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How do you talk about climate change during a presidential administration that denies it’s happening?


New York Times, Extract, Dec 14, 2016

President-elect Donald J. Trump has called climate change a hoax, and he has declared he will try to reverse the Obama administration’s environmental efforts on matters ranging from the 2015 Paris climate agreement to the landmark Clean Power Plan, intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But while administrations change, one thing appears to be stable: Most Americans already know that climate change is real and that human activity since the Industrial Age is the major cause. Polls by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that more than half of those surveyed said that global warming is real, and only one in five disagree. But these same surveys show that Americans tend to rank the issue rather low in their priorities of urgent need for action.

The question for those trying to fight climate change, then, is how best to build on the degree of agreement that already exists and to encourage action by governments, businesses and individuals. For a very long time, these issues have been hashed out in fiery arguments between those who deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate science and those who try to explain the science and the reasons for strong measures. I dealt with that important question in an article about Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University who uses a gentle approach to reach the large number of Americans who are in the potentially persuadable middle. There is room for every kind of discourse, from raucous to gentle, when it comes to telling Americans about warming. But I came away from that piece with a thought that initially seemed banal, but ended up feeling profound: niceness works. — John Schwartz




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