March 12, 2013

Tackling Climate Change: What We Need to Do.

Common Sense

A “Common Sense Revolution”

Common Sense is a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine.

It was first published anonymously on January 10, 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The phrase “Common Sense Revolution has been used as a political slogan to describe “common sense conservative” platforms in Australia and the state of New Jersey in the 1990s. However, it is most widely known as the name of the political movement which caught fire under the leadership of Mike Harris, the Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario from 1995 to 2002.

It was a time for people to be introspective and take a sober look at the politics of the day, government waste, the role of government, taxation, social services and public debt. There was a sense of urgency about setting the clock back to a more rational approach, about doing things right and doing the right things. Change was in the air! Change was needed!

Crisis of Confidence

We see that same level of urgency in the United States of America. A return to common sense—a Common Sense Revolution—is imminent. The most powerful empire in the world is being challenged from within. And maybe like Rome, the U.S. empire will fail and collapse. There are signs of domestic systemic failure— inequality, economic collapse, chronic unemployment, stagnation, political ineptitude and gridlