What if we talked about climate change as much as we talked about Donald Trump?
My anxious fingers skim over my Indigo re-gifted tropical coloured keyboard cover as I type into the Google search bar the infamous name: “Donald Trump”. Instantly, I am flooded with a whopping 397 million results. News stories, tweets, and pictures. Looking to prove my point, but unsure if I can, I now type “climate change” into the search bar.
Bingo: 140 million results.
Climate change came to the public’s attention in 1980 and throughout time has maintained a modest hold on the public's interest. According to Google Trends, climate change has hardly made a dent. Donald Trump, on the other hand, ebbed and flowed with the underdog of all earth shattering crises until June 2015, when he announced his presidential candidacy. All hope of climate change taking centre stage was put on hold for a rollercoaster built on equal parts horror and entertainment.
Why is this happening? Why does climate change fail to impress? Why, in the face of its growing urgency does it still usher in only one-third of the news stories of this unlikely political icon.
It boils down to what we as a society feel comfortable talking about. Donald Trump is common ground. Climate change, though, is something more difficult to wrap our minds and tongues around.
It’s no fun to talk about climate change. It’s downright depressing. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is fun to talk about. It’s a topic that gauges the interest of everyone. A business tycoon thrust into reality TV, and then eventually the real world. A train wreck with a tan. A scary story that still offers a crowd pleasing thrill. Even just moving your mouth to the “D-sound” position is practically enough to thrust complete strangers into instant gabbing companions. Mr. Trump is something we can all get angry at and feel comfortable in sharing that mutual irritation. However, “So…how about climate change?” is not an acceptable conversation starter. If we're not ready to talk about climate change, we might as well talk about why that is.
Some people, including the big T himself, aren’t convinced that climate change is real. A controversial topic is difficult to unearth; but by leaving it buried, we put ourselves at a risk greater than a potentially offensive conversation could ever create.
Trump is the right amount of horrifying combined with the right amount of entertainment. Climate change, on the other hand, is just horrifying. There’s nothing fun about it: coral reef bleaching, sea level rises, and mass extinctions are just the tip of the iceberg, and that metaphor is literally melting. Because of the dismal and dire facts surrounding this crisis, striking up a conversation is burdensome instead of engaging. Donald Trump seems to be a relatively simple problem that has a beginning and -- eventually -- an end. Climate change stretches and weaves the roots of it’s problem in every direction of our existence, making it a lot less accessible and much less prone to dissection in two hour CNN “debates.”
Additionally, climate change is a subtle -- yet catastrophic -- shift. How can you notice a change that makes up the very background of our being? At one time, when most humans gathered food directly from the land, we would pay more attention to the warning signs from our climate. Today, most of us gather our food from grocery aisles and take shelter in air conditioned homes. We spend more time in public pools than creeks and streams. We’re more likely to gaze at stars in blockbuster films than those that light the night sky. We have a very difficult time noticing great changes around us. Rather, we’re blinded by the flashy figures in front of us.
Even if we do pay greater attention to the natural world, discussing this leads to further discomfort. That’s a responsibility we’d all rather live without.
Donald Trump stands strong and proud as the king and creator of his own issues; however, climate change is not accountable to one person in particular, but rather the blame is on all of us. As anyone who was forced to write a disgruntled apology letter as a child will recall, talking about your own mistakes is no fun. It’s a lot easier to push any mistakes we carry as individuals or a society, including climate change, off to the side. It’s immensely more preferable to forget about what a mess we’re making and talk about the mess he’s making instead. A problem beyond our control. An issue we cannot clean up, and as a result can watch merrily as the chaos continues. A mess of our own is a burden, the mess of another is amusement. See also: “Hoarding”; “Buried Alive”.
The entertainment value of Donald Trump is no match for the burdensome climate change in the arena of discussion. But if we allow this round to continue for too long, it will be us humans that are K.O'd. This goes beyond Donald Trump, and reaches into other stories that captivate modern-day media as well. Topics from Kanye West to the Kardashians clog ‘trending topics’ filters, preventing meaningful stories from making it to the screens of many people. And even when a chance comes around for climate change to take centre stage, it is woefully neglected. Several articles have titles that dabble in the land of climate urgency, such as:
- "It's Official: January 2016 was warmest on record” (The Weather Network)
- "How Many Temperature Records Will Toronto Break Today?” (CityNews)
- "2016 Is (Predictably) Set To Be The Hottest Year On Record" (The Verge)
Yet, many of them, including all those listed above fail to mention the words "climate change" once.
To solve a problem, we must talk about it. If there was no title for HIV, malaria, cancer, we wouldn't be fighting so urgently for cures. If the documentary “Supersize Me” had never been made, there would be no thought to chomping on a Big Mac. If there was never any discussion about whether women should have equal rights as men, Hillary Clinton would not be running against the man we're hearing so much about. Conversation is the oxygen to the flame of any movement. Without conversation, there can be no acknowledgment of dissatisfaction, and without dissatisfaction there can be no real change.
No one wants to talk about climate change. But we must. For the sake of change, we must.
If we spoke about climate change as avidly as we uttered the name “Trump”, there is no doubt in my mind that this momentum would trigger crucial movements in the direction most urgently needed.
While Trump is no doubt scary, sea level rise, ecosystem collapse and widespread famine is scarier. Society deserves conversation, but future generations deserve survival. We must determine our priorities, then stop and drop whatever Trump story we are reading, and say the words:
“So, did you hear the latest thing that climate change did?”