When was the last time you talked, or even heard about climate change? The topic seems increasingly disregarded by mainstream media, which has created doubt.
However, media is just one factor in the uncertainty of whether humans are contributing to climate change or not.
The questions are: Are humans contributing to climate change? Are people obtaining their information about the environment from a reliable source? What effects will leaving the Paris agreement have? How can we reduce climate change?
John Sonnet, Ph.D., a University of Mississippi associate professor of sociology, who specializes in the area of global climate change, has researched how the media constructs representations of climate risk, varying between fearful and reactive framing in political news media vs. uncertain. He has been teaching environmental sociology for more than 10 years.
Sonnet said this about the United States pulling out of the Paris Treaty: “The COP 21 (2015 Paris Climate Conference) meetings were designed to respond to the shortcomings of prior agreements, and to ensure wider participation, but part of how that was achieved was making the agreement weaker, in large part, through the making of voluntary commitments without any sanctions for violating them. This is the main problem with the U.S. leaving the agreement. It was already doubtful the agreement could achieve its own goals, but it will be even more difficult without U.S. cooperation.”
On the COP 21 website, one can find one of the goals of the Paris Treaty, which is to “avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
Sonnet knows very well about the doubt created by media. He explained: “One has to look at the evidence and evaluate the source of the evidence. The state of the art science is reviewed by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) regularly, while denialist and skeptical voices are often funded by energy industries and their affiliated politicians. It’s pretty clear who benefits from casting doubt.”
Sonnet said human activities are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, therefore trapping more heat on Earth, and adding turbulence to the climate system.
Who is being affected the most? He said the poor, people of color, women, and people in poor countries are, on average, the most vulnerable to climate impacts. He recommends viewing the COP 21 and IPPC website to find additional information.
How do we stop climate change? Sonnet said: “Will humans continue to affect climate systems for the worse, or can we start to mitigate our impacts?”
Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ph.D., a University of Mississippi professor who has had a strong interest in environmental issues for many years, is one of the first members of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. She said this about leaving the Paris Treaty:
“The Paris climate agreement is yet another attempt for the nations of the world to agree on strict carbon emissions in order to minimize global warming and mitigate against widespread environmental catastrophe,” she said. “The current president’s decision to leave the Paris agreement is so unwise that I don’t have words to describe it. His decision seems to be based on ignorance, willful disregard of the facts, and allegiance to the interests of fossil fuel companies.”
Fisher-Wirth referred to Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction, which provides information about the waves of extinction that have happened and will happen in the future. Nevertheless, the sixth extinction is different because it’s anthropogenic, or caused by humans. Not only is climate change affecting the extinction of animals, but also the violence of hurricanes, floods and droughts.
Are humans causing climate change? Fisher-Wirth said: “We are causing climate change by the way we live, our reliance on fossil fuels and coal, our deforestation worldwide, including the boreal forests of northern Canada for the shale oil and including the Amazon, our overpopulation and overconsumption, our gutting of environmental protections for the sake of capitalistic exploitation and profits—just about everything we do. Who is being hurt most? Those who live in the Third World and developing countries—the poor and very poor. Those who do not benefit from the exploitation and greed. Children. For an eloquent discussion of this see Rob Nixon’s book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.”
Fisher-Wirth said the impact of climate change for the future will be sorrowful and massive suffering. She said we already see a glimpse of the disaster through famine, failing states, desertification, the dying of the oceans, disease, the refugee crisis, and violence caused by competition for too few resources.
She believes we can reduce climate change by insisting on tough environmental legislation; electing officials who know about and care about the environment—which is not the case at present; change how we live and know all the things that would be involved.