People don't relate to future threats from climate change but seeing images of people dying now from air pollution drives them to act, says former governor of California
Green campaigners should stop talking about the risks from climate change in 2050 and talk about "right now", the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has said.
"It drives me crazy when people talk about 30 years from now, rising sea levels and so on," he told the Guardian in an interview at the Paris COP21 climate conference. "What about right now? Thousands of people are dying from pollution. People are living with cancer [because of air pollution]."
He said campaigners should focus on the immediate effects of polluting the environment, because that resonates with the public in a way that distant visions of future harms do not. Most people find it hard to imagine the world in 2050 or 2100, the dates that are being discussed at the Paris conference for a "long-term goal" on climate action, he said.
"There are people stuck in cancer wards now, tubes sticking out of them - 7 million people die a year because of pollution," he said. "We should be talking about that."
"Stuff that happens in the future does not mean anything to people," he said.
He cited an advertising campaign in California that showed small children sucking air through an inhaler, because of the damage done to their respiratory systems by breathing polluted air. "People saw this commercial, what we are doing to our kids, and thought ‘we have to protect our environment'."
Polls found that the ads were effective in persuading people of the need for new regulations, he said. "All of a sudden, the poll numbers changed."
"My job is to get the message out there," he added. "If you do not have people behind you, you can't do anything [on legislation]. Global warming is an extremely important issue, the most important issue. You have to communicate it properly. You have to communicate to people that this is right now."
At the Paris climate change conference, entering its second and final week, governments are hoping to forge a new global agreement on limiting emissions that would kick in from 2020, when current commitments run out. A new draft text of an agreement was published on Saturday, and is now under scrutiny by the 195 governments gathered in France.
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and internationally known as a star in films such as Terminator, was a strong proponent of action on air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, while in office. His successor, the Democrat Jerry Brown, joined him in Paris in calling for action on emissions. "The Paris conference is the biggest leap forward in dealing with climate change. France has been instrumental in advancing this agenda," he told the Guardian.
Schwarzenegger said such joint efforts from both sides of the US political divide were essential to making progress on environmental problems. "I never paid much attention to [political] parties," he said. "This is a people's issue, not a party issue."
He said that "sub-national" authorities, such as state governors and assemblies in the US, and regional and city governments, could play an important role in bringing down greenhouse gas emissions, by taking their own initiatives independently of national governments.
"It is good that this is now being recognised," he said. "It's about [emphasising] efficiency, and alternatives [to fossil fuels]."
California under successive administrations has brought forward a series of measures on air pollution and greenhouse gases, including a pioneering regional cap-and-trade system for carbon. Republicans in the Senate recently opposed Barack Obama's "historic" Clean Power Plan to cut nationwide emissions from power plants, and Republican states have filed lawsuits against the regulations.
In Paris, a group of Republican politicians from the US has been seeking meetings with the chief officials of leading developed and developing nations. They broadly oppose an international deal on climate change, while the Obama administration has pushed strongly for an ambitious deal in Paris.
A group of 10 Democratic senators also attended the talks at the weekend, pledging to help President Obama attain his environmental goals.
This article first appeared at the Guardian
BusinessGreen is part of the Guardian Environment Network