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What Causes Environmental Apathy in Americans?

Updated on May 9, 2017

It should be of increasing concern to all Americans that there is an extreme disconnect between what Americans believe about man-made climate change, and what science tells us about it. That is to say, despite there being a clear scientific consensus, man-made climate change is more often than not framed as an ambiguous concept in the U.S. mainstream media. Consequently, climate change is generally thought to be far more esoteric than it actually is. This confusion has done much to obscure U.S opinion on climate change, and it is preventing Americans from understanding the reality that surely exist outside the common rhetoric.

In fact, climate change remains of little to no interest in the daily lives of most American citizens. According to the survey Climate Change in the American Mind: "1 in 4 Americans think that global warming is not happening." This is simply frightening. So why is it that so many Americans show little interest in, or even deny that climate change is a real phenomenon?

There is no one answer, but when discussing the issue with others it becomes embarrassingly evident that political affiliations influence individual's outlook as to the importance of addressing climate change. It is no secret that weather or not you consider yourself a Republican or Democrat will say a lot about your level of concern for the issue. Republicans, in general, are under the erroneous belief that man-made climate change is either insignificant or non-existent. Democrats, on the other hand, have failed to separate this issue from partisan politics and stoke the fires of political divisiveness. Also, Democrats have lost a good deal of public trust on this issue due to the fact that their motives are often seen (and sometimes rightfully seen) as merely a means for bloating the government budget and re-allocating resources to special interest groups.

Sadly, we have a two-party system to represent over three hundred million people, and it remains unlikely that any impactful change will occur while the majority of Americans still align themselves with one of these outdated parties; buts that's a story in and of itself.

It would seem that the primary factor that drives many Americans to have little concern for climate change is indeed political. The very fact that over fifty-six percent of congressional Republicans deny or question the science of man-made climate change lends credence to this idea. However, there are other factors that contribute to the societal misunderstanding of climate change; and although many of these concepts stem from the political affiliation problem, they should be analyzed in their own right as to get a clearer picture of what's creating the trivialization of climate change.

Outside of political influence, there are three major psychological phenomenon that manifest environmental apathy. Firstly, is an underlying appeal to technological utopianism. In short, technological utopianism refers to the idea that advances in technology will eventually solve most human problems and usher in a utopia. However, there is little reason to have any faith in such a concept. We have long since obtained the technology to feed the world, yet over 20,000 people, mostly children, starve to death every day.

Secondly, to put it simply, out of sight, out of mind. Our media relentlessly bombards us daily with infotainment, yet it is far from obtaining objectivity in representing the scientific consensus on man-made climate change; nor does it appropriately address its inherent dangers.

As for the final psychological factor, it is the sense of helplessness, which is perhaps the most potent creator of environmental apathy. It certainly does seem that our individual efforts will do little to adequately address climate change; but here the obvious must be pointed out. The public need only unite and establish their consensus as the scientists did. If we used our democratic power to create a reality in which the people will only give support to politicians who address climate change with the objective attention and action it requires; it would necessarily create motives for our representatives to act accordingly.

But unfortunately, we are a nation divided, and both Republicans and Democrats are prone to having their ideals purchased by highest bidder. Both parties have deep financial ties to the juggernaut energy industries that are the main culprits behind causing man-made climate change. An all too obvious conflict of interest exists; and we should expect little real change as long as we willingly support political candidates who are funded by corporations that profit from maintaining our environmentally destructive status quo. The U.S. mainstream media is happily towing the line of scientific ignorance for their benefactors; and until Americans learn to inoculate themselves from the mass media, the issue of climate change will grow further stagnant in this unwarranted filibuster.


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