It’s time to end the climate change debate – The San Diego Union-Tribune
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 Minnesota Northwoods.
I treasure the time away, which follows my busiest time of year at the National Conflict Resolution Center.
But this year — in response to the inevitable “how was the weather” question — I found myself grousing a bit. You see, it was too chilly in northern Minnesota to wear shorts.
My daughter, who lives in Walla Walla, Wash., couldn’t relate. In fact, she was flatly annoyed with me. The day we spoke, the temperature in Walla Walla was 106 degrees. It’s a place where the average summer temperature is typically 25 degrees cooler. Air conditioning is uncommon.
But when it comes to climate, our notions of normal have been upended. Just as the Pacific Northwest has experienced record heat, so has much of the rest of the country — and much of the planet, really. Europe, Africa and Asia have broken temperature barriers that once seemed unimaginable. The heat and lack of rain have left a trail of wildfires.
Las Vegas, N.M., has only a two-month supply of water, due to contamination caused by thousands of tons of wildfire ash and debris. Flames in the area gave way to floods, causing burnt soil to encroach 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 left isolated by impassable roads and washed-out bridges. Rain continues to fall.
But really, there is nothing new about the extreme weather phenomenon or its cause: a warming planet. According to history.com, global temperatures increased sharply in the early 1980s. By 1988, scientists were sounding an alarm — and both the media and public began to pay closer attention. That summer was the hottest on record (although many since then have been hotter), 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 targets for reducing the emission of six greenhouse gases. In 2001, President George W. Bush halted implementation, declaring that the protocol was “fatally flawed.”
Similarly, President Barack Obama in 2015 signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement, which allowed participating countries to set their own emission reduction goals. President Donald Trump reversed course two years later, saying that the accord would cripple growth and intrude on American sovereignty.
Along the way, we’ve given the global warming phenomenon 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 failed.
But we’ve otherwise squandered decades of time because of our inability to separate a very real issue — with life-altering consequences — from the debate around it.
Like every contentious topic, we can only move the climate agenda forward by finding common ground. That starts with depoliticizing climate change and talking differently about it: less about the impacts on polar bears (a global worry) and more about the impacts on our everyday lives. For Californians, that’s wildfires and water shortages — real concerns for all of us.
That relatability is key: While surveys show that most people in the U.S. 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 address the climate crisis is for each of us to talk about why it matters with people we know.
But, Hayhoe adds, we can’t convey a feeling 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 will push for more change. Individual conversations will lead to community-level action — and in turn, drive the systemic changes necessary to mitigate the potential damage we are facing.
Just maybe the message is getting through. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said recently that he will support the Inflation Reduction Act, which earmarks $369 billion to confront the climate crisis over the next 10 years. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has signaled her approval, too. If passed, it would be the largest such investment in our country’s history.
Our action (or inaction) will determine the type of planet my daughter and future generations will inherit.
I’m not willing to sit back and see what happens. And I pledge to never again grouse about the Minnesota summertime chill.
Dinkin is president of the National Conflict Resolution Center, a San Diego-based group working to create solutions to challenging issues, including intolerance and incivility. To learn about NCRC’s programming, visit ncrconline.com