Why Single-Degree Climate Changes Matter

January 4, 2013

Those who think single-degree climate changes on Earth don’t matter should think again. Above, Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, offers a striking analogy, making the case in less than three minutes.

Leiserowitz, who specializes in the psychology of risk perception, knows better than anyone if people are willing to change their behavior to make a difference. In this clip, Bill and Leiserowitz discuss the intersection of climate change and American cultural attitudes.

“[A] pervasive sense up to now has been that climate change is distant — distant in time, and distant in space,” Leiserowitz tells Bill. “And what we’re now beginning to see is that it’s not so distant. I have a nine-year-old son — he’s going to be my age in the year 2050. I don’t want him to live in the world that we’re currently hurtling towards.”

Watch the full conversation between Bill Moyers and Anthony Leiserowitz.

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  • ThePatriot

    Why can’t we get this kind of intelligence from the daily, everyday, privileged with the First Amendment media??

  • M.E.

    Hi Bill…. what exactly is the debt ceiling and who actually raises it and for what purpose ?

  • William Zaffer

    Money just gets in the way of the status quo and using media to confuse people

  • http://twitter.com/LaViedeMere Mimi

    This is not on climate change but another worry. While sitting at a red light in torrential rain, watching the vast amount of water going into storm drains, which flows to the river, into the ocean, wondering this water that should be absorbed into the earth, instead it is running into storm drains instead of the being absorbed by earth. The impact? The same water that dinosaurs drank, not new water but same that we drink today.

  • Anonymous

    Leiserowitz uses a good analogy. A single-digit (1 to 9) degree change in body temperature can kill us.

    Likewise, but seven-billion times worse, a single-digit degree change in the Earth’s temperature will kill most, if not all of us. Do we want that to be our sealed fate?

    It’s time for President Obama to explain all this in a “State of the Climate” speech devoted to the topic, on prime-time TV. (Our climate is bigger than our union!)

    See & like http://www.facebook.com/climateaddress.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janice.gintzler Janice Gintzler

    The news does not carry it. The Internet does not cover it: we are heading toward 6 degrees celsius; it is already too late.

  • pman2000

    We are not the problem–or at least less of the problem. We are heading in the right direction for carbon emissions -7% but it is pointless without China +13.3%, Russia +7.4%and India +8.7% on board.

  • Anonymous

    This sickening Reefer Madness of Climate
    Blame “crisis” has made fear mongering end of the world freaks out of all of us for the history books. “I see the signs. The change is all around us.” Get up to date people because “former climate change believers” are better planet lovers.

    *Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets ruled by corporations and trustworthy politicians

    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

    *Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses.

    *In all of the debates Obama hadn’t planned to mention
    climate change once.

  • Patrick Simone

    You asked viewers to write in and say what might help the ordinary person discuss climate change in a way that would be factual and convincing. Here is what I would like to ask:

    give information to back up claim that the vast majority of scientists
    agree that the climate is changing and that it is man caused. It is
    difficult to claim that there is agreement without some data and names.
    Thank you

  • Leslie Graham

    Someone has taken thetrouble to check every peer-reviewed science paper published in the last 20 years.
    13,950 of them!!!!
    Out of that 13,950 only 24 question that humans are causing climate change.


  • Leslie Graham

    “mememine” is a prolific climate change troll who spams this same piece of irrelevant nonsense to hundreds of climate change threads all over the web.
    He uses about 6 or 7 different sock puppet identities to do so.
    He is a ‘drive-by’ poster who almost never responds to the hundreds of posts that have comprehensively shredded his parrotted denier-blog rubbish.
    Please let everyone know whenever you see him and report him as spam wherever possible.

  • WaltB

    In all my years (60) of advocating for environmental conservation, never once have I seen or heard anyone mention the huge detrimental impact caused by the military establishment. The US spends most of its income on the war machine which aside from being a total waste of resources, causes more damage per minute than millions of everyday civilians.

  • Thinkabout-it

    another way to look at it is to ask what does a 1 degree rise in average global temp = in total energy? And then compare that to multiples of total energy of more familiar energy release. Start with the total energy to boil a kettle of water which is negligible if spread out into the entire atmosphere. then move up to larger amounts of energy. The total energy to heat a home is much greater… and obviously a large office building (where lighting is a major energy contributor) the total energy is much larger still. … hold the idea of that in your head and then compare it to the total energy that makes a city have a heat “bubble” or “island” warmer than the surrounding area… that is a colossal step up in total energy… now compare the total heat energy from a Hiroshima sized nuclear explosion… then compare that to the biggest nuke ever exploded.. then compare that to the total energy equivalent to increasing the earth’s average atmospheric temperature by one degree… that amount of energy is equal to many many many nukes… so one degree globally is a staggering amount of total energy to inject into the atmosphere… and 2 degrees let alone 4 or 6 degrees is stupendous… and these increases can’t help but change the global climate catastrophically from our perspective…. the additional heat in the increased averages is enormous and common sense tells you that increases of this order will have unforeseen destructive implications.

