Arguing that people care more about improving human health than reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a leading U.S. scientist at Stanford University suggests focusing on the shared benefits of addressing climate change, including job creation, health and safety, instead of talking about the polarized topic.
Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, recently published his argument in Scientific American, a popular science magazine, and told Stanford Report, a newsletter delivering news and information about the university community via email, that "We need to relate to people's daily lives... If I say coal use in the United States dropped by 20 percent in the last two years, slashing carbon dioxide emissions and future climate change, many people would yawn."
However, he noted, "If I say the same drop in coal use will save 3,000 American lives this year by reducing air pollution, people notice. Both things are true."
While global warming and climate change are agreed upon by the majority of members in the science community worldwide, the topic is politically charged in the United States, polarizing politicians as well as average people for or against taking actions to mitigate potential damages.
Jackson believes that Americans would do better to explore how action on the issue can improve areas of shared values.
"When you walk down a street and smell a natural gas leak, you are thinking about safety, not climate. Our mapping of street leaks showed cities that replaced all of their century-old cast-iron and unprotected steel pipes had a tenth the leaks of other cities. Based in part on our work, (U.S. state of) Massachusetts passed an accelerated pipeline replacement program a few years ago. Costing households only a dollar a month, it will reduce leaks and greenhouse gas emissions and make the system safer from the risks of fire and explosion," he told Stanford Report.
Asked about pending environmental decisions in which the conversation about climate change fails to account properly for the kinds of shared values, the chair of the Stanford Department of Earth System Science cited the current U.S. administration's threat to cut fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks as a example because, although it is often discussed in terms of climate change, it also impacts finance, health and security. "Consumer Reports estimates people will save about 4,500 dollars over the life of their car once the standards are fully implemented.
Half of Americans live in towns and cities that don't meet air quality standards, caused in part by ozone and particulate pollution from cars and trucks."
"We can cut through stereotypes by discussing what people value. Jobs are a good example. In the electricity sector, there are 475,000 people working in the solar and wind industries, three times more than in coal and natural gas combined," he noted, adding that "solar and wind power created an astonishing 100,000 new jobs last year. We're gaining green jobs much faster than we' re losing jobs in the coal sector."