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Hope for the future

By JIM SCHNELL | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-29 08:08
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Shared perception of human responsibility for global warming offers launchpad for meaningful collaborative action


The threat of climate change is very real and is a matter of common ground for China, the United States and all nations around the world. It is also a matter of perception whereby global understanding of this threat is very much driven by communicative factors as evidenced in the US.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication teamed up to produce the report Climate Change in the American Mind. It is based on survey data collected in April, 2020, when much of the US population was sheltering during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings from the study underscore the importance of communicative dynamics in the development of perceptions that interpret the relevance of climate change. The results indicate the general finding that 73 percent of US citizens think global warming is happening and only 10 percent think it is not. This reveals a point of view acknowledging fundamental awareness about climate change as a challenge to the global order.

On a commensurate plane, 66 percent believe global warming is affecting weather in the US. This finding underscores notions of effect in relation to the existence of global warming. Such a correlation points to awareness of the need to pursue corrective action insofar as the weather is being affected as this can obviously impact the food distribution system, mass migration and resulting third and fourth order effects.

A more specific finding stresses the impression that 62 percent of US citizens believe global warming is mostly caused by humans. This revelation points to a majority of US citizens being willing to assign the blame for global warning to human activities and it serves as the foundation for steps that can be considered in correcting the predicament we find ourselves in. This kind of perception can serve as the impetus for establishing corrective action.

And this further leads to the pivotal detail that 66 percent of US citizens feel a personal sense of responsibility to help reduce global warming. This is key in that such a personal sense of responsibility highlights a potential to seek solutions that will involve sacrifices by US people. That is, if US people feel a personal sense of responsibility for global warming (being part of the problem), then it stands to reason they would be willing to incur challenges (to be part of the solution to the problem).

The notion of the "butterfly effect", in which seemingly inconsequential events in one part of the world can affect faraway places in momentous ways, perfectly describes how interrelated global order is. Slightly warmer temperatures that accelerate the melting of the snowpack on a remote mountain can have a chain reaction whose end result may be a rise in the price of goods consumed far away. What goes on in South Africa has an impact on what goes on in Australia. What goes on in Vietnam produces outcomes for Finland. What goes on in the US has ramifications for what goes on half way around the world in China, and vice versa. This reality and the grounded perception of this reality hold considerable meaning for encouraging global action that will be imperative in the resolution of the climate change predicament we find ourselves in.

China and the US harbor significant differences, but there is no changing the fact the two countries, along with all the others, share the same planet.

Climate change is a challenge but also an opportunity for embracing common understanding. To realize we are one and the same in this respect will help us better grasp other areas where we share commonality. We can realize not only mutual benefits in combating climate change, but also greater solidarity.

All of this recognizes the importance of not just problematic issues, but the perceptions of those problematic issues in seeking understanding that will fuel resolution. Global interactions have revealed that cultures can have different communicative processes within the respective cultural orders. There can be significant differences from one culture to the next. However, there are also similarities that are also recognized.

So when we observe the global challenges we are confronted with, such as climate change, we can also proceed with the awareness that there will be differences with perceptual processes regarding how climate change is understood. The bright spot is that we can also proceed with the awareness that there will be common ground in how it is perceived. From such common ground can grow meaningful resolution. From such resolution can grow frameworks for addressing other areas we differ in. It raises a hope for the future.

The author is a faculty member at Cleveland State University (Cleveland, Ohio) and a visiting scholar at Fudan Development Institute. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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