Climate Change: How Much Do You Really Know?

Six total hours in Farragut Square in two trips. Six hours in one of the places in America where you can be almost sure that the people you encounter are going to be smarter than average and far more informed about important, politicized issues. Climate change, for example.

Perceived Knowledge of Climate Change

We think we know more than we do. (Credit: Yale Climate Change Study)

The polling I’ve seen seems to indicate that, if they were average Americans, about 3/5 the people in that park should have been able to explain climate change to me (the stats if you’re feeling wonky).

Six hours of above average Americans. 1/5 had a clue (barely). Not so great.

So where’s the disconnect? People think they know, people say they care (specifically, they say it to weathermen), but it looks like they don’t know. Somewhere along the chain, something isn’t right.

From what’s out there on the internet, it looks like the problem is two pronged: the information that’s out there isn’t always great, and even when it is, sometimes we just don’t care enough.

Not caring enough is the one we can take care of. Yes, climate change can seem very far away sometimes, like it’s not our problem. It’s a very real phenomenon called the free rider problem – the concept has always been around and it factors into most discussions of shared resources, but it really starts to matter to us when climate is involved. Thing is, it’s not such a faraway problem. If, like me, you’re around 26, your kids are going to be dealing with this. Not in the abstract either – the rising wall of water is going to be barreling down at them. I don’t want that for my kids – my family is not a group of strong swimmers.

It’s not just the free rider problem, either – it goes deeper. We weren’t, as a generation, raised to think about the environment properly. There’s a huge gap that we fail to bridge at our own peril.

Scientific Consensus Over Climate Change

Polling aside, there’s a consensus, I assure you. (Credit: Yale Climate Change Study)`

So shame on you, shame on me – but it’s not all us. Two prongs, remember? Prong two: the information out there isn’t the greatest. Consider that one presidential candidate and an entire major political party keeps trivializing the entire concept. Consider that there’s an entire group of people out there who, when presented with new, conclusive evidence retreat further into tinfoil-hat territory. (The psychology of climate denial is fascinating, by the way.) Most importantly, consider that the science, the actual, solid data, is just hard for most people to understand.

So it’s hard sometimes to figure this out, but we have to. This is the defining issue of our time – we need to know, and we need to know now. All of us, from wonks to bros, need to get literate on climate fast. And it’s not impossible – real information on climate change is out there, if you know where to look.

There’s also places you can look that are shameless plugs, of course. Very helpful plugs, mind you.

#thinkfwd, people – it’s the only way to a future we’ll enjoy.

Mike DeVito, Long-Term Resident of a Planet in Need


One thought on “Climate Change: How Much Do You Really Know?

  1. Hi Mike,

    I love how your voice shines through in your writing. You do an excellent job of incorporating sources and manage to be both educational and engaging. I have just a few suggestions: 1) The images came out really small here – try make sure they are readable. Also, perhaps lead with a cool photo that will draw in the reader. Maybe a still of all those people waiting in line at food trucks? 2) I would have liked for your to relate back to your video project a a couple more times. Perhaps you could talk about how DC has more graduate degrees per capita than anywhere else in the world (I think), yet we remain grossly uneducated about climate change. I would also like to read your suggestions for improving the situation. 3) There are a couple of lines that sound just a little bit preachy in tone. I love the enthusiasm in your writing, but aim for “here’s what you can do” versus “here’s what you should do.” 4) Final note, your title is a little general. “Climate Change: How Much Do DC Professionals Know?” or similar would be better.

    Great job overall.



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