The public’s rejection of global warming is even more dangerous for working class and poor people. It’s well-understood that poorer people bear the brunt of environmental destruction, since they can’t afford to move out of polluted areas that are linked to health issues like asthma and cancer. There’s no reason to think that global warming won’t create similar problems, with wealthier people abandoning areas that are now flood plains. As summers get hotter, air conditioning is going to become all the more necessary, but soaring fuel prices will start putting it out of reach for ordinary people, even as the annual death toll from heat stroke continues to climb.
But because the media portrays climate change as “controversial”—strictly because of conservative distrust of science—most Americans are oblivious to the severity of the problem. Campaigns barely touch it, and lower-income people have even more obstacles when it comes to demanding action on this issue, because they’re usually too busy worrying about immediate economic concerns. Better science education and more trust in science could help the raise the issue higher on the priority list for all voters, but especially those who will be most affected. As it is now, it’s nearly impossible to get the conversation started.
Science and science education feel like they’re academic issues that, while interesting and important, aren’t top-tier progressive issues like economic justice or healthcare access. But without strong social support for science, these goals will be much harder to reach, and in some cases, impossible. The high levels of scientific illiteracy in the U.S. should be as upsetting to liberals as high levels of reading illiteracy would be, and should be addressed just as seriously.