Colorado Environmental Scientist Answers Climate Change Questions

Maxwell Boykoff is an assistant professor at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences Center for Sciences and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder. He looks at how media coverage on climate change affects public conversation through the critical input it adds to public discussion.

Boykoff examines public conversation with thought leaders, public officials, decision makers and scientists on whether or not humans contribute to climate change. In an interview with Boykoff, Vincent Guieb with National Park Trips Media, discusses climate change, skeptics, the impacts it has on the future and what we can do at a local level to prevent climate change.

NPTM: Is climate change real and is it a human contribution? Our president has made it clear he doesn’t believe in climate change, especially with the budget cuts he is making in environmentally-related areas.

MB: Climate change is real. Humans clearly contribute to climate change as much as I wish that weren’t true. There are many decades of evidence that come from multiple sources that have reached a great deal of clarity on those two issues: that the climate is changing and humans contribute to it.

Experts have converged in agreement on those points. There have been studies that 97 percent of experts agree that climate is changing and humans contribute to climate change. [Climate change] has potential to be very troubling with a bad set of repercussions. But there are many things that can be done in ways to alleviate and confront those challenges.

NPTM: With more than 97 percent of experts in agreement why do we see a divide over climate change today?

MB: With that agreement in the scientific community, how has there been such divisive and different points of view in the policy community? The general public has a different view.

When the question is put “do you believe the climate is changing and do you believe humans contribute?” It is much lower somewhere below 60 percent across different polls.

I’ve looked at how the increasing polarization has been discussed through media accounts. Through the 90s and the 2000s there has been a divergence of left and right politics and whether [scientist and policy makers] subscribe to that notion. There can be a range of resistance within the mind of any one political actor especially when you scale up to groupthink.

NPTM: How are people resisting all this scientific evidence of climate change?

MB: There are three different ways there is resistance.

One is just literally hands over your ears and all the things I’ve said is “stuff I’m not going to listen to and I don’t think that this is an issue” – just literal resistance.

Secondly, there is this interpretive resistance that can take on board all the inputs and evidence and still say, “Based on that my interpretation, this is not an issue and something to be concerned about.”The third part is the implication of taking on board that evidence, which I think is the most powerful influence in today’s politics.

It’s one where [people say], “Maybe I agree that the climate is changing, maybe I agree humans are contributing to it but by implication that requires we radically revamp our carbon based industry and society. Well, I’m not so keen on that nor are my constituents, nor my backers or my funders.”

It is the implicatory piece that really characterizes these issues in United States politics. It’s not simply a political issue or other social issues. This is based in science and knowing about the problem.

NPTM: In the current scenario what are effective solutions to climate change that could work at a local or global level?

MB: From a local and individual level to start, the funny thing about climate change is everything counts. The way we power our homes, the way we choose to get to work, to school, anywhere. The way business and industries function in our communities and the way our food is grown all have an impact on the changing climate. Just starting with the everyday is beneficial.

I wish it was only straight forward as buy local. But start with food choices, options on how you get around, asking question about energy providers and business practices in your community are constructive ways to address [climate change].

Think carefully on what kinds of actions you take may impact the places that you love. Maybe there is a pathway to modify your day to alleviate the impacts of climate change.

NPTM: The national parks mean a great deal to many readers and are certainly not isolated from the problem of climate change. What are ways the park services can address climate change?

MB: Thinking about climate change in two ways. One is enlarging the box and thinking creatively on engaging park visitors and meet them where they are. But when they go home from their impactful visit, what are kinds of things they can bring with them to consider their carbon footprint and contribution to climate change and the impacts around them?

That’s really important, and the parks can facilitate that effective engagement. The other part outside of that is with all these parks there are communities that exist right outside the parks. I know there is some work [to be done], but I think [reducing carbon footprints in these communities] needs to be really encouraged financially and otherwise. To encourage the discussion and co-production with park officials, park visitors and communities outside the park is critical to sustaining success.

NPTM: A debate I commonly get into when talking about climate change is people believe they can’t do a thing about climate change, so why should they care?

MB: I would contest that. Everyone can do something about climate change. Even thinking you can’t do something about climate change is a fallacy. Everybody is empowered. In one sense you can look at it as daunting, alienating and paralyzing and that it’s a big global issue that requires a massive amount of cooperative, resources and large time scales. Where do I plug in?

But you can look at it a different way – that everything counts. All actions that we take have impacts on this issue. It’s central to the way we live, work, play and relax in society. While at first glance, there may not feel like there ways to engage in these issues but there are ways all around us.