The Earth is seen from space.

(Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Transforming the Climate Conversation This Earth Day

We must find a middle ground between the temptation to deny there is a problem and despair that there are no solutions.

On this 54th Anniversary of America's first Earth Day celebration, it is a time to reflect on how we moved from a consensus on the urgent need for environmental protection across the country to woefully underestimating the need for action about climate change.

A recent study shows that most Europeans and Americans acknowledge that the climate is warming and that a warming planet will likely hurt humankind. At the same time, there is a distortion of the scientific consensus about the data, which leads to a tendency among the public to underestimate the urgency of the situation. This misunderstanding comes from an inaccurate belief that scientists do not agree about the human-caused nature of the crisis. Fossil fuel industry advocates and media outlets often characterize the scientific debate as mixed when the consensus among scientists is well above 97%.

Let's face it. There is overwhelming scientific agreement, and many members of the public agree.

We do this by moving away from arguments about the scientific consensus and focusing on local problems and solutions.

Humans also tend to have "Earth blindness," that is, we do not appreciate the life support systems that the natural environment provides us with daily. This explains, in part, why people in democratic societies with the freedom to demonstrate are not engaging in large-scale protests. It also seems that more visible and immediate events, such as Covid-19 and conflicts and war, push the long-range danger aside. What a difference from the 1970s—when the environmental movement was on par with student protests in many countries, the anti-war protests, and fighting for women's rights in the United States and other countries!

We can take comfort in the fact that most people across many countries think that a warming climate is not good for humanity. Since most people are aware of the climate situation, the time is now to transform the conversation.

We do this by moving away from arguments about the scientific consensus and focusing on local problems and solutions. Some of the best climate mitigation in this country is happening in communities and municipalities. These efforts include building resilient infrastructure—such as designing energy-efficient buildings—and investing in renewable energy, converting public vehicle fleets to electric, and investing in water conservation and reuse, recycling, and plastic waste reduction, and much, much more. These investments and designs may not be perfect, but they are an important start in creating more climate-friendly spaces for people to live in.

We must also focus efforts throughout higher education and other sectors. My institution, Fielding Graduate University, continues its ecological justice work throughout the world. During 2023's Ecological and Social Justice Service Year, our community members participated in a beach cleanup in Santa Barbara, volunteered at their local nonprofit organizations, and advocated for sustainable solutions in their communities.

Current students and alums continue to study ecological worldviews, conservation, sustainability, and more through their theses and dissertations. Many who wish to advocate for the environment think that only substantial action will achieve anything. While substantial change is certainly necessary, consistent small actions can lead to meaningful, lasting change. We can join in-person or virtual global witnessing groups to share our environmental crisis reflections and action plans. We can tweak our business practices, improve production processes to decrease emissions, decrease our footprint, and advocate at governmental and other levels.

On this Earth Day, I encourage you to reflect upon how your actions can take root in the interests of our environment. It is our responsibility to leave the Earth better than we found it. We must find a middle ground between the temptation to deny there is a problem and despair that there are no solutions. From an acknowledgment of the reality of the climate crisis, we can continue our transformative path to positively affect the Earth for the benefit of generations to come.

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