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With Monday’s commencement of a UN sponsored conference on climate change in Lima, Peru the subject is again front-and-center. While the conference includes political leaders and climate change experts from 190 nations, it is hoped that the politics that all too often inform the debate will be kept at bay. Indeed, the hope is that the scientific method will have its day in court. The idea is that politics and the emotion that generally informs and drives it, will not be allowed to either hinder or obstruct the way forward. This may be a tall order given the seemingly growing conservative/liberal political divide.
For the proceedings to have positive outcomes, much will depend on how things play out at home. Few scientists, despite what one might hear from conservative media outlets, take seriously the notion that, climate change is not taking place, or that if it is, it has little to do with human activity or behavior. The conference is poised to conclude with passage of an international treaty that would prove a blue-print for the way forward. It would, in the ideal, articulate and delineate not just a rationale for, but a response to, the rising global crises by mandating specific strategies and the practical steps the world community needs to take to limit, and eventually do away with, green-house producing enterprise. The goal is to not only contain the problem of climate change, but to ultimately reverse and restore the earth and biosphere to its original and pristine condition. According to many in the scientific community, life on earth is dangerously close to a tipping point where it might be too late to reverse the deconstructive effects of greenhouse producing emissions.
The topic of climate change has become so timely and pressing that it has bled itself into the popular culture of weekly TV fare and the Big Screen. In a recent episode of HBO’s Newsroom a guest from the EPA is invited by producers of the fictional newscast to comment on the findings of a recent EPA report on climate change. With a stunned and suddenly quiet newsroom at full attention, Will McAvoy, the newscast’s esteemed and irreverent anchor, played by Emmy winning actor Jeff Daniels, sits transfixed as an EPA big-wig laments the fact that the recent report does not just suggest, but does indeed demonstrate, that it is actually too late to do anything to resolve the problem. It is, he declares, too late, and life on earth is doomed.
This conclusion is developed further in the Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway-starred epic Interstellar. It is the story of humankind’s last ditch effort to continue the species. Humankind has, through earth-destructive activities including the production of greenhouse gases, destroyed the earth’s ability to feed-and-keep its human inhabitants. A wondrous paradox plays out as Interstellar takes viewers into deep space in order to teach them a lesson about what should be deep within the heart and spirit of every human being. As human-kind continues to act in a reckless and selfish manner, the movie suggests, it runs the risk of losing everything that matters most.
While recent surveys suggest that upwards of 83 percent of Americans now believe that climate change is actually occurring, both conservative and liberal ideologues alike continue the bitter debate over the air waves in seemingly unabated fashion. For the ultra-conservative there is no such thing as human-caused climate change and if some small measure of change is objectively indicated, it should not be seen as new but demonstrative of a pattern of historical cycling. As the conservative thinking goes, this sort of cycling has been going on forever. If one happens to live in Buffalo, NY for example, whether climate change is real or not should not be an issue. As every Buffalonian knows, the winters come early and last an eternity.
For the liberal progressive on the other hand, the heating up of the biosphere is painfully and objectively obvious. To make the case, a progressive is more likely to cite empirically derived numbers that, in their view, demonstrate dramatic and entirely unprecedented changes in temperatures and climate change. To round the argument off a Liberal might enjoin one to spend one’s holiday on the nearest polar ice-shelf. The only caveat would be that one needs to be sure to bring one’s own scuba gear.
Because survey respondents were not asked to articulate their views on the causal agents behind said change, it is difficult to know whether the extra-ordinarily high numbers of respondents who agreed that the climate is indeed changing did so because they felt the changes were due to natural processes or to greenhouse-producing human activity. What is noteworthy, and perhaps predictive of same, is that 71 percent of the respondents agreed that replacing fossil based sources of energy with so-called green sources would reverse the trend. This number may be the fulcrum upon which an argument that an ideological thawing, even a warming trend is afoot.
One of the reasons behind this apparent sea-change in view may be that the terrestrial landscape is changing in visually and sensually dramatic ways. Human beings can objectively see and feel for themselves, the changes at hand. They no longer have to rely on experts to tell them about it all, it is literally right there. Not only that, but the math is simple enough that people can take out a pencil and paper and do the math themselves, they don’t need a mathematician or scientist to do it for them. Scientists report that when the math is good, the numbers do not lie. What these survey respondents appear to be seeing is that since the early 1990’s sea levels have risen three inches, that Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheets have lost almost five trillion tones of ice, that carbon dioxide levels have increased by 60 percent, that the average global temperature is up by six-tenths of a degree, and that extreme weather in the United States is up 30 percent.
Many observers are hoping that once a scientifically-informed international treaty is hashed out, the attendees at this week’s UN Conference on climate change can rest easy about the prospects of a cold reception back home. If the numbers hold up and are in any way predictive, then a thawing of the great conservative/liberal divide is upon us and there just might be a surprisingly warm reception awaiting them at home after all. In celebration, for the next UN Conference on Climate Change, one can almost hear the voice of a Liberal suggesting that they might consider holding it at the nearest polar ice-shelf. By then, as the science pursues, conference attendees might just be able to pack only their boots and leave the scuba gear behind.
By: Matthew R. Fellows
Photo By: Justin Kern – Flickr License