  • sheilaclicks

    Bad analogy. Turtles’ body temps range from 8-37.8 with a mean of 28. I think Earth is more resilient than a turtle.

  • Anonymous

    Analogies leave too much room for deniers to obfuscate. It’s not a bad analogy, but just look at the stupid turtle reference below. We have to build the consensus among those that are reachable and then move on VERY quickly and decisively.

    I don’t give a damn about deniers or the fringe that no mountain of evidence would persuade. I do give a damn about my kids.

  • Rico Santos

    Mr. Leiserowitz used a spot-on analogy of body temperature. In our world, it is not just a change of degrees but the interaction of winds, water, trees, insects, soil, snow, rain and so on which will create a world very unpleasant to live in, to breathe, to move. Water will be so important and we do take it for granted not realizing that all the water there is, is all the water there is. Desalination is a process but it must be in place now. Wind, water and solar power should be energy sources. And I do accept that it will be hotter (and I live in Virginia Beach and have experienced 95 and 102 degree summers), not just wetter but with rain, storms, tornadoes, hurricanes more destructive than wanted. Here is my take: we have heard the talk about ‘what will we leave our children and what will they think of us for doing nothing’. Well, I am that child, too, and we have not done well for our amazing planet and I do place myself within the circle of all life and feel connected to all flora and fauna. It makes me happier than any genealogical chart. Raise your voice, for if we do not perish individually, we shall surely perish together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug-Brockman/1517622596 Doug Brockman

    Hey Bill. I hear it’s the coldest winter every in China. Guess all those COAL powered electric plants haven’t nudged the temps up enough for them-minus 40 degrees in Manchuria.
    What we probably need is another huge federal bureaucracy to tie the climate down with strings and paralyze it, ala Gulliver. That would really be moving “forward.”

  • Wade

    Daily temperature swings are typically
    30 degrees F everyday on average – 65 in the morning 95 in the
    afternoon. Many plants and animals depend on the daily changes to
    accomplish metabolic functions. Likewise the yearly high and low
    difference is closer to 100 degrees for temperate areas and 150 at
    the edges of the arctic circle. If you were to look at the globe
    temperature changes for the last million years the swing would be
    even greater. Sea levels have risen 350 ft over the last 10,000 years
    as the earth has warmed out of the last ice age. Life adapts and
    changes to these changes a spurs growth, change and evolution. So I
    don’t think the analogy is meaningful or useful perhaps it is
    dishonest and tends to insights fear.

  • Ronald Syme

    When our temps were down a few degrees, ice built up a mile thick right here just ten thousand years ago.

  • Paul

    Thanks for clarifying. I can sleep soundly now that the risk of irreparably harming mankind’s only habitable place in the universe has been discounted by a halfwitted analogy without any evidence whatsoever that likens a global ecosystem to a turtle.

  • David Pridgen

    Really, That person must have been very selective when selecting peer reviewed papers, Here is a list of more than 1100 peer reviewed papers that dispute AGW. http://www.populartechnology.net/2009/10/peer-reviewed-papers-supporting.html

  • David Pridgen

    You didn’t take chemistry in High School did you. Water is a chemical compound consisting of two Hydrogen atoms and 1 Oxygen atom. It can be created or destroyed by simple chemical processes which occur continuously in nature. Water is not a finite resource that we are in any danger of running out of. It can be scarce in places because we mostly rely on the environment to transport it to where we would like it to be, but it is not something we are in any danger of running out of ever. The earth has about 326 million trillion gallons of water 98% of which is in the oceans.

  • http://twitter.com/MoyersStaff Moyers & Company

    Dear Mr. Simone:

    Thanks so much for your question. The statement that the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that man is at fault comes from several studies.

    A recent report in Mother Jones reports that 0.17 percent of all peer-reviewed climate articles published between 1991 and 2012 reject global warming. Here’s what they wrote:

    “The chart comes from James Lawrence Powell, a geologist, science-writer, and former professor, via DeSmogBlog. Powell reviewed 13,950 peer-reviewed scientific articles published between January 1991 and November 9, 2012 that mentioned “global warming” or “global climate change.” The grand total of articles that questioned global warming or whether rising emissions are the cause: 24. That’s 0.17 percent of all the literature on the topic.” See graphic »

    Another study conducted in 2010 by a doctoral candidate at Stanford University was cited in a report by The New York Times:

    “Now comes another entry in this developing literature. William R.L. Anderegg, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, and his fellow authors compiled a database of 1,372 climate researchers. They then focused on scientists who had published at least 20 papers on climate, as a way to concentrate on those most active in the field. That produced a list of 908 researchers whose work was subjected to close scrutiny.

