10/17/2013 02:11 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2013

Why Informing Younger Generations About Climate Change is Key

NEW YORK -- Climate change has the potential to destabilize life as we know it. But most of us won't know it until these catastrophic changes show up on our doorsteps.

For more than two decades, science has revealed the threats of human-induced climate change, but humanity's behavior has continued unabated. According to a Pew Research Center Survey from 2010 found, only 28 percent of Americans consider climate change as a top priority. Increasing awareness among the younger generation will be a necessary milestone. As the amount of policies that support renewable energies increases, investment in the sector will also increase.

However, because public opinion has a strong influence on political actions, lawmakers remain hesitant to address the issue.

Teachers throughout New York City are attempting to breach this gap by properly informing the next generation about the latest social, intellectual, and scientific developments. New York University has been driving this effort for the last 12 years by hosting Saturday Science Seminars at the Silver Center for Arts and Sciences. Each month Dr. Robert J. Wallace of New York University's Steinhardt School, coordinates educational seminars for students and teachers around the city.

This month, New York University's Assistant Professor of Environmental Science, Howard Schiffman hosted a meeting on the threats of what one participant referred to as 'catastrophic climate destabilization.'

As depicted by Schiffman, "communities in the island nations of the South-Pacific are waking up to ankle deep waters outside their doors because of sea-level rise." A less subtle example may be the path of Hurricane Sandy last year. According Jennifer Francis, a climate researcher at Rutgers University, a reduction in Arctic sea ice changed atmospheric winds in the jet stream leading to Hurricane Sandy's unusual Northwestward path.

According to Schiffman, informing people about the causes and threats of climate change is central to the solution.

"If there is one thing I would like all of you to take away from this, it's that we have to break down the [communication] barriers between policy makers, scientists, and the media," he said.

Providing Americans with accurate information regarding climate change is a worthwhile endeavor because many people still do not understand the science behind climate change.
The most basic conundrum climate change specialists face today: the reason for the public cannot fully comprehend the affects and science behind climate change. As a result, the majority of Americans do not view climate change as a pressing issue. According to a Pew Global Attitudes Survey, the United States had the largest number of respondents who said they do not worry at all about global warming.

A 2013 study by Anthony Leiserowitz found that despite the 97 percent of climate scientist consensus that identifies human behavior as the cause of climate change, less than half of the American public agrees with this conclusion.

The study asserts that this may help to explain why -- even though most Americans view renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives as important solutions to climate change -- many Americans do not identify driving less as a primary solution. This information is important because millions of Americans make individual choices each day that collectively have an enormous impact on the Earth's climate.

According to Schiffman, social scientists are beginning to find evidence that leads to two main reasons as to why Americans largely do not care about climate change. First, most poor people think of climate change as a rich person's problem. The second reason derives from the principle of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology says that as a species, we are less able to deal with remote threats than immediate threats.

The conundrum faced by the next generation is that if they choose to make dramatic changes in energy policy, they will have a limited ability to prevent, what Brian Kahn, Head of Science at the United Nations International School, refers to as, catastrophic climate destabilization if this generation doesn't begin to take significant steps to prevents it.