01/16/2019 11:52 EST | Updated 01/16/2019 12:21 EST

Climate Change Debate Needs To Focus On What People Actually Care About

Let's start relating climate change problems to the shared benefits of addressing the issue

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It's unfortunate that climate change has become a polarizing issue in Canada. Some panic about climate change and others deny it outright. People are labelled and stereotyped before they even open their mouths in climate change matters.

The north-south division of two opposing views of climate change is quite apparent showing that we have failed in the way we have been communicating the science of climate change. It is time to stop talking about the polarizing topic of climate change. Instead, we should start relating climate change problems to the shared benefits of addressing the issue, including job creation, health, and safety.

We have been using fossil fuels for quite a long time to build countries and economies. Accepting the science that climate change is real and predominantly human-induced means confronting the painful realities of fossil fuel dependence. If we are serious about avoiding the damaging consequences of climate change, we need a rapid transition toward a net-zero carbon economy, where our energy comes from renewable sources. Transitioning to a net-zero carbon economy means many fossil-fuel dependent businesses will be shut down and it will be the end of many people's current jobs. Unless we relate the transition to new opportunities and job growth, people aren't going to buy into the climate change story.

It is easier for individuals to prioritize safety concerns over abstract climate change issues.

Relating climate change to people's daily lives is one of the best methods of turning the climate conversation away from controversy. We need to understand that people care more about improving their financial security and health than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, the transition to a net zero carbon economy also means more jobs as it will create a lot of new opportunities in the renewable-energy industry. The skills and knowledge that are being used in fossil fuel industry are transferable to the renewable energy industry. Be it skills in construction, engineering, maintenance or knowledge in project management, sales, marketing, and human resources; all these skills are required to produce renewable energy.

It might not interest people if I say in Canada, GHG emissions per barrel of oil produced in the oil sands have fallen 29 per cent since 2000. If I say the same drop in GHG emissions will save 3,000 Canadian lives this year by reducing air pollution, people will start to relate themselves to climate change. Both things are real but the right messaging is essential in the context of climate change for people to accept it.

It is easier for individuals to prioritize safety concerns over abstract climate change issues. When you are in your home and smell a natural gas leak, you are thinking about safety, not climate. Likewise, in my opinion, relating global priorities to climate change is the way forward.

Watch: Climate action means taking a closer look at the ocean. Blog continues below.

If we ask an expert in malaria and a climatologist to prioritize between malaria and climate change, there would be no consensus. If we want to know which one to deal with first and ask an economist; I am sure Malaria would emerge as a priority over climate change. Similarly, economists will put issues like water, malnutrition and other global priorities first over climate change. However, if we should correlate climate change with an increase in malaria transmission, hunger, water, and other global issues, then we can address the source of many global health and environmental problems. Such correlations will cut through stereotypes by discussing what people value.

So, why is it crucial to close the gap between climate believers and climate deniers?

When public opinion is divided, the climate-related policy takes a back seat. The consensus in public opinion about climate change is critical because it plays an essential role in how the government takes steps towards mitigating climate change.

We should stop demonizing deniers

Sadly, some environmentalists have been guilty of demonizing the people working in fossil fuel industries and widening the already existing divide. So it's hypocritical to categorically condemn the industry using fossil fuel energy we all enjoy through our consumption and lifestyles. It is time that westop demonizing deniers and start bridging the gap.

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Also, by merely labelling some people who are confused about climate change as a denier does not heal the divide. We must make an effort by finding new ways of engaging people and start relating climate change problems to the shared benefits of addressing the issue. Therefore, in my opinion, engaging people is an effective way to heal the already existing divide.

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