Climate Change and Citizen Involvement

By Rob Sayre

At an October meeting in South Korea, the working group of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a revised report on the Paris Climate Agreement. It makes new forecasts, based upon new data assuming average world temperature rises 1.5 degrees C. compared to 2.0 degrees.

In my earlier article on this blog, “Climate Change: Rethinking the Debate,” I argued that only using one metric was insufficient and proposed others. This article considers the implications of the new IPCC proposals to help people understand them and offer some new thoughts and solutions. It is meant to complement Dr. J. Andrew Combs’ article last week on this site.

Probability vs. prediction

Conveying large and complex concepts and data that include probabilities can paralyze the general public. People confuse these with predictions like the weather forecasts they use everyday to plan their commutes to work and daily life. Probabilities with degrees of confidence do not mobilize people to act. Why is this?

Two cognitive biases come into play for both ardent believers in climate change and those who think it is a hoax.

The first is anchoring, the tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions (usually the first piece of information acquired on that subject). We tend to incorporate how we see an issue in its most simple explanation. This is as true for “deniers” as for “believers.” These labels by themselves say a lot about the veracity of this bias.

Those who doubt humankind’s role in climate change also show another bias: the ambiguity effect, the tendency to avoid options for which missing information makes the probability seem unknown. Very simply, complex probabilities that form the basis for assessing climate change seem fantastic and unrealistic for many.

Everyone is comfortable with predictions in weather, economics and elections to some degree. We accept that, within a margin of error, we are able to order our lives and make decisions. Probabilities, especially when they involve large sets of data, the climate, world GDP, exchange rates, and elections set for a time in the future, can be easily discounted.

Insurance companies in forefront of costing probability of climate change

Climate change may be gradual, but the effects are volatile, meaning a company could become exposed to a large, unexpected hit if it doesn’t understand the changing risks, says Junaid Seria, head of catastrophe-model research and development and governance at Paris-based reinsurer Scor SE (reinsurers are insurance companies who insure other insurance companies and act as a kind of hedge or backstop).

“We’re in the camp that believes you can have an increased potential for an outsized loss in a single year,” he says. “There’s a cost for inaction.” The graphic below illustrates how the insurance industry views the risk of floods with and without climate change. They are pricing in the probability that climate change is happening regardless of the exact impact of humanity upon it. Left alone, without any intervention from government, the cost of climate change will be calculated into their pricing.

How the U.S. military views climate change probability

The U.S. military, the Navy in particular, must be able to respond regardless of the effects of a higher sea and volatile climate. It is their mission to be able to respond and outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis is on record regarding his belief in the validity of climate change. In fact, the Pentagon has a $2 billion budget to safeguard its facilities against its effects. They view climate change as a valid scenario that must be planned for.

What do city planners and leaders think?

Cities around the world are already making significant changes to respond to rising sea levels and increased rainfall and runoff due to more paved surfaces and old infrastructure (click on these video links to learn more how New York CityTokyo and London are responding). These cities and Miami are already spending billions of dollars and planning on more to respond to rising sea levels and stronger storms. These are levelheaded engineers tasked with coming up with solutions for millions of citizens they are charged with serving. They already are planning to provide solutions for the effects of climate change. While there may not be unanimous agreement on how much of a role humankind and carbon emissions play, there seems to be no doubt the overall effects are real and they are preparing for it.

People are living in more dangerous areas

Probabilities do not help the average person make decisions that might make an impact on the climate and their own lives. Metrics brought down to their level can make a difference. Fires, brought on by drought, and flooding due to larger and slower moving hurricanes, seem to be the new norm.  The federal government may have to step in and induce people to live in safer areas, perhaps with incentives to move. The insurance industry will begin factoring in the costs of more severe storms.

The recent wildfires in California and the West highlight the impact of the Wildlife Urban Interface. Citizens are moving farther into “natural” areas to take advantage of the privacy, natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and affordable living. Developers are building neighborhoods to accommodate the influx. As a result, fire departments are fighting fires along the Wildland-Urban Interface, defined as areas where homes are built near or among lands prone to wildland fire. When governmental agencies allow zoning that places more and more developments within this interface, catastrophic fires are the result. The same is true along the East Coast, recently battered by hurricanes and flooding. These unfortunately may cause policymakers and the public to act.

Corn in Canada

Subtle changes in temperatures are already making corn a viable crop in Canada. “Temperatures around La Crete (Alberta) are 3.6 degrees F. warmer on average annually than in 1950, Canadian federal climate records show, and the growing season is nearly two weeks longer.”

We’re asking too much of scientists 

The world’s policymakers asked climate scientists to come up with proposals for limiting catastrophic global warming, but with a hitch: recommendations should not curtail economic growth or GDP. In seeking to accommodate these two, rather incompatible goals, scientists came up with new, lower goals and a comparison between the two goals (see graphic below).

