Friday, October 23, 2009

Green Talk on Climate Change

The following is my latest submission as the Green Talk Column in the Morgan Hill Times (publication date 10/27/09). Tomorrow is an international day of action for climate change. This post explains why I think we are losing the battle for the minds of America.

Click on Read more! for the entire OpEd.

Two events this week prompted me to return to the subject of climate change. The first that I became aware of is the fact that the heads of 18 leading scientific organizations sent a letter to each of the United States Senators urging them to take significant action regarding climate change. While the entire letter can be read on-line from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, it is worth quoting from that letter.

“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.”

The make it very clear that there is no doubt about what is currently happening and the conclusions regarding what will happen are unavoidable.

Almost concurrently, the Pew Center for Research released the results of a survey that show a declining percentage of the public who believe that climate change is happening, or that it is in any way connected to human activity. They summarize it as follows:

“The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 4 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, finds that 57% think there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades. In April 2008, 71% said there was solid evidence of rising global temperatures.

Over the same period, there has been a comparable decline in the proportion of Americans who say global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels. Just 36% say that currently, down from 47% last year.”

You begin to wonder what factors are at play when the scientific opinion is becoming increasingly certain and the public opinion is becoming less so. Conjecture on this question is now a popular blogging topic. Many rationales are given and most of them are too simplistic to be the whole story.

To begin with, these are times when our current economic problems have people fearful of their own future. Those who stand to gain by not doing anything about climate change were quick to play on these fears, making the connection between regulation of industry to prevent climate catastrophe and the loss of the very jobs that people are fearful of losing to begin with.

It was most clearly stated an OpEd by Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, a large coal mining company.
“Many times I’ve sat in meetings with executives who admit privately they doubt the certainty of the science behind global warming claims. And they acknowledge that global warming legislation will have a devastating effect on their companies in the form of lost jobs and lower output.”
It is very clear that one of the companies most affected would be Blankenship's. The OpEd was published in The Hill where every Washington insider would be sure to see it.

Those journalists whom one hopes would lead us to a version of the truth have put on ideological blinders and proceeded to publish erroneous information again and again. Writers like George Will will misquote sources and cherry-pick data to justify their false conclusions that nothing really bad is happening. In Will's case, it is especially troubling in that he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge his errors to the point where other Washington Post writers have had to apologize for him.

Professional rabble-rousers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have a great reach into the minds of those who will not look at the data for themselves. When NY Times, reporter Andrew Revkin suggested that there was a link between population and energy use... and therefore climate change, Limbaugh suggested that Revkin solve the problem by killing himself. Beck makes light of the issue, equating the weather today with the functioning of climate over decades and playing to his audience with statements like “The earth and the environment are the progressive replacement for God...” Would we be the people about whom it was said “In as much as Ye Have Done It unto One of the Least of These..."

We are all in this together. That is why I talk of ecology rather than the environment. We have learned to apply systems thinking to the management of our businesses. Why have we not taken the next step to apply similar systems thinking to the way we live; not alone but in communities; not just communities of people but communities of other living things.

I don't know how many of you have visited the magnificent groves of sequoias that we have. Their fate, locked as they are into micro-climates along the Sierras, is in our hands. I don't know how many are still around who fought in Vietnam, but that country's fate is also in our hands as the most productive agricultural regions, the Mekong Delta will be inundated and tens of millions of people will need to find new homes. I don't know how many of you follow the California water crisis. But here again, for all the special sessions of our legislature, they have not even begun to deal with the fact that those famous pumps will eventually be pumping salt water.

Do we care so little about this world that we would would risk it all on the words of Don Blankenship, Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh?

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