From Climate Change Denier to Environmental Activist
This is an article about my experiences having grown up with parents that did not believe in climate change and how I became an environmental advocate. Climate change deniers are often seen as simply uneducated or apathetic, but this issue is rooted deeply into American politics and ideologies. It is not enough to simply educate people, but to also encourage individuals to look at the data and draw their own conclusions.
artwork by Sophia Hidalgo
I did not believe in climate change until 9th grade. As a child, global warming was nothing but a fleeting nightmare, something my parents said that “The Liberals” fabricated to get attention and government funding. Growing up, climate change was never spoken of at length, and when it was mentioned, it was quickly ridiculed by the media my family watched like Fox News. Before their passing, my parents were extremely conservative, if you were not “Ronald Reagan red”, you were not a true Republican. They praised politicians like George Bush, listened to the conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, watched Fox News religiously, and vehemently denied climate change. My parents were incredulous of the data being presented by the scientific community and cited that there were too many variables to definitively conclude that climate change was real. Views like these are too common in America.
According to the book “Merchants of Doubt” by American scientific historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, climate doubt refers to the manipulation of facts and scientific consensus in an effort to persuade the public into doubting the intentions and extensive research of climate scientists. My parents frequently spoke about how disappointing and shocking it was that science had become so political, and that scientific research was being grossly over
exaggerated. “Of course”, they complained, “the climate changes, that’s just part of the Earth’s natural cycle, but humans have nothing to do with it.” Afterall, sea levels were always rising and falling, and glaciers would melt and re-freeze in the winter.
Oreskes and Conway report that only 56% of Americans believed that average global temperatures had risen in 2006. Climate change doubters are often assumed to be uneducated or apathetic to this crisis. However, both of my parents had college educations, my father later going on to receive a PhD, and served over 20 years in the military. As a result of my parent’s staunch opinions, I grew up disregarding climate change. It seemed preposterous to me: if it was real, why were we not talking about it all the time? Why, even with overwhelming international scientific consensus and research, do so many people disregard climate change if its effects are so dire? Why were governments and politicians staying silent if they knew about the severity of the crisis?
But climate change is real and more bone-chilling than the reports of swelling seas and glacial ice sheets melting in Greenland. The list of consequences is extensive: temperatures rising at a frightening rate, increases in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, and mass starvation events. Even more frightening, according to a World Bank report, it is predicted there will be over 143 million climate change refugees by 2050. Yet, in spite of these consequences, the American public is constantly bombarded with skeptics criticizing global warming for political and economic self-interests. This doubt is often transmitted by fossil fuel companies, politicians, sponsored think tanks, politically motivated scientists, and media attention. By using deception, Oreskes and Conway explain that think tanks like the Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, and Competitive Enterprise Institute help spread climate change propaganda while separating the think tank from the fossil fuel industry.
In addition, the industry targets and discredits climate scientists through falsified science. This includes the 1997 Oregon Petition, which claimed to have been signed by over 31,000 climate scientists that disagree with climate change; in reality, many names were either fictitious, or signed by scientists without a background in climate science. Nonetheless, these efforts instilled enough doubt to polarize the topic of global warming. But it did not stop there. In 2009, ‘Climategate’ surfaced. Stolen emails with lines taken out of context were released to portray climate scientists as corrupt and malicious. This, of course, was just an attempt to create controversy and make climate change a bipartisan issue, ultimately delaying effective legislation. In the documentary version of “Merchants of Doubt”, Marc Morano, a self-described environmental journalist with conservative affiliations, reflects this logic by bluntly declaring, “Gridlock is the greatest friend a global warming skeptic has”.
Admitting our problems is scary because it means we have to change. It requires us to reflect inwards and acknowledge that America is addicted to oil, coal, and other pollutants. People who worked hard for their suburban lives feel criticized and blamed by environmentalists. And I understand this. Human tendency rejects unpleasant truths and clings to established beliefs, resenting those that tell us how to live. I rejected the reality of climate change for so long because it was an idyllic alternative to taking accountability for how my actions have contributed to the problem. But the media's insidious campaign that preaches that fossil fuels are the only way of life is the biggest lie those in power have told us.
Between 2030-2050, climate change will kill an additional 250,000 people per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, heat stress, contaminated water, and pollution. Climate change affects everyone, especially low and middle-income countries that lack resources to adapt. As our global temperature continues to warm, we are nearing an absolutely catastrophic and irreversible climate tipping point of warming if we increase another 1.5 °C.
In the end, the climate change crisis is not about who is
right or wrong or Democrats vs. Republicans. This is not an emotional or partisan issue, but rather one about looking at the data and drawing conclusions. I advocate a better future for not only our generation, but also for those after us that cannot speak for themselves who will inherit a world in crisis.