I Don't Believe in Climate Change

A house behind sandbags on North Topsail Beach, NC photo

Hear me out...

I'm going to apologize in advance for the clickbait title, but this is a topic that I think is worthy of discussion. You see, even as evidence mounts of melting ice caps, chaotic weather events and general ecological destruction, most of us have a hard time really believing it.

I'm not talking about those who actively deny the science of climate change. If you think you're smarter than than the National Academies of Brazil, Canada, Italy, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the UK and the United States of America, then there's probably not much I can do to persuade you.

I'm more concerned about the rest of us. Those who understand and accept that there's a scientific consensus on climate change, who probably take at least some (usually inadequate) steps in our own lives to mitigate our impact, and who support and call for climate action from our political, community and business leaders. Because even we—convinced as we might be—can't really grasp quite how much our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren, are likely to change in the coming decades and centuries.

This fact was brought home to me on a recent visit to North Topsail Beach in North Carolina. Having completed my compulsory #2MinuteBeachClean, I took to doing what I usually do on vacation—musing with my wife about what it would be like to own a beautiful beach home that we definitely cannot afford.

"It doesn't really matter because I'd never buy a beach home. Just look at those sandbags. This beach won't be here in a few decades time," I harrumphed. And while the NC State Legislature may disagree, I think there's a strong case to be made that I'm right. We've certainly known for a long time that coastal flooding could prove economically ruinous by the middle of the century.

And yet even as I know this intellectually, and as I make (admittedly entirely hypothetical) real estate decisions based on this knowledge, I still have a hard time truly believing the scale of the change that is to come. How could this beach community we were sitting in—where so many people live, work and play—eventually just cease to be because our society was too slow to take action? The damage, the mass migrations, the extinctions, and the economic calamity that unchecked climate change may reap is so huge that it's very difficult for me to wrap my head around it as a reality. And I spend a good chunk of my working day reading about these things.

So how do we get those who are only partially engaged with the issue to believe? How do we engage communities who may literally be wiped away as the oceans rise? And, more importantly, how do we get them to pay attention without becoming overwhelmed or discouraged from taking action? There's still so much that can be done to ward off the worst impacts of climate change—and much of it will leave our cities cleaner, our air clearer, and our communities more resilient and equitable too.

Apologies for all the questions and for the complete lack of answers, but this has been on my mind a lot lately. How do we make it happen?