Politicians and Climate Change Confusion

Last week’s blog entry spoke of greed being a root of the climate change problem. Another root problem is ignorance and hubris of political leaders.  If you Google politicians who deny climate change, you’ll see an impressive list. Some don’t believe humans are changing Earth’s climate. A few think volcanoes dictate our climate, and others feel we’re actually in a cooling period. Then there are those in the “I’m not a scientist” camp. As if to say, I’m not smart enough to talk about basic climate science so “no comment.” Really. Meanwhile, cities slowly flood with rising seas, droughts punish farmers and the economy, and severe weather events become the norm.

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If you truly aren’t smart enough to understand basic science and the urgency of human induced environmental problems, or distrust the consensus of scientists who do understand the problem, then you’re probably not the right person for political office. Perhaps a basic science comprehension test should be required of all state or national political candidates? Fail the test and you’re off the ballot. Seriously, the stakes are just too high to have people in policy-making positions who don’t understand the urgency of climate change mitigation. A test requirement is unlikely, but we can make a difference for the next generation of leaders through science education.

If there’s one experience we all have in common, it’s going to school. School is where we learn to tie our shoelaces, make friends, socialize, read and write, solve complex algebraic functions, square dance, play games, and grow into adults. Schools ensure our country’s viability by graduating students ready, willing, and able to contribute to a democratic way of life. Schools also shape a person’s sense of environmental stewardship, which matters immensely for leadership on urgent issues such as carbon taxation, environmental regulations of CO2 emissions, and other climate change related issues. If we wish to reduce political climate change confusion, then let’s focus on bolstering students’ knowledge and skills in science–particularly environmental issues that pose significant challenges to the planet and our global community.

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Watch this short video of National Board-Certified Teacher Sheila Morris’s 5th grade class learning about alternative energies from Ben Grieco, a high school Energy and Transportation teacher. Students in Fort Ann Central School District are learning about climate change and solutions to lessen the effects of a warming planet. Ultimately, the students decided to create a Public Service Announcement.  After the video, learn how your local school is teaching students about environmental issues such as climate change.

The Root Source of Climate Change Confusion

We’re all In the same climate change boat, right? Living on a planet in need of some seriously loving? Yes, but we aren’t all playing together against the greatest global environmental crisis since humans entered the picture.  In fact, some are actually trying to sabotage the outcome. Sadly, it’s a game that’s been played before first by the tobacco industry and more recently, the fossil fuel industry. A game that initially benefits the privileged few, but ends with everyone losing.  Why play that way? I remember talking with a priest about the Bernie Madoff scandal a few years ago and commenting money was the root of all evil. He said, “No, the love of money is the root of all evil.” And so it goes.Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.10.26 AM

Climate change presents a genuine threat to an industry steadfast against any scientific evidence that hurts its bottom line.  An industry willing do whatever necessary to protect profits. Think about the risks of smoking cigarettes. We learned smoking was bad in the 1960s. Big tobacco knew this also. Their own in-house scientists found smoking cancer causing and addictive. Despite the health risks, the industry flooded media with decades of misinformation that led to a public unsure of settled science right into the 1990s. They would do the same with second-hand smoke through the late 90s and early 2000s. Why???  For the love of money. Take a peek at Oreskes and Conways’ Merchants of Doubt to truly appreciate how greed clouds judgment and leads to unethical and sometimes criminal acts.

Misinformation and scare tactics were also used by industry to fight acid rain legislation. Once again, scientists knew acid rain was problematic in the Northeastern US and Canada in the 60s and 70s–this blogger even did an undergraduate thesis on the impacts of acid rain on germination rates of vascular seedling plants. Yet it would take nearly 40 years for concerted action to reduce the culprits of acid rain, namely high sulfur coal emissions from power plants and nitrous oxide gases from cars. Why so long? Because coal-burning power plants offered cheap electricity good for the bottom line. For the love of money.

There are many, many more examples of how greed and profits rule the day. How those in power use their resources to misconstrue the science and confuse the public. To influence legislators and whomever else will act favorably on their behalf.  However, the stakes of climate change have never been higher and the environmental and economic costs unparalleled. We can not allow those in love with money to write the script that determines the future well-being of this lovely planet.

Albert Bandura (1997) wrote,”Human lives are highly interdependent. What they do individually affects the well-being of others….People must increasingly work together to make a better life for themselves” (p. viii). Let’s work together to solve the climate crisis.  Let’s call out those who put money ahead of others. Let’s ask our leaders hard questions about their positions. And let’s get moving.  We’ve got work to do. Peace.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

 A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week: Invite some friends or family members to the house for a climate change discussion. Do it over food or beverages. Make it light and leave it open-ended. Talk about what people know about climate change. What they worry about. Clarify misconceptions by doing your homework and checking out the National Climate Assessment Report.  Have people leave the social with strategies to make a difference, and suggest future get togethers on the topic.