(Click to open graphic in a new tab to be more readable; click again to enlarge further)

One metric is not enough

Worldwide temperatures are too broad a metric to use as a decision-making tool. This one metric is being used to guide nations worldwide to make significant policy decisions and monetary investments. The scope is too large and, while not inaccurate, it is less relevant and helpful in making decisions. Does anyone use the average temperature of their country to determine their current driving conditions? Of course not. We use more relevant and local predictive tools. And so should it be with climate change.

It is not merely the use of just one metric, nor that our policymakers are asking scientists to do the impossible, but we have not given people a broad religious or philosophical reason to act. Both Reverend and Mrs. Moon (Father and Mother Moon) have spoken to these issues, though they use the term “pollution”:

Mother Moon on the environment and ICUS:

“This planet is God’s. It belongs to God. Humankind must also belong to God. You have invented many things [speaking of scientists] in a variety of fields so that we can enjoy abundance in the twenty-first century. However, the by-products of these inventions endanger the lives of human beings and endanger the lives of all living things in the cosmos. If there is no future for the planet, there is no future for humankind.

“In many ways scientific civilization caused much pollution. This is the reason I am reviving ICUS [International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences]. We have to stop the threats that endanger human life and the survival of the planet. In that sense, I know that you love Heaven more than anyone else does and that you have worked with dedication in your areas of research. I am reviving ICUS because your efforts are greatly needed to create one human family centered on God, the kingdom of heaven on earth, so humankind, all 7.4 billion people, can enjoy healthy lives of freedom, unification and happiness.” (2017)

Father Moon on pollution

“The population problem is one of two very serious questions. The other is pollution. To me, the problem is how to see these questions in a new light. The worst aspect of pollution is in the air; exhaust fumes from cars, factories and such things. In the future, there will be a limit upon anything that produces exhaust, even cooking. Any kind of extra smoke or gas exhaust will not be tolerated.” (1983)

People need to participate

The debate has largely been about providing evidence and asking international policymakers to bring about large, leading changes. Average citizens are not asked to participate nor is any real way provided for them to understand how to do so. Perhaps the campaign to stop littering and to recycle, that began from efforts during World War II to save and recycle every kind of material, is a place to begin. This expanded into a non-war setting in the 1960s and has grown ever since. Entire industries have arisen around this effort and it is something every citizen and community embraces to one extent or another. We need something similar now, allowing the average person to understand and participate.

The unique contributions of interfaith organizations

The Civil Rights movement that also sprang up after World War II in the U.S. provides a useful way to think about citizen involvement. While prominent leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others provided the leadership, hundreds of thousands of churches played a role in organizing and funding activities on a local level. This kind of energy and vision is necessary and the Unification Movement could play a role in this. The Universal Peace Federation and the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP) are working on a global basis. And the American Clergy Leadership Conference and Women’s Federation for World Peace have unique memberships and perhaps perspectives.


Climate change is a very real and present danger and humankind’s increased use of carbon-based fuel and its emissions are a big factor in climate change. How much, I am not sure. But asking policymakers to enact big changes in policy based upon probabilities alone, which will likely have broad-ranging economic impacts and uncertainties, is more than they can do without broader support from the voting public.

We already are paying for mitigating the costs of climate change and will continue to do so via insurance, where the costs are passed on to all of us since so much of the U.S. population concentrates in coastal cities. The change from a fossil fuel-based economy to a sustainable one, while at the same time providing the poorest economies with the benefits of reliable electric power, could be as disruptive as has been to the retail business in the U.S. The role of UTS and the Unification Movement remains to be defined in this arena — but perhaps this is a unique moment in history to do so.♦

Rob Sayre met the Unification movement in 1973, was blessed in the 1982 Madison Square Garden Blessing of 2,075 couples, and has three children and five grandchildren. He helped start Paragon House Publishers as its first CFO and then worked at Rodale Press, publishers of Men’s Health and Prevention magazines, as business manager for its $260 million book publishing division. He and his wife, Sally West Sayre (UTS Class of 1981), are one of the founding couples of the Shehaqua Ministries in Pennsylvania, an independent ministry still thriving after 24 years.

17 thoughts on “Climate Change and Citizen Involvement

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  1. Rob,

    Thanks so much for this. So much could be said here, but I don’t want to write a book. Years ago in the late 80’s or early 90’s, I heard Father predict that there would be mass migrations in the not too distant future (I don’t have the quote to hand unfortunately). I remember wondering at the time what could possibly cause such large population shifts and my mind went to war, particularly nuclear war. However as the consequences of climate change become clearer there is another more likely cause of Father’s prediction.

