk “The Science Behind Sandy” Columbia Earth Institute scientist and Professor Adam Sobel indicated that conditions will be increasing the frequency of climate events like Super Storm Sandy.

    There was a Tea-Partier funny clothes and all, who stood up and started asking questions on the path of typical delusions and in no uncertain terms he let her know that climate change was indeed very real.

  10. SecularAnimist says:

    Rob wrote: “Hate to tell you this, but Hurricane Sandy had no more to do with ‘climate change’ than did Hurricane Katrina…. NOTHING.”

    You are wrong on both counts. Global warming made both Katrina and Sandy FAR more damaging than they otherwise would have been.

    We live on a globally warmed planet now, and there is no longer any such thing on Earth as weather that is not affected by global warming.

  11. Endofmore says:

    just be thankful that in all those places that climate change turns into desert, there will be more sand for ostriches to bury their heads in.
    there’s always a bright side for someone

  12. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Quite right Nell. The language and debate in the USA seems to have gotten screwed up because people saw themselves separate from, and above, their living home. They are now learning the hard way, ME

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘The voice of the cuckoo was heard in the land’.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Lao Zi said it earlier.

  15. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    I know a few conservatives who do not care about the political implications of what the bulb says, they just want to save the money. If the label does turn off conservatives, all the better, let them waste their money while the rest of us save money. More of the electric they waste will be generated by renewables anyway. conservatives are a dying breed, we can make them extinct faster by saying the truth, not by hiding it to appease them.

  16. Mark E says:

    ….and while AGW is an immediate crisis even solving that gets us nowhere unless we then solve our addiction to nonstop economic growth…

  17. Mark E says:

    Neurologists are doing interesting work on this.

    New product = Risk

    Brains of conservatives apparently “think” about risk with higher use of fight/flight region of brain than liberals.

  18. Michelle says:

    “Protect the environment” is not a political viewpoint. It’s a survival message. That conservatives think of it as a political message and someone telling them what to do shows an innate childishness in their world view. So there, I’ll destroy our world because you said don’t destroy it. Nanny nanny nanny. I’ll show you.