Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Overheard Conversation On Climate

I was at a coffee shop the other day catching up with an old friend. At a table nearby were some twenty-somethings, obviously old friends themselves, talking about their jobs, careers, politics, and loves. I didn’t pay any attention to them and certainly didn’t want to eavesdrop nor allow their conversation to interfere with my own. Yet, when the topic of climate change came up I couldn’t help but catch snippets.

It started when one said, “Can you believe that Obama’s science advisor says that we should think about shooting particles into the atmosphere to prevent global warming? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

And, another responded, “Yeah it seems dumb, but the climate change threat is real. Everything’s melting: the polar ice caps, glaciers and lake ice up by Bayfield, everything so we had better do something or we’ll be in a world of hurt and if that’s what it takes then let’s try.”

“You can’t be serious! Yes, the threat is real, but that’s no answer. That’s giving up. We can stop it by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, using more renewables, efficiency and stuff like that. Obama is already working on plan,” said another.

“Do you really believe it’s a threat?”

“Yes I do. Most scientists do too. Sure, there are uncertainties from the unknowns and unknowable nature of such a complex thing as global climate. But it just makes sense that when you emit a lot of stuff it eventually builds up.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“Even if it’s real, do you think it will be as bad as all that?”

“Not sure, but it seems every news story says we're beyond the tipping point and that we need radical action to prevent a catastrophe.”

“No, seriously, do you really think we’re at a climate tipping point?”

“Do you think that’s possible?”

“Who knows for sure if we’re at a tipping point or not. Maybe we are; maybe we aren’t. I hope we’re not.”

“And, if we are at or beyond the tipping point?”

“All this tipping point stuff is talk from the radical environmentalists wanting to scare people into action. But I think it’s back firing…”

“If we’re tipping, forget about stopping emissions, we should spend our time figuring out how to mitigate the affects and fast.”

“We’re doomed. No more polar bears; starvation; wars over water; It’ll be Mad Max stuff. I’m going to be rich because I’m going to plant corn up in Hudson Bay.”

“Come on. We’re having a serious conversation here.”

“Real or not, I’ll tell you I have no confidence in the Obama plan.”

“Yeah, it seems too little too late.”

“I’m excited about the Obama plan…it means lots of money for renewables and I want to get a piece of that action.”

“Nice: we’re doomed and all you can think about is yourself. We’ve already ruined the planet; the planet’s warming and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. So, I’m glad the Obama-guy is thinking about that kind of stuff. It’s the only thing that might save us.”

“No way! Even if it was a good plan, other countries like China won’t take any action…so it doesn’t matter what we do. So why should we take that pain if no one else will?”

“It doesn’t have to be painful. If we do it right…and I’m not saying Obama is doing it right…but I am saying that it can be done and done in a way that we all don’t have to go Amish.”

“You’re right we can’t wreck our economy to save it…look at what’s been going on over the last year. I can tell you, I care more about keeping my job than the climate right now.”

“Me too.”

“It may be that; but I’m more concerned that it seems to be more about raising money than reducing emissions. And, worse, it seems very partisan or more importantly it doesn’t seem to have widespread political support.”

“Amen, if anyone thinks that we can address greenhouse gas emissions without everyone on board is kidding themselves.”

“See, we’re doomed. Maybe I can play the Mel Gibson role.”

“You’re more likely to play Sponge-Bob.”

“You can’t be serious about expecting a climate bill to be bipartisan? The Republicans don’t even believe climate change is real, let alone are willing to do anything about it.”

“Yes, I’m serious, addressing climate change not only needs to be bipartisan but international too. Unlike anything else we’ve ever dealt with climate and greenhouse gas emissions touches all of us and if we’re all not in it together we’ll fail. Besides, there are a number of Republicans who are willing to thoughtfully address climate: McCain, Crist, Pawlenty, Pataki and Arnold.”

“See we’re doomed. The last frog should turn off the stove!”

“Don’t be so negative. We can solve this if we do it right.”

“I hope so.”

Of course, I’ve taken a little literary license (OK a lot of literary license) in telling this conversation. But, it is the kind of conversation that seems to be occurring more and more in coffee shops, in grocery aisles, across dinner tables, in newspapers' op-ed pages and even in committee hearings. It’s also the kind of discussion that we need to have.

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