    One of the key consequences of climate change is the shifting of ecosystems. The range of many species is shifting northward, or to higher elevations, and the timing of seasonal changes is altering. In England, for example, spring changes start a full three weeks earlier than they used to. This puts stress on living species and whole ecosystems. Another example is the spread of the California bark beetle leading to the death of millions of trees, which in turn contributed to the ferocity of the recent fires.

    For human beings this means that where we can reliably grow food will also change. A major problem for a still growing world population. How can we continue to feed everyone? You mention growing corn in Canada. Even the current rate of sea level rise poses serious problems for large areas of India where increasing salt levels will damage farmland. Drought and desertification pose another problem. Desertification was a component of the instability in Syria where farmers no longer able to support their families moved to the cities and increased unrest. How to deal with this type of scenario is what the U.S. military are considering, and is also a component of the migrant caravans trying to move from Central America.

    You mention the lack of a philosophical imperative for action. Well, this is what moves me. We do need to help the environment yes, but acting to mitigate the suffering of people is one of the fundamental reasons I joined Unificationism in the first place.

    1. Yes, David, our founder did mention mass migrations in the future and I also do not recall the specific speech. His main thesis was that, due to physical changes in the environment, where the tropics will get wetter and the seas will rise, coastal areas and islands will become less liveable. The northern continental areas will become somewhat warmer; thus, these massive migrations can relocate to northern continental areas such as Canada, Greenland and northern Asia (Mongolia).

  2. Philosophically, I am using the word stewardship to describe the third blessing. This, for me is the overarching idea, the three blessings being the core. As far as climate changes goes, I now use understanding instead of belief and the metrics I am promoting are planetary boundaries, not just CO2. The current narrative is not sufficient, in my opinion and that of others smarter than me. The insurance industry uses probabilities to assess their risks and helps them price their policies that allow them to have adequate assets to cover losses and earn a profit. They understand that climate change is a new and growing factor in their assessments.

    1. Rob,

      I like the word cooperation rather than stewardship. Stewardship, like the word dominion in the context of the Third Blessing, for me still implies an imposed control from subject to object. For me, this does not necessarily respect the needs of the object position, and that this attitude of control of nature, inherited from Christianity, is part of why we are in the environmental situation we find ourselves in now. I feel we need to cooperate with nature rather than seek to control it.

      I totally agree that we can’t just focus on one metric, but must consider all the planetary boundaries. Our planet does have physical limits that up to this point we have not had to consider, but now those limits are being stretched by the size of our population.

  3. Good article, Rob. Thanks. We live in a global village folks; for me that’s the take away here. We must transcend all the limiting concepts of religion, culture, politics, economics, etc., that divides the world and instead work together to solve the problems of climate change, poverty, illiteracy, etc., that plague our modern world. President Kennedy is remembered for his challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years. How great would it be for our President to call for an end to world hunger in 10 years. Where are our visionaries? There are unlimited horizons of possibilities, but, we will never progress to the global level, which is where our next stage lies, without strong leadership.

    1. There are lots of visionaries, but they look and act differently. Elon Musk is one with his electric cars and space travel. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, in closing five car plants, also announced they would be introducing 20 electric models in the next five years. The insurance industry article I referenced is a good indicator as well; they are beginning to factor in climate change into their pricing models.

      There was a piece of legislation passed in the previous budget fight that aided carbon capture and nuclear power. How electricity is produced is already in transition from oil and coal to natural gas. Bringing nuclear power into the equation again would help. I tend to think we need to invest in the power grid, as eventually and probably sooner than we think, most vehicles will run on LP or be electric. This will not rule out the long range (next 100 years) need for oil, not just for power generation, but for manufacturing and other purposes. Transitions are never easy, often disruptive, but they are coming and how we handle them, will largely determine our collective outcomes.

      I plan to continue to read, think and write. I am interested in exploring the idea of a balance sheet for energy production and a global balance sheet for planetary boundaries and more clear metrics for planetary boundaries that bring them down to a more local, actionable level.

      1. To some degree climate change is different than other global challenges, because we are looking to speculative evidence, not cold, hard facts. Observing the political opportunists, we see they have divided the public into deniers on the far right and alarmists on the far left. What we need are more pragmatists. Insurance companies are probably the most pragmatic of all; money doesn’t just talk, it dictates the discussion.

        1. George,

          You make a very important point. We can’t conflate poverty and climate change. Poverty has many causes that have nothing to do with climate change.

  4. The journey to the moon was a much more exiting project than dealing with world hunger or climate change. So waiting for strong leadership is a matter of losing precious time. We as a society of citizens have to act. This will renew and strenghten the democracatic idea. To my experience and estimation the vast majority will support changes and take up responsibilities step by step.