    The authors then classified those researchers as convinced or unconvinced by the evidence for human-induced climate change, based on such factors as whether they have signed public statements endorsing or dissenting from the big United Nations reports raising alarm about the issue. Then the authors analyzed how often each scientist had been published in the climate-science literature, as well as how often each had been cited in other papers. (The latter is a standard measure of scientific credibility and influence.)

    The results are pretty conclusive. The new research supports the idea that the vast majority of the world’s active climate scientists accept the evidence for global warming as well as the case that human activities are the principal cause of it.

    For example, of the top 50 climate researchers identified by the study (as ranked by the number of papers they had published), only 2 percent fell into the camp of climate dissenters. Of the top 200 researchers, only 2.5 percent fell into the dissenter camp. That is consistent with past work, including opinion polls, suggesting that 97 to 98 percent of working climate scientists accept the evidence for human-induced climate change.

    The study demonstrates that most of the scientists who have been publicly identified as climate skeptics are not actively publishing in the field. And the handful who are tend to have a slim track record, with about half as many papers published as the scientists who accept the mainstream view. The skeptics are also less influential, as judged by how often their scientific papers are cited in the work of other climate scientists.”

    I hope that these links help you in your request for more information. Please let us know if you’d like to know more.

  • BetsyR

    I was pleased to learn the breakdown of the population vis a vis climate change. It was heartening to know that 16% were “alarmed” and that another 27% were concerned. That means 45% get it and if we can move the “concerned” into the “alarmed” column and get them vocal, we’d have some serious political pressure. That seems doable. Also, population must be part of the message. It doesn’t matter how much I reduce my carbon footprint if so many new carbon footprints are added each day. Also, of course 40% of the world have no concept of global warming; close to that number have no access to media.

  • http://twitter.com/MarkTulayESG Mark Tulay

    We are now living the story of the boiling frog. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, the frog will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. We are slowly bringing our planet to a boil and the issue has been framed poorly first as global warming (isn’t is nice to be warm?) and now as climate change (change to what?). Rather we would be better served to frame this issue as ‘carbon pollution’. Pollution is defined as ‘the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change” which is exactly what is happening now. Also, by the way – in real life the frog does not stay in the boiling water – it jumps out when the water gets too hot. Whether we can turn the temperature down and stop the slow boil will be the defining issue of the 21st century.

  • Justin Black

    Climategate has been totally ignored. Falsified data to suit a warming conclusion…. the ends ‘justify’ the means

  • http://www.facebook.com/monali.khandagle Monali Khandagle

    Nature will wreak the havoc she wants, life will go on. On planet Earth with or without humans, life in its multitude of forms will exist in some form. The Earth has gone through many cycles, of which we humans form a miniscule part. So we have the luxury to ignore climate change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monali.khandagle Monali Khandagle

    India and China are only following America’s leadership in pulling their people out of the ‘third world’ status at the behest of ‘first’ world USA and its corporations.
    Don’t blame them. Correct the disastrous path you have set the world upon. The so called developed nations have been the leaders in pollution, now take the leadership role in promoting technologies to stop global warming.

  • Barb F

    Climate Change refers to average GLOBAL temperature averages over long periods ot time. The temperature in one specific location during one winter is a comment about weather, not climate.

  • Barb F

    You might want to consider the position of the National Academies of Science, found at their web-site. Also the 2005 joint statement of many national academies of science on climate change at: http://www.vbschools.com/GreenSchools/pdfs/JointScienceAcademies.pdf
    Finally the site below lists several surveys that indicate that the vast majority of those who study climate agree that it is happening and mostly human caused:

  • Barb F

    So the fact that politicians and Occupy don’t mention climate change means that you think it doesn’t exist? Not such a strong argument. Personally, I’d rather base my judgement on actual scientific observation and study.

  • Debbie Bernheim

    What a wonderful show. Anthony Leiserowitz is a brilliant scientist that is also able to be logical and down to earh.

  • Poetree Man

    Once again, Bill Moyers asks to think, something made increasingly more difficult as we surf the net for the lowest price of living on earth while acquiring more gadgetry. Moyers and Leiserowitz are prophets and clearly have an agenda: the triumph of wisdom over stupidity!
    Bravo, Mr Moyers

  • John Light

    Hello M.E.

    Thanks so much for your question. The debt ceiling is a cap, placed by Congress, on how much the federal government can spend. The Guardian has a good collection of information about the history of the debt ceiling here:


    I hope this answers your question! Please let us know if you need more information.


