Opinion / OP Rana

Time to close gap between public view and reality of climate change

By Op Rana (China Daily) Updated: 2015-02-02 08:20

Time to close gap between public view and reality of climate change

Laurence Tubiana, France's climate change ambassador to the United Nations, believes China has contributed to improvements in global energy sustainability. Tuo Yannan / China Dail

People ignorant or in denial of climate change and climate science are not new. Even the division between scientists on climate change is not new, although most (about 97 percent) active climate scientists believe humans are a major cause of climate change, while the number is "radically different" among economic geologists, or scientists who (according to Naomi Klein) study natural formations so that they can be commercially exploited.

Despite the contradictions and complications, we expect people in the world's most advanced country to accord some importance to, if not respect, the findings of scientists. But a Pew Research Center poll released on Jan 29 says American public and scientists hold vastly different views on climate change, genetically modified (GM) foods and (not surprisingly) evolution.

About 87 percent of the scientists who responded to the Pew poll said human activity was the main cause of climate change, but only 50 percent of the general public agreed with them. Disturbingly, about 25 of the Americans polled said there was no "solid evidence" to prove that the climate was warming - the percentage of such skeptics in a 2009 survey was only 11 percent.

The divide over GM foods was wider, with 88 percent of the scientists surveyed saying they were safe to eat compared with 37 percent of the public. The gap between scientists and the general public on evolution was wide too, with 98 percent of the scientists saying humans had evolved over time, compared with 65 percent of the public.

The difference in the beliefs (based on evidence, empirical or otherwise) of scientists and the public should not be surprising, because about 53 percent of the "economic scientists" do not believe in human-caused climate change.

The fact is, as Klein says in her latest book, This Changes Everything: "... we are all inclined to denial when the truth is too costly - whether emotionally, intellectually, or financially. As Upton Sinclair ... observed: 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.'"

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