    1. Good point. Going to the moon is exciting. As much as we want to see a citizen movement to address climate change, it’s hard to get over the fact that we are limited by opportunity to make big leaps. For instance, average costs to outfit a home with solar panels is around $30K. Who can afford that, especially when payback is several years?

      1. Noted that the riots in France over higher gas prices were in part over the nation’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement. In my state of Pennsylvania, taxes on gasoline were raised $.09/gal. for three years. The money is being used to rebuild the many roads and bridges. I am in favor of this as I think most other people are, even if grudgingly. We sacrifice some of our income to improve the balance sheet (our infrastructure) in our state.

        I looked at solar panels, but the payback, even with a very modest state tax credit, was over 15 years. What I did do was upgrade my heating and cooling system from wood (in the winter) and electric to a Mitsubishi electric heat pump system, which provides heating and AC. The manufacturer offered 3-year zero percent pricing. The system is costing me $388/month and is saving we around $100/month. What really made a difference is this expense added to the value (balance sheet) of my property. In a year and a half, this investment will be paid off and this raised the value of my property by almost the full value of my expense. My carbon footprint is much smaller, I improved the value of my house and will save $100/month going forward. We need more solutions like this. Solar panels are not viewed by banks in the same way. In time, perhaps they will and perhaps there is a role for the state or federal governments to participate.

  5. Neither Elon Musk nor Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, are climate change visionaries. A Tesla requires a plug into a coal-fired electric plant for its charge. Barra is closing small car factories because they are not selling; she wants to concentrate on building big trucks and SUVs. The only automotive visionary is Toyota who, having revolutionized the industry with the Prius, is now concentrating on the next true climate friendly vehicle platform — hydrogen vehicles such as the Mirai.

    1. Charles,

      Perhaps “transitional leaders” is a better term for Musk and Barra. I love Toyota and currently own two. They were leaders in implementing Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement to their manufacturing which produced quality vehicles for a “sweet” price point that made the Corolla and Camry best in class vehicles.

      It is true that GM and the other U.S. car manufacturers are making largely pickup trucks and SUVs, responding to market demand, but GM is putting into production all-electric cars, as they see the future there. Perhaps there will be demand for electric vehicles, but even with a substantial subsidy, there is no way to maintain or fuel these vehicles. There is with electric vehicles and coal-fired plants are being replaced with natural gas as they reach their natural end of life. So perhaps hydrogen vehicles will replace all others.

      My wife has a Toyota Yaris with 220,000 miles on it. We hope to take it over 300,000 and perhaps a Prius or Mirai will be next!

  6. A word of caution: I’m glad you didn’t take climate predictions too seriously; i.e., give exact dates of our demise. Then again, explaining what will happen in 2050 is hardly a risk, it’s so far out. Al Gore predicted the Arctic ice cap could be completely gone by 2017, as would the snow of Mount Kilimanjaro, which he said could disappear as early as 2015 in a widely-publicized report years ago. That sort of thing actually undermines the effort. In a desire to alarm people, dire predictors citing dates often end up resembling Christian end-of-the-world prognosticators. When the event doesn’t happen, people can lose interest. Worse, they doubt the information providers. Better to suggest that the evidence available points to warming and the impacts possible, rather than offer exact dates.

  7. Alan,

    I think you missed the point of this article, a little.

    Predictions, as in weather, the stock market or political polls tend to be less accurate the larger they are, as in the worldwide stock market, weather months ahead or worldwide temperatures. This does not make them useless, but tying any one event, say the stock direction of an individual company, within the worldwide economy two months out is really a guess. Tying that same prediction to the entire industry the company is in and its performance over a long time, say 30 years, and using that to predict its future performance provides more confidence. People do that every day. One aspect of climate change uses the same methodology. They look at huge data sets and measure change and make future predictions going forward. Some basic biases come into play, in my opinion, which I described above. Some reject the basic data and many reflect the predictions of what they mean.There is wide disagreement on what to do policy-wise with these predictions.

    Probabilities, which I quoted from an article in the Wall Street Journal are different. This company and all insurance companies really use actuarial probabilities to set their prices for their insurance products. They have to make their product competitive in the marketplace, but also have enough money to pay out claims when a large event, say a hurricane like Sandy, or others cause tens of billions in damages and claims occurs. To quote the man from the article, “We’re in the camp that believes you can have an increased potential for an outsized loss in a single year,” he says. “There’s a cost for inaction.”

    They are changing how they calculate their risk exposure due to factors in climate change. They are not trying to evaluate how much is caused by man and how much is natural; they are making a business decision and are saying they see an increase in the risk of catastrophic losses in any one year and adjusting accordingly. Click on the link above to the WSJ, it is a very informative article.

    Does that make sense to you?

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