    John @ Moyers

  • Gunther

    It’s not just one degree – it’s one degree CELSIUS – that’s 17 degrees Fahrenheit. One degree is nothing – 17 degrees turns my head. The American public needs to hear the temperature change in a scale they can relate to, if we want to get cooperation in fixing this problem.

  • David

    Mr Leiserowitz makes a compelling case. No mention was made of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”. I believe Mr. Gore’s film set the cause back several years – because it was a thinly veiled money maker for Mr Gore, followed by the outlandish award of the Nobel Prize.

  • Crystal

    my friend says we’ve had ice ages before, weather related disasters over the ages and let’s hope the bad weather disasters this past year will not be in the future.

  • MugsysRapSheet

    When people ask me if “one degree” is a big deal, I tell them to “Ask an ice cube. Ask an ice cube what the difference is between 32′ and 33′.”

  • anwaya

    That’s BAD MATH, Gunther. 1 C = 1.8 F.

  • Judygranny

    So the US has a only a little over one half the pollution of China? Well we have only one fourth the number of people! By my math, that means we pollute over twice as much per capita.

  • Anonymous

    “It’s not just future generations. It’s us.” Does that make a difference? I first fell into despair when I understood that our generation (and a couple before us) are destroying the climate for all life to follow by burning up the stored carbon energy of the Earth, which took hundreds of millions of years to become oil. Consider the hubris. I suppose we really are just silly, ungrateful, hairless apes, in love with shiny things.

  • Eric Scoles

    …if we are interested in committing racial suicide, yes. But indulge us for a moment and suppose instead that we are not.

  • Eric Scoles

    No, ‘climategate’ has been DEBUNKED:
    There is a difference.

  • Eric Scoles

    The manner in which “life adapts” typically involves the death of billions of mammals.
    Mammals like us.

  • laserbabe

    keep thinking that, Mr. Ostrich.

  • laserbabe

    my concern is about the politicians who represent corporations, who all know very well that climate change is real, but are interested in their own near term greed and gain, but still need the votes of the idiocracy to get elected so they can plunder, so they deliberately encourage and pander to that ignorance. it is beyond cynical, and well into craven.

  • laserbabe

    or you could you that same computer that you are using to ask the question, to find that answer, already published on countless websites. google is your friend.

  • laserbabe

    but he wasn’t talking about reptiles, was he? he was talking about mammals. you know. like you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RPManke.solar RevPhil Manke

    You may consider; The potus is not our teacher. He is the CE, and not so effective of late.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RPManke.solar RevPhil Manke

    Natural systems keep water viable. Industrial culture systems, not so much.

  • MidlanderNC

    I like and enjoy Bill’s subjects and insights on our culture and society. I don’t always agree, but I am invigorated by the debate. I particularly enjoy the alternate views that go against the status quo and an unflappable ridged paradigm. …However, this one irritates me. I find the anamorphic analogy presented by this climatologist, to be patronizing and a form of “dumbing down”. It rings of mass hysteria for the masses, as it were. The earth is a dynamic system of rudimentarily understood elements and interactions. Life, has through a large portion of Earth’s history, influenced these systems. I don’t foresee this abating. We are not alien to the Earth. We are a product of Earth. Show me the facts and data. Data indicates we are in the Cenozoic Era of the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period, which started following the Cretaceous-Paleocene extinction event. Let that sink in a moment. I abhor the rape of global resources and the blundering profiteering that has and is poisoning of our world, in instances, leaving human suffering and environmental devastation in its wake. I believe we should minimize our impact on our environment and certainly abstain from behavior that is detrimental to our very existence. definitely we should mitigate instances where detriment is evident and we know mans’ actions were a cause or contributing factor. However, the earth is not static, nor should it be. If it were static, it would be an unprecedented threat to evolution of life on this good Earth. Rationality implies, we are, so far, the pinnacle of that evolution. Who is to say we will be the apex. Earth and its environment, universal, galactic, solar, atmospheric, and geologic, are dynamic and most assuredly will always change. According to his premise we are already doomed. I deny the validity of his assumption that a changing Earth environment is a sick environment and call to question his impetus for postulating such a ridiculous assumption. As overwhelming and resource intense as our problems are today, perhaps we should be looking for solutions to live through, with, and thrive under, the inevitable changes that will occur. Profiteers talk of developing another world banking system and taxes and tariffs that will never help the average human inhabiting this good Earth while war, famine, disease, disaster, calamity, and injustice seam to go unaddressed seams , almost criminal. Intuitively, I would assume such a bureaucratic oligarchy, would only lead to more degradation and suffering with no real benefit to Earth or humanity.

  • PTG

    both wrong. 1 degree celsius equals 33.8 degree fahrenheit…may be if we remain concerned to all carbon pollution added to the environment we may restore environment getting warm. that should be the fulcrum of discussion. Climate will take care automatically if resist on one single point…