Communication Studies

Second Major

Public Relations


Swift, Judith

Advisor Department

Communication Studies




Climate Change; Timeline; Current Events; History; Distraction; Media


Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision with Earth. That is the equivalent of what we face now with climate change, yet we dither. ~James Hansen

Climate change is not a new concept; scientists have been studying it since the early 19th century. In 1824, French physicist Joseph Fourier described the earth’s natural greenhouse effect; however, no one could predict the importance of this early discovery. Nearly 40 years later John Tyndall proved that water vapor and other gases created the greenhouse effect. Just 35 years later, Svante Arrhenius published the theory that burning fossil fuels added carbon dioxide to the atmosphere; thus, humanity would raise the planet’s average temperature.

In 1934, measurements showed that the U.S. and North Atlantic Region had warmed significantly during the previous half of the century. This announcement was disregarded for immediate concerns such as the Great Depression and the flu epidemic. It was ignored by the scientific community, the media, and the general public. No one understood the looming threat on the horizon, and thus began the pattern of pushing aside climate change for the sake of economic development. As time progressed, the cycle repeated, and climate change announcements have been dominated by the economy, wars, and epidemics in an ever-expanding mainstream news cycle. The advent of social media added an even greater barrage of distraction.

Throughout the course of my research I looked historically at how the development of technology has gone hand-in-hand with the quality of life for Americans, but inversely impacted the climate. There is a lack of focus on the climate and environment, and an unmatched focus on large scale global events, pop culture, and revved-up 24/7 news reporting. There have been progressive policies, committees and conferences that have brought about positive change such as the Montreal and Kyoto Protocols, the Paris Agreement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the UN Climate Summit. Globally, climate scientists have been collaborating to educate the public on the detrimental effect our species is having on the environment.

We are heading towards a global temperature increase of 1.5° Celsius, and potentially 2° and even 3° Celsius. The agriculture industry will suffer as the growing season for crops continues to lengthen, sea-level will continue to rise, coastal ecosystems and entire communities will be destroyed while natural disasters increase in intensity and frequency worldwide.

Climate change is part of our history, it is impacting our present, and our denial of it stands to destroy our future. As current political, economic and cultural events continue to dominate the news cycle, it seems as though there is little room left for climate change; the tragedy on the horizon. It is critical for America to commit to another of the great epochs of human intervention and innovation to address climate change. It is time to put aside the ultimately petty distractions and invest in a positive realignment of our resourceful ingenuity and intellectual capacity for the wellbeing of future generations.