Framing Climate Change: Values Matter

By Eleni Polychroniadou


Climate change is happening, and it’s affecting all of us, right here, right now.

Just last week, Louisiana was inundated by torrential rain. More than two feet of water fell in 72 hours, flooding Baton Rouge and causing serious devastation. Out West, California was ravaged by wildfires that destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of land – and that’s just in the past three days.

At this point, it is not a question of facts. The climate science is indisputable, with 97 percent of scientists worldwide agreeing that this is a real, man-made problem. But it never comes down to arguing the facts. People don’t argue over the latest scientific reports; they argue about their beliefs.

The climate change debate comes down to identity, and it is time we started talking about it in that framework.

A common misconception is that contrary opinions on climate change are irreconcilable. Each person has a set of beliefs, typically affected by culture and community, that shapes his/her perception of the issue. At the Climate Reality Leadership Conference in Houston last week, the key takeaway was that regardless of political affiliation, age or race, we can agree on some shared values. When we connect on shared values, we can overcome differences and find common ground.

Take a strong economy, for example. The world is still reeling from the recession in 2008, and people from both sides of the political aisle are wondering how we will strengthen it again. The blueprint for rebuilding the global economy is simple: clean energy. In 2015, 7.7 million people were employed in renewable energy globally. Adding the necessary infrastructure to handle this new electricity generation will grow the world economy for years to come and put millions of people to work. If that wasn’t convincing enough, think about the financial impact of extreme weather events. Superstorm Sandy in 2013 cost an estimated $42 billion in repairs. Instead of paying to fix the damage, imagine the impact of reinvesting those several billion dollars back into the economy.

And what about safety? The extreme floods in Louisiana are a ruthless reminder that our infrastructure was not built to handle extreme weather. Images of people being rescued out of cars wrenched away by gushes of water are becoming a new reality. Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population is located in coastal cities. Climate change is posing an existential threat to our safety. But it’s not just coastal cities that need to worry. Increasing temperatures are affecting our global supply of clean water and food. As resource scarcity worsens worldwide, the likelihood of armed conflict increases. In 2015, the Pentagon released a report stating that climate change was a threat to national security.

For many people, there is nothing more important than family. I grew up swimming in the Mediterranean Sea every summer in Greece. I would snorkel in the azure waters, jump off rocks and build sandcastles on the beach. I want my children to experience that same joy in the future. Whether it’s swimming in the ocean, hiking in the Rocky Mountains or fishing in the nearby creek, these are activities and joys many want to pass on to their children. Ensuring a viable future for our children and grandchildren is a value that resonates across the United States and around the globe.

Climate change is no longer about polar bears far away in the North Pole. It’s about us, our families, our neighbors and our communities. When we all work together and use our shared values to connect instead of arguing, the dream of a zero-carbon future will become a reality.

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