Is It Possible to Build Consensus Around “Climate Change”?

BY ON June 2, 2011

This piece was cross-posted at Moms Rising and Daily Kos.

The reason I put “climate change” in quotes is because there are people who don’t believe it exists. Like, the oil and gas industry. Elisa Batista

From my point of view in the Bay Area, there is definitely something going on with our climate. Weather forecasters were caught off guard by the amount of rain we had over Memorial Day Weekend, which put a damper on many businesses. Here is a San Francisco Chronicle article on it:

“‘This is unusual, and it does diminish the money,’ said John Wheeler of Sebastapol, who sells handmade jewelry. “But it’s out of our control.”

“Saturday’s fitful gloom shifted from drizzle to rain late enough that the amounts haven’t yet been tabulated by the National Weather Service. But they were sizable enough that they’re going to boost monthly figures that already are well above the norm…”

“San Francisco had .78 inches of rain for May as of 4 p.m. Saturday, one-third of an inch above average. Oakland had .65 of an inch, one-half inch more than the monthly norm.”

“In Santa Rosa, there have been two inches for the month — double what’s to be expected.”

Keep in mind that we are the lucky ones. Yes, it’s freezing, windy and damp outside. But we aren’t the ones facing tornadoes and even food shortages, like our neighbors in the south and in Latin America. Here is a recent news story on global warming in Guatemala published in the UK Guardian:

“In Guatemala, climate change has affected smallholders dramatically in the last two years. The country is particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme events, thanks to its geographical position in an earthquake and hurricane zone.”

“The experience of 260 families living on the settlement of Guadalupe in the Suchitepéquez region of the Pacific coast is typical. They lost much of their staple crop last year and the year before. There is more rain in winter now, and the rains that used to come in April now only come towards the end of May. Rains have recently been accompanied by increasingly violent storms, followed by prolonged drought. Deforestation and diversion of rivers by plantation owners producing food or biofuel for export have exacerbated the problems.”

In the U.S. press, including the San Francisco Chronicle article I cited above, there are a lot of conflicting reports as to whether our climate patterns, including the tornadoes in the south and midwest, are due to global warming. Global Warming, by the way, is the theory that the temperature of our earth’s near-surface air and oceans has risen due to pollution. Most scientists believe that global warming can cause erratic weather patterns like hurricanes, which develop over large bodies of warm water.

Here is my take as a non-scientific bystander: I rather air on the side of caution. If global warming really turns out to be a hoax, how can we go wrong with burning less fuel and having cleaner air?

On the other hand, if the climate change worriers prove to be right, then I fear for us, our children and grandchildren. Food shortages? Homes destroyed? Lives lost due to horrific storms? No thank you.

Which leads me to the crux of this post: is there a way for us to work together to address climate change? How do we build political will to burn less fuel and reduce emissions?

As I recently learned, just getting people of opposite political persuasions to the table is a sisyphean task. As part of a pilot program called “Changing the Game”, I co-hosted a transpartisan discussion on global warming and renewable energy in New Bedford, New Hampshire. It was amicable, and while we did not agree on the existence of global warming, I was surprised by how important the environment was to all of us. We all recycled, had our kids in cloth diapers, changed our lightbulbs, and did what we could to reduce our carbon footprint.

We did not address what could be done on the legislative level, which is one of my regrets. To be fair, the purpose of the conversation was to listen and not necessarily take any action, which I as a “doer” find incredibly frustrating. :)

But a few things came out of those conversations. One, I was told that we were a success story in that Democrats and Republicans alike agreed to meet for dinner. Apparently, it isn’t uncommon for people to refuse the invitation if they know that someone from another political party will be there. I think it helped that I had a history with the people I invited — my former high school classmates. (Thank you, Facebook!)

The other thing, which I was told is not uncommon, is that the liberals were women and the conservatives and libertarians were men.

Finally, when we did veer off topic, we tended to speak of other issues more important to us, like education. I admit that I am guilty of that, too. Like many people, I have always viewed climate change as this faraway and abstract event. I actually agreed with my conservative co-host in New Hampshire that it will probably take higher gas prices and/or a catastrophic event like food shortages for us to finally take action on climate change.

What would I do or say differently at my transpartisan discussion? I probably would have come armed with an actual bill we could support such as the new Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, which is being promoted by Moms Clean Air Force. (Disclosure: I am part of the blogging team there!) Granted, I didn’t know about the proposed rule until after my transpartisan discussion. But what a great opportunity it would have been to ask my friends to write letters to the EPA. We are all on Facebook and Twitter, but I know that does not have the same impact as meeting in person.

My other concern is the scale in which these conversations must take place in order to have an impact on legislators. Our legislators in the U.S. are still talking about “clean coal” and other nonsense. Even Japan, a high-tech center that just experienced a devastating tsunami, is considering mandating that all new buildings and houses come fitted with solar panels. In 2030, that is.

What will it take for us to take global warming seriously, and act on it? I am curious to hear your suggestions.

TOPICS: Coal, Economics, Mercury Poisoning, Pollution