Climate Change and NIMBO

NIMBO, or Not in My Back Ocean. Okay, I made that up. I could have used NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) to describe the urgency of conditions outlined in the latest National Oceanic Global Analysis, but chose NIMBO as a reminder that, whether one lives in Wichita, Kansas, or Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the oceans affect us daily. With those oceans warming exponentially, the effects are becoming more obvious and ominous.Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.55.36 AM

NOAA’s Monthly Global Analysis for May paints a very balmy, record-breaking picture. From the report: Across the oceans, the global monthly-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.59°C (1.06°F) higher than the 20th-century average, marking the highest May temperature on record. Lest we leave land out, With records dating back to 1880, the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces reached a record high for May, at 0.74°C (1.33°F) higher than the 20th century average. This surpassed the previous record high anomaly of 0.72°C (1.30°F) set in 2010.

Did you know that 90% of the additional heat trapped by atmospheric greenhouse gases are absorbed in the oceans? NIMBO! Warmer oceans bring more ferocious weather and hurricanes fueled by the latent heat of water vapor evaporating off the balmy waters. Warmer oceans melt ice sheets faster, push exotic marine organisms poleward, kill less nimble species unable to adjust fast enough to the warmer waters, raise sea level, reduce dissolved oxygen, affect farmers, and will have consequences we’re only beginning to understand. NIMBO!

Let’s react as swiftly and strongly to warming oceans (and our planet) as we would to a proposed nuclear waste site or PCB sludge processing facility for our community. You know the type of response I’m referring to. The one where everyone goes to City Hall to demand action. Where people sink posters in lawns with the red line drawn diagonally through the targeted egregious offense, and Facebook friends flood social media spaces. NIMBO! It’s time to act.

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week: Call or email the office of an elected official and ask them about their position on climate change. Let them know your position and concerns, and that your vote will go to those individuals who have good plans for dealing with the climate change problem.

 

 

Talking Climate Change To Graduating High School Seniors

How do you talk about Climate Change, God, and Stewardship to graduating high school students??  To not lecture them, freak them out, or bore them to tears? Carefully and thoughtfully.

Last night I was the featured speaker for a baccalaureate ceremony at St. Cecilia’s Church recognizing our graduating high school seniors. What follows is my talk.

This message is about gifts, responsibility, and hope.  From Luke (12:27), “Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them.” Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. Hmmmm. OneWordE-26Think about that line. When I read that, I think how beautiful nature is and that you can’t replicate it. We can take photos of nature. Paint nature. Record the sounds of nature. But when it comes right down to it, we can’t recreate nature’s magnificence. And from Timothy (4:12): “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for the believers.” Be an example for the believers. We’ll get back to that powerful line later.

And then we have these lines from Genesis after God had created the heavens and earth, the atmosphere and oceans, animals and fishes, trees, plants and livestock, and humans: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning. And God rested on the Seventh Day, greatly pleased with all he had created. This beautiful planet is a gift. Let’s not forget that.

We’re taught as children to take good care of gifts received from others. But sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we break the rules. I remember as a nine-year old being scolded by my mother for destroying a beautiful glass watch given to me by my Aunt Libby. Aunt Libby was my dad’s older sister. I loved Aunt Libby, but my curiosity for how the watch operated was too great to overcome, and try as I may to carefully unlock its inner contents, it was only when I took a hammer to the glass cover that I could peer inside at the watch’s shiny metallic interior. Back in the old days, there were no electric watches. Nearly everything was spring powered. My actions satisfied my immediate desire, but rendered the watch useless. It was with shame I told my Aunt what happened to the watch when she asked how I liked the gift she’d given me. She smiled and nodded, though her eyes showed disappointment.

Have you ever had a gift that you damaged? Perhaps a toy you took apart, or something you were careless with? A bicycle left outside in the rain. A cell phone with a screen broken from being dropped one too many times? We receive so many gifts in our lives, and sometimes we fail to care for them. Many things we don’t even realize are gifts. Like this beautiful planet we live on. I often wonder how well we are caring for planet Earth, and would God be pleased?

Pope Francis recently spoke about climate change to a huge crowd in Rome. He said, “Safeguard Creation, because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!” Our pope continued: “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”

God gave us this beautiful, beautiful planet as a gift to care for. And we have a responsibility to care for that gift now and for generations to come. You have a responsibility to care for our planet. I have a responsibility to care for our planet. We all have a responsibility to care for the planet. To speak up when others threaten to harm it. And it’s not always easy to do the right thing. To go against the flow.

