Climate Change is a difficult concept to comprehend, forcing many to rely on their value systems to determine their reaction to this critically important issue. Author Per Espen Stoknes shared, "If there's a conflict between the facts, so to speak, and the values that guide my life, then my values will win"
While this values based process may attribute to climate change denial in America, it just as easily garners support for climate action. The Global Catholic Climate Covenant found that in Facebook messaging campaigns, climate change framed in a ‘Christian identity’ tests better than messaging that speaks to the ‘dangers of climate change.’Similarly, ecoAmerica's, American Climate Values Report found that 47 percent of people who consider religion of great importance purport to seek climate information from their respective faith leaders.
In a world abundant with circulated information, Americans are turning toward their faith leaders for guidance on climate change, making the singularity of theologically based optimism more valuable than ever.
It's no secret: Americans are conflicted on climate change. Polls show just half of the country affirming the idea that human activity is largely driving changes in the climate, and less than half view it as a major threat to the U.S., well below the perceived dangers posed by overseas extremist groups and nuclear programs.
What explains this disconnect on climate?
"In a way, it's kind of surprising that anybody pays attention. … We don't want to think about something that's scary," said Susan Clayton, a psychology professor and chair of the environmental studies program at the College of Wooster in Ohio.
At the second annual Loyola University Chicago Climate Change Conference in March, Clayton addressed the mental barriers to climate change, what fellow panelist Elke Weber called "the perfect storm" of behaviors and cognitions unconducive to widespread action.
"You can call it the policy problem from hell," Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, told NCR, "because you almost couldn't design a problem that's a worse fit with our underlying psychology or our institutions of decision-making."
The explanations for Americans' engagement, or lack thereof, with the issue are many, but begin with the eyes and ears. To start, carbon dioxide — the fundamental component driving rising greenhouse gas emissions — is an invisible gas.
"You can look out the window right this very second, and there's CO2 coming out of tailpipes, there's CO2 coming out of buildings, there's CO2 coming out of smokestacks, in fact there's CO2 coming out of your mouth and nose this very second. But until I said it, you weren't conscious of it because it's invisible," Leiserowitz said.
The lack of visible evidence adds to the fact that few regularly talk about it. A March Yale-George Mason University study found just 4 percent of Americans hear about climate change in their peer groups at least once a week, and 19 percent hear about it in the media weekly. One in 10 knew of the scientific consensus (97 percent of climate scientists affirm global warming is occurring and human-caused) — a mental blindness attributed to ineffective scientific communicators, subpar media coverage and an active disinformation campaign.