By: Joel Rumson

We all hear the topic of climate change being brought up. Many people may watch documentaries, a few may read articles, but what about those who peacock around, proudly denying climate change as if it is nothing but a foolish fairy tale? The Brunswickan reached out to professor Gary L Bowden to see what he had to say about these birds. 

Bowden, a professor here at UNB-Fredericton, studies a number of subjects. They include environmental sociology, sociology of science and technology, sociology of media and communications, visual sociology, social movements and social change, sociology of disaster, complex adaptive systems theory, and Chicago school sociology. That’s a lot — but now we know he knows his stuff.

But what about the rest of us? What do we know and understand? 

In today’s society, we lack the understanding of where things come from. Historically, if you go back a couple hundred years, what did everybody do? They farmed. People knew their land and they knew it well, holding a much more spiritual connection to the land that they possessed. The more they knew, the more produce the crop would yield. Humans of that age were producers and did not get to choose whether to care or not. If one did not know their land, they would succumb to the strength of the natural world. In contrast with the new world of technology, we do not know where things come from, we do not know our land, we are for the most part simply consumers. Our understanding of  the natural world in many cases now comes more from media, or from secondary educational sources, than it does from actual experience.

It is hard sometimes to find a reason to go outside and find inspiration when you are comfortable sitting inside. Before being inspired, one may have to establish themself in the associated activity/subject by asking, “why am I doing this?” 

I asked Bowden where his passion for research and the environment stems from.

“I think the practical answer is trying to get them to have a personally meaningful experience that connects them to the environment. For example, go for a hike, go out, and, you know, rather than just making it a sort of a reading/conversation, instead of sitting in a room and talking about something… try and get some sort of countable thing that people can connect to experientially,” he replied. 

If one could develop a connection with the environment, they may be more likely to accept ideas of change.

The big thing that people don’t wrap their heads around, is not that they don’t understand climate change, but they don’t understand the implications of it being a global problem. It isnt to bash the individual actor, but in sociological terms, it’s a collective action thing. You’ve got to get everybody to act on things that one can’t do individually. 

A lot of it is also at the level of an individual actor. Actions an individual person can perform can be a good start to the realization that you can get a larger reach. What can you do? You have to choose which places where the possibility of pressure is easily applied. 

When asked what one person can do to enforce and popularize environmentalistic practices,

Bowens said: 

“What can you do? You have to choose which places where you’ve got some sort of ability to apply pressure.”

There’s really two levels, Bowens says. There’s a sort of a general citizen — things you can do on your own. And then there are things that allow one to influence a larger sort of structure. The structure around here that you can influence is the university.  

“What are their policies? Not just in terms of, you know, standard stuff, recycling and stuff like that. But, you do know, universities have big, BIG piles of money. They’re connected with pension funds and huge investments. Get them to [flow] your way; direct that money and claim it in all appropriate ways that you can. Then, one will see things start to affect other kinds of structures such as on a governmental level that has economic incentives. Incentives that lead those other sorts of actors to start to reorder,” he said.  It is easy to form a club or society and implement policies around campus that require students to recycle their beer cans after a weekend party. It is harder to get the university to stop doing business with big oil companies who contribute more to climate change in a year than a decade’s worth of un-recycled beer cans.

“There are many different shades of climate denial: some who believe, some who do but don’t think it will affect them therefore don’t care, those that believe it is happening but don’t believe it is because of humans, and those that straight up do not believe. And with these different shades comes different personal development which leads to the formation of their belief. Each individual has their own experiences that when compared to current situations are used to form value and ethics. Due to this, it is extremely difficult to understand how to truly educate and help another to understand the importance of environmental consciousness. 

“Think, if you were to poll the public and ask them ‘what is your biggest concern in life?’ it is likely the answer will include economic despair, inflation, unemployment, but almost never the environment. Why? Because no one wants to change.”

I asked Bowers why people don’t believe in climate change. Why don’t people want to change? Is it generationally learned or systematically?   

“Everybody would be susceptible to the idea of change, but what you find is that it’s particular pockets. Especially the really serious die-hard ones who believe so strongly against the cause. 

They can be disproportionately male, disproportionately white, disproportionately evangelical Christian, disproportionately wealthy. These groups cluster and as being a particular sort of demographic type they feed each other what they want to hear. 

There are people in general that have been treated pretty well by society. If they are the group that’s on top, they’re the people that are the dominant element of society. What they’re looking at is, ‘what are these climate change people concerned about?’ Well, they want big changes. In which they will say, ‘well, we’re really happy with how it is right now,’” he said. 

“So how do you educate those who are susceptible to change when they are perfectly happy where they are, without convincing them and debating?” Bowens asked. “I believe that is back to where we began.”

This is the perfect representation of environmental questions — there is no one right answer. There is no instruction, nor method in which one can convince the other that their view is better when the other has no intention to entertain opposing ideologies.

Cherish your environment. Love it, share it — even if it’s just a cool tree, or a song, or a building you pass every day — those are parts of your environment, too. But be protective of the earth. Entertain new thoughts without accepting that the end is inevitable, and finally, be ready for change.