How To Make People Care

Shamus studies sociology at Boston College. Originally from Wellesley, Massachusetts, he was a plaintiff in Kain et al v. Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts. 

Shamus studies sociology at Boston College. Originally from Wellesley, Massachusetts, he was a plaintiff in Kain et al v. Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts. 

How do you make people care about climate change? This is the question that I was pondering with Olivia Gieger, my longtime friend and fellow plaintiff in Our Children’s Trust victorious case in Massachusetts in 2016. In my experience, the best way to make people care about something seemingly abstract and distant as climate change is to make it their problem.

When I revealed to my sister that the places that we loved to visit as kids and that we hope to continue to enjoy with our own families would be threatened by rising seas, higher temperatures, and worsening storms, she cared. Climate change poses a great risk to our way of life in the United States. As I write this, in early-April 2019, communities across Nebraska are struggling to recover from historic flooding that is becoming more common. Towns like Paradise, California and Mexico Beach, Florida are still reeling from their near-total destruction as a result of devastating wildfires and hurricanes. In cities like Miami, New Orleans, and my native Boston, rising seas threaten the metropolises that anchor so much of American life. Studies are coming out predicting what the climates of various American cities will look like in the future. Kansas City is projected to feel like Dallas in 2060, New Haven will feel like Memphis, Lansing will feel like Philadelphia and so on. The U.S. military, not typically a bastion of progressive thinking or environmentally-friendly practices, has identified climate change as a primary threat to national security both because it threatens military infrastructure like Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in Alaska along with 77 other key military assets across the United States, and because it a destabilizing force in countries around the world. This is how you change people’s minds. Bring it to their front door. Make it matter to them. What’s really at stake with climate change is not just polar bears or permafrost, it is human lives. Don’t let people forget that.

At the same time, it is of the utmost importance that we never lose sight of who the faces of climate change are. They are the people who have had the least to do with causing the changing climate but who will suffer the most because of it. In the Marshall Islands, the whole country is at risk of disappearing underwater permanently. In Mozambique, untold destruction continues to grip the country following a devastating hurricane. In Somalia, lengthening and intensifying droughts make accessing water increasingly challenging. When the seas encroach on Baltimore, the United States will have the resources to adapt in a way that the people of Chittagong, Bangladesh will not. Most of the world will continue to face the brunt of what the wealthy world has foisted upon them.

Caitlin Howard