You are graduating from high school. Congratulations. Your elementary school days are long gone. Some of you will go off to college. Others the military. And still others to work. Regardless of your path, this chapter of your life is closing. You are high school graduates. Young adults. And with graduation comes new responsibilities, one of which is to care for the Earth—a beautiful, beautiful gift from God.

In case we haven’t noticed, the Earth needs some serious loving. Our climate is changing from burning too much oil, coal, and natural gas. We consume more than we should, and we don’t always think how our lifestyles affect the Earth. Every thing we do has an impact on this planet. The food we eat. The way we commute to work or school. How we power and heat our homes. The people we elect to lead us. When you stop and think about it, every choice we make impacts the environment to some degree.

I’m concerned about the dire predictions for our planet’s future if we fail to act soon and aggressively. 97.8% of climate scientists say humans are altering the Earth’s climate. In fact, scientists now refer to the present as the Anthropocene, a geologic period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased over 50% in the past 150 years. Sea level is rising. The arctic ice sheet is melting. Our weather is more extreme, and many species of living organisms are threatened with extinction. I’m not here to depress you but to remind you that God’s gift, the Earth, needs to be taken care of. Now. Not later.

A few years ago I felt a call to use my gifts to help others understand Climate Change. Perhaps that was God’s plan for me all along. To study science as a graduate student and work as an oceanographer and later in my career, an educator. My concerns for the future planet your generation inherits, and the generations that follow, motivated me to take action. I want future generations to experience the beauty of nature as I have. Lush green forests. Crisp autumn days. Trout surfacing on the Schroon River. The flitter of a hummingbird drawing nectar from flowers, or the fresh powder of a new snow. These are things worth saving. My stewardship is to present the facts about climate change to general audiences as a Climate Reality Leader. By helping people understand what climate change is and how the worst-case scenarios can be prevented, I am taking responsibility for my part in preserving God’s beautiful creation. I encourage you to consider how you can be a good steward to the Earth. How you can fight climate change. How you can help educate others. Each of you has special and unique gifts and talents. Use them to make a difference.

I encourage you to look at this challenge with hopefulness and resolution. To remember God’s creation can heal itself with proper care and attention. And to know you are connected to something bigger. God is present. He has your back. Returning to Luke, (4:12 ): “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for the believers.” You can be the example to others so we can stop climate change, make our air and waters cleaner, and restore the Earth’s beauty. Peace.

Seeing Climate Change Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Fifteen years ago I started wearing reading glasses. Nothing fancy. The $5 kind found in a hardware store or pharmacy. One pair sufficed to start, but now seven perch on familiar surfaces at home and work. A pair also rides in the car. Rose-colored glasses are my favorites, though, and I’ve worn them as far back as I can remember. I didn’t even know such glasses existed until a former flame in a heat of emotion told me to “Take off your rose-colored glasses!” “Huh? I’m not wearing glasses!” Ah, youth.Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 4.04.50 PM

Rose-colored glasses are essential, particularly now.  The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate ChangeCNA Military Advisory Board’s National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change, National Climate Assessment, and other governmental and scientific reports paint dire consequences for climate change inaction. Despite the consensus, reticence and skepticism within the United States continue, leading me to frantically fumble for my ruby-hued glasses often as the most vocal deniers and skeptics rail against anything hinting at climate change in nature, sowing distrust for science and government in the process.

We know the science is pure and that solutions exist. Some are easily implemented, others more complex. Without hope, however, we live in a world devoid of color. A world where fates are sealed and humanity stripped of its greatest miracle—namely, life. “Despair vanishes when there is truly something to hope for: a world for your child. writes Alan Weisman in his new book, Countdown (Weisman, 2013, p. 1410). Weisman offers hope while describing a planet too small for its exploding human population. Hope springs eternal, and so it goes for facing the most significant challenge in human history. We can change the story. We can rewrite the script. But we will have to put on both our reading and rose-colored glasses. Reading glasses to understand and tackle climate change problems, and rose-colored ones to have the efficacy and hope to persevere.

Weisman, A. (2013). Countdown: Our last, best hope for a future on earth?. London: Little, Brown and Company.

Got five minutes to take action (see below)?

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week: Shun plastic and styrofoam containers when eating out at your favorite restaurant. Instead, request that left overs be wrapped in aluminum foil or wax paper (We use wax paper bags in place of zip lock bags for lunch and snacks).

 

Shopping at the Farmers’ Market

She yelled to me from the kitchen, “I’m going now if you want to come.” I shouted back, “Sounds good, but I need to get caught up on my email.” “Okay, well, I’m leaving.” I could sense her disappointment. It was a late May Friday afternoon, and my wife was heading out for her weekly visit to our town’s Farmers’ Market.  I had just gotten back from a trip and really needed to catch up on the email. Besides, I don’t like shopping. Rational thinking got the better of me and I yelled out as she passed through the porch, “Okay. I’m coming.” Good decision on my part.IMG_2947

We drove over to the market. We could have walked the short quarter mile down the street and across the new bridge spanning the 80’ wide Schroon River, but we had a few errands to run in town and the day was getting late. My wife softened as we planned what to buy. “I hope they have nice lettuce. Do you think they’ll have strawberries?” she queried. “Too early.” I said.  She added, “I think they’re having a rhubarb festival.” That one caught my attention. My stomach was empty and dinner was nearly two hours away. “Ooh. That sounds good.” I chimed.

Farmers’ Markets are really quite the social scene, and our little Warrensburg Riverfront Farmers’ Market of 16 years is no exception. Two women on the Warrensburg Beautification Committee had started it, and what began as three or four sellers of local garden vegetables and a few bottles of Adirondack maple syrup was now 15-20 tent covered tables run by farmers, cheese makers, bakers, meat sellers, and wine makers lined in a long row on the bank of the Schroon River. It had become a social event complete with music and yes, a rhubarb pie-baking contest.

The lettuce was nice, and we bought a bag. I ate a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie topped with locally produced vanilla ice cream. It was good, and I told the two woman volunteers tending the desserts table so. We walked to another vendor who had us taste her multi grain bread with almond flour. Yum. We bought a loaf. I went back to the desserts table for a piece of rhubarb pound cake. With ice cream. We headed over to visit Juniper Hill Farm table, our CSA from Crown Point, and visited with one of the two owners. She was a young woman, maybe in her early 30s. She smiled as she described how interns live, learn, and work at her organic farm. Maybe our daughter might intern there one day, I pondered? I ate the ice cream covered pound cake. Nettle Mettle Artisan Cheeses from Thurman had a table of goat cheeses spread out on a plate with crackers. They were good. I headed back to the desserts table for some rhubarb cookies. No ice cream this time. We tasted wine from a local winery. They get their grapes from Long Island. I was getting full but managed to make one more trip to the desserts table. Strawberry rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream on top. Yummy. On the way out, I saw Todd and Flo Olden of A Simple Life Farm and said “Hi”. Todd was the fellow I met with a mule team tilling up the SUNY Adirondack farm field a few weeks prior.

We left the market an hour later with two reusable bags of food and me with a full belly. We had visited with neighbors and vendors, caught up on the local news, made a dinner date with a couple we’ve intended to dine with for over two years now, and listened to some fine guitar music. It wasn’t shopping we had done, but socializing. Community building. Supporting local businesses, and lowering our carbon footprint. It was a good afternoon.

 

Got five minutes to take action (see below)?

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week: With the summer solstice fast approaching and crops now in full swing, cut back on the meat and load up on the local fresh veggies, fruits, and artisan foods you can find at a Farmers’ Market–One pound of beef requires ten pounds of food and lots and lots of water.

Fighting Climate Change Takes Grit

If you’ve ever seen John Wayne as Sheriff Rooster Cogburn in the classic movie, True Grit, then you know what grit is all about. The young woman (Mattie Ross) seeking retribution for the death of her father and who contracted Cogburn’s services is the poster child of grit. Mattie’s persistence, courage, and insatiable desire for justice made all the difference in catching the bad guy, and just as in the movie, fighting climate change is going to take a hell of a lot of grit.

Angela Duckworth’s textbook definition for grit would be  “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” I have seen grit evidenced countless times by former students who fought the circumstances of a bad home life to persevere. Students who worked harder than their peers and succeeded when others were satisfied with a mediocre product. The traits of grit are evident in many walks of life, including our climate change fighters (think Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Jim Hansen, Climate Reality Leaders, and many, many others).

Getting the message out about climate change and more importantly, bringing policy revision into the climate change equation, is not for the feint of heart. Denialism, skepticism, fossil fuel corporations, fear, confusion, ignorance, etc call for gritty work. Whether participating in a People’s Climate March or gently suggesting to friends or family the reasons behind extreme weather, polar vortexes, melting ice sheets…., we must all persevere and be passionate to realize our long-term goals of mitigating forces changing our climate.

 

Got five minutes to take action (see below)?

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week: Skip that application of lawn weed killer and you’ll do the bees, beneficial nematodes, and many other helpful organisms a favor. A healthy lawn can coexist with some weeds. After all, when you cut the grass (and weeds), the lawn is still green.

Climate Change

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