Soldiers in combat used to find cigarettes in their rations. Today, such a thing would be unimaginable given what we know about the dangers of smoking. The climate change debate is very much like the argument over tobacco in the 1960s following reports about the dangers of smoking. At a point in both discussions, the science was understood.

The near-universal view on climate change can be summed up this way: “The build-up of heat-trapping emissions from fossil fuels and clearing forests is changing the climate, posing significant risks to our well-being. It stands to reason, then, that reducing those emissions would greatly reduce risks associated with climate change.” So say Andrew Hoffman, director of the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan, and Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In their recent article Hoffman and Frumhoff describe the debate over climate change as a social challenge similar to the one that occurred around smoking. Conclusive evidence did not stop tobacco companies from spending huge sums of money to discredit the science and encourage people to smoke. It was only after public consciousness was raised that change began to take hold.

To raise public awareness, we need trusted leaders to bring about fact-based and respectful dialogue that is based on shared values. IPI is doing this through our sustainability committee, through content offered at our 2012 Conference & Expo, and through The Green Standard sustainability column in The Parking Professional. But as an industry, we need to ask ourselves if we’re like big tobacco, or are we taking action as leaders in an effort to respond to unequivocal science?