Post Super Bowl (power outage and all), I thought it would be as good a time as any to do some Monday morning quarterbacking of what in my view went wrong with the climate change discussion in America.
Strange thing is, almost everyone I talk to these days agrees something weird is happening with the weather. Ever since Hurricane Sandy, normally hardcore climate change denialists are saying things like this, “It was 45 degrees in Chicago yesterday. I grew up there and it was never 45 degrees in January.” According to recent polls, up to 73 percent of Americans now believe climate change is real and man-made.
The facts on the ground have caught up with us but unfortunately most people still don’t comprehend the dire situation we have created for ourselves. We’re in desperate need of an immediate conversion to a low-carbon economy and require a transformation similar to how the U.S. became a war-time economy overnight during World War II.
It all could’ve been so much different, in my opinion. I think the climate change reality-based community missed the boat to create earlier action. What should we/could we have done better? And how can we do better in the future now that Obama has promised to tackle climate change during his second term?
Gather Allies Together – When Al Gore drew the country's attention to global warming with “An Inconvenient Truth” back in 2006, all the relevant NGOs, public agencies, sympathetic businesses and the like should’ve held a Climate Change Communications Summit that laid out a broad communications strategy over the years to come, pulling their various resources together in the service of a common cause. The climate change reality-based community was (and still is) fighting a battle against the vast wealth of the fossil fuel industry and it needed all the help it could get. Sharing resources and mindshare would've helped.
Find and Groom a Charismatic Spokesperson – The next step should’ve been finding and media training a national climate change reality spokesperson. Preferably a scientist with unassailable integrity, he or she would serve as the major point person to explain the reality and extent of the looming danger to our civilization. Some might think that spokesperson was Al Gore but I’ve always felt the fact he was a politician worked against us. The right wing media more easily made climate change a partisan issue rather than a common threat facing us all.
Back in the 1950s, the anti-nuclear proliferation movement had Einstein as its spokesperson. Where was our Einstein of climate science? NASA’s James Hansen might’ve been a good pick for his position, knowledge and integrity, but I’ve never seen him put in front of the cameras for some reason.
The most persuasive evidence for me of the reality of man-made climate change was when the top seven Academies of Science from around the world signed a statement some years ago to that effect. Perhaps bringing together a representative from each Academy on fact-based information tour of the U.S. would’ve helped put any doubt to rest.
It’s Not about Polar Bears Stranded on Ice Floes – Early in the climate change debate, many Americans with a passing interest were given the impression that polar bears and other species endangered by global warming was the main reason to take action. While it’s important to maintain all our precious eco-systems, that was never going to spur the populace to action. The message should always have been focused on pending human calamities like food production losses and destructive storms, as we’ve seen come to pass this past year with the droughts and fires in the Southwest and Hurricane Sandy’s flooding of New York.
There Is a Reasonable Road to the Future – Now that the fact of climate change is hopefully becoming clear to most Americans at long last, there still needs to be someone who communicates a logical and doable transition to a low-carbon society. I’ve seen bits and pieces of this roadmap but nobody has laid it out completely and hit it hard over and over. People need to know and believe there is a way out of this mess. Only then will they be motivated to move in the right direction.
And that’s my Monday morning quarterbacking on influencing the climate change debate. I am reminded of the old adage, however, that hindsight is always 20-20.