Global warming has increased the number of extreme weather events around the world by 400% since the 1980s. Countries know how to stop the damage from worsening: stop burning fossil fuels and shift to renewable energy, electrify transportation and industry, and reduce the carbon intensity of agriculture.

But none of this is happening fast enough to avoid warming on a catastrophic scale.

In my new book, “The Climate Crisis,” I lay out the mechanisms and impacts of the climate crisis and the reasons behind the lack of serious effort to combat it. One powerful reason is the influence that the fossil fuel industry, electric utilities and others with a vested interest in fossil fuels have over policymakers.

But there’s another reason for this inaction that everyone has the ability to change: response skepticism – the public doesn’t believe in its own political power enough or use it.

When people speak up and work together, they can spur powerful changes. You can see this in university students demanding that their chancellor retire the campus fossil fuel power plant and switch to renewable electricity. You can also see it in ranchers in Colorado pushing their governor to enact a clean electricity standard so that they can benefit from having wind turbines on their lands.

Yet, while 70% of American adults describe climate change as an important concern, only 10% say they volunteered for an activity focused on addressing climate change or contacted an elected official about it in the previous year, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center poll.

Why do so few adults participate in actions to encourage governments and decision-makers to do more about climate change, even though surveys show they support doing so, and how can they overcome the skepticism holding them back?

What prevents people from speaking out

Polls show some people see how money from wealthy industries and individuals influences politicians and don’t believe politicians listen to the public.

Others are distracted by arguments that can tamp down engagement, such as campaigns that urge people to focus on individual recycling, or ask why the U.S. should do more if other countries aren’t, or argue that that there’s no need to rush because future technology will save humanity. Some believe that corporate and university promises to reach carbon neutrality in the future – often far in the future – are enough.


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