As the global temperatures rise, extreme precipitation events will drop more water, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. Extreme flooding has become the new normal in many parts of the world. As reported by The New York Times, on October 6, nine to 10 inches of rain fell in Hoover, Alabama over 24 hours, flooding basements and low-lying areas. “It parked itself right over Hoover, and for five hours, it was unrelenting,” said Mayor Frank B. Brocato, a former firefighter of 42 years.
In a separate story on CNN.com, on October 4, a series of storms hit northwestern Italy, unleashing a rate of rainfall never before seen in all of Europe. Over 29 inches of rain fell in just 12 hours. For context, 36 inches is roughly equivalent to the average rainfall one would expect in Seattle in a year. In the nearby town of Cairo Montenotte, weather records continued to fall by the wayside. A 6-hour deluge unlike any ever observed in Italy brought nearly 20 inches of rainfall, besting the national 6-hour record for all of Italy.
Our Defining Moment as a Nation
The two bills currently pending in Congress include important components to address the growing climate crisis through sweeping change. According to The New York Times, “the climate provisions are designed to quickly transform energy and transportation, the country’s two largest sources of greenhouse gases, from systems that now mostly burn gas, oil and coal to sectors that run increasingly on clean energy from the sun, wind and nuclear power.”
“The impact will touch a broad cross-section of American life, from the kinds of cars that Americans drive, to the types of crops grown by farmers, to the way homes are heated and buildings are constructed. One measure could shutter virtually all of the nation’s remaining coal plants, forcing sweeping change in communities dependent on mining but also, one study estimated, preventing as many as 50,000 premature deaths from pollution by 2030. And other measures would provide billions to replant in national forests, repair trails for hikers and clear brush to reduce the risk of wildfire.”
That sounds like progress, doesn’t it? To the contrary, the new legislation has been fraught with conflict. Our great reckoning as a country boils down to our ability to pass policies that have not achieved a consensus. Even within their own party, Democrats have encountered dissent through Senator Manchin’s opposition to plans that would affect his state’s coal industry. Since Democrats could lose control of Congress in 2022 and Republicans have demonstrated little interest in climate legislation, the U.S. could face a period of many years before another opportunity arrives. This is a delay that scientists agree the world cannot afford.
Besides flooding, The Economist reports that the area burned yearly by wildfire in the U.S. has quadrupled in the last 40 years. While a majority of Americans — 61% polled in 2021 — believe that climate change is real and caused by humans, 36% of the country believe that extreme weather just happens occasionally. There is, in fact, still a large portion of the U.S. population that denies the need for change.
An open mind and the willingness to change are imperative to meet the emerging risks and dangers that are presented to us. We must reduce emissions to avert the plus 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We are already close to realizing a sustained 1.5 degrees above those levels and will continue to see the calamitous impact of that increase in the coming years. We are in this progression now. The denial of this crisis is unthinkably regressive. It is an affront to the idea that science is truth and that it can guide us toward positive, sensible change.
Horse First, Then the Cart
The problem with our current approach is that we are beginning with policy before building public support. The need to act is clear, but these measures never earned widespread adoption. We did not achieve a common understanding of the science among government leaders. This neglect becomes more understandable when we consider that the research organizations working to define the challenges are not the ones best suited to tell their stories and communicate this urgency to the public or to Congress. Responsible media outlets report climate data and news, but we live in a confusing labyrinth of opinion-news with controversy stirred through media personalities broadcasting opinions that actually conflict with the science.
Media, marketing and communications can help the scientists who are helping save the world. We can build a foundation first. These research missions are the most critical initiatives of our lives, but there is much work to be done to inform and educate a vast swath of the population. True change requires buy-in at a broad level, emotionally and intellectually. We must raise awareness and work toward large-scale behavioral change, driving whole populations into action. We must encourage support for the scientists and organizations that are leading new research and advancing knowledge. Most importantly, we need to persuade political leaders that substantial legislation and new public policies are the first steps to avert this irrevocable global emergency.
The right agencies and communications firms can help create a compelling national discussion and shape this narrative through science fact and truth. Organizations like the Ad Council can be funded on levels appropriate to the challenge in order to manage the media and creative for a multi-year initiative. Private enterprise and philanthropy will need to engage further.
Science needs media, marketing and communications support at a significant scale. This is the greatest threat to humanity that modern civilization has ever confronted and there is no time to waste. It is past time we began telling the story.