It’s time to end the climate change debate
Summer is a season of rituals: walks on the beach, picnics in the park, camping under the stars. My summer ritual is a family pilgrimage to the beautiful Northwoods of Minnesota.
I cherish the time spent, which follows my busiest time of the year at the National Dispute Resolution Center.
But this year – in response to the inevitable question “how was the weather” – I found myself bitching a bit. You see, it was too cold in northern Minnesota to wear shorts.
My daughter, who lives in Walla Walla, Washington, couldn’t understand. In fact, she was downright mad at me. On the day we spoke, the temperature in Walla Walla was 106 degrees. It is a place where the average temperature in summer is usually 25 degrees lower. Air conditioning is scarce.
But when it comes to climate, our notions of normalcy have been turned upside down. Just as the Pacific Northwest experienced record heat, so did much of the rest of the country — and much of the planet, really. Europe, Africa and Asia have broken down temperature barriers that once seemed unimaginable. The heat and lack of rain left a trail of wildfires.
Las Vegas, NM, has only a two-month supply of water, due to contamination from thousands of tons of wildfire ash and debris. Flames in the area gave way to flooding, causing scorched soil to encroach on the Gallinas River watershed.
And recent flooding in eastern Kentucky has claimed 37 lives, a toll that is expected to rise. Hundreds of people are missing in areas cut off by impassable roads and washed out bridges. The rain continues to fall.
But really, there’s nothing new about the extreme weather phenomenon or its cause: a warming planet. According to history.com, global temperatures rose sharply in the early 1980s. In 1988, scientists were sounding the alarm — and the media and public began to pay more attention. That summer was the hottest on record (although many have been warmer since then), with widespread drought and wildfires.
Since then, the issue of global warming has been a political hot potato. In 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, which introduced emission reduction targets for six greenhouse gases. In 2001, President George W. Bush halted implementation, declaring the protocol to be “fatally flawed.”
Similarly, President Barack Obama signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, which allowed participating countries to set their own emission reduction targets.. President Donald Trump backtracked two years later, saying the deal would cripple growth and infringe on US sovereignty.
Along the way, we’ve given the phenomenon of global warming a new name — climate change — because extreme weather isn’t always hot. Last year, Southeast Texas endured a week of snow, sleet and freezing temperatures. The power grid has failed.
But we have otherwise wasted decades of time due to our inability to separate a very real problem – with life-changing consequences – from the debate surrounding it.
Like any controversial topic, we can only advance the climate agenda by finding common ground. It starts with depoliticizing climate change and talking about it differently: less about the impacts on polar bears (a global concern) and more about the impacts on our daily lives. For Californians, it’s wildfires and water shortages — real concerns for all of us.
This relatability is key: while polls show that most people in the United States believe climate change is real, they don’t think it will harm them personally.
Katherine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and professor at Texas Tech University, where she is director of the Climate Science Center. Hayhoe is also chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy. She says the best way to deal with the climate crisis is for each of us to talk about its importance with the people we know.
But, adds Hayhoe, we cannot convey a sense of hopelessness. Instead, we should talk about the small but meaningful steps (like reducing food waste) that each of us can take. When people feel empowered, they push for more change. Individual conversations will lead to action at the community level and, in turn, drive the systemic changes needed to mitigate the potential damage we face.
Maybe the message is getting through. Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., recently said he would support the Cut Inflation Act, which earmarks $369 billion to address the climate crisis over the next 10 years. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, also signaled her approval. If passed, it would be the largest such investment in the history of our country.
Our action (or inaction) will determine the kind of planet my daughter and future generations will inherit.
I don’t want to sit down and see what happens. And I promise never to complain about the Minnesota summer cold again.
Dinkin is president of the National Conflict Resolution Center, a San Diego-based group that works to find solutions to difficult issues, including intolerance and incivility. To learn more about NCRC programming, visit ncrconline.com