The evidence is everywhere.

There was, of course, the Northwest’s 2021 heat dome, which brought deadly scorching temperatures to our region. Last week, 100 million people across the U.S. were under heat warnings or advisories and parts of Europe experienced what was described as a “heat apocalypse” — the hottest temperatures on record. Later this week, the Seattle area is expected to see its second heat wave in about a month. And those are only the heat impacts. 

You would think people would see all these signs and realize we need to get real about climate change.

But instead, there’s a collective shrug. 

I was honestly shocked — though maybe I shouldn’t have been — last week to learn from the WA Poll that only 6% of state voters viewed climate change as a top issue. Even more surprising, people under 50 and people over 50 ranked the issue almost exactly the same in terms of importance.

Even as low as that number is, it’s still higher than a New York Times/Siena poll that found only 1% of voters nationally believed climate change was the most important issue. 

If people don’t care even in Washington — where our governor ran for president as the climate change candidate — our fate seems sealed.

I wanted to better understand the reasons for such apathy and what we could do about it. 

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In the book “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change,” author George Marshall shares his theories on why humans are primed for apathy. He argues that qualities about climate change “play poorly” to how humans have evolved to understand threats. 

Climate change, he writes, is “complex, unfamiliar, slow moving, invisible, and intergenerational. Of all the possible combinations of loss and gain, climate change contains the most challenging: requiring certain short-term loss in order to mitigate against an uncertain longer-term loss.”

Marshall writes that unlike the typical heroes-versus-villains narratives we are used to seeing, climate change has no neat and tidy enemies to collectively focus on. 

Likewise, there is no one single reason why people ignore climate change. “Rather, there is a set of interrelated negotiations between our personal self-interest and our social identity, in which we actively participate to shape climate change in ways that enable us to avoid it,” he writes.

That all sounds grim. But Marshall says humans are also “wired to take action.”

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Humans can adapt and take action on anything, when motivated, and the “existential threat” of climate change can be a strong motivator — if channeled into a shared belief in the value of collective effort.

Marshall offers a host of what he calls “Personal and Highly Biased” strategies for how to foster those shared beliefs to create action, such as making the consequences of climate change real for people, where they live, and being honest about the dangers, while at the same time encouraging positive visions and building narratives around cooperation.

It was those last two that reminded me of another strategy I have been seeing more and more, the concept of “climate optimism.” The whole idea of a “positive vibes only” approach to tackling climate change, quite honestly, makes my jaded journalist skin crawl. But another of Marshall’s suggestions is to “accept the spectrum of approaches,” in trying to tackle this problem, not just what resonates with me or you. 

The climate optimism approach focuses on highlighting positive information and individual actions, under the guiding philosophy that “terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” according to The New York Times.

Climate optimists appeal to younger generations of people who are seeing the  messages on TikTok and other social media platforms. A hashtag of like-minded creators on TikTok called #ecotok has racked up 200 million views, the NYT reported.

While it would not be how I would personally approach raising awareness of climate change (as many readers have told me I prefer doom and gloom), if it works for younger generations, it probably can’t hurt. 

Clearly we will need much more than individuals picking up trash on neighborhood beaches to change the trajectory of our current crisis. Pressure on corporations, governments and elected officials as well as change from individuals in countries contributing most to the problem are all needed.

But that pressure will only come if more people believe this problem is urgent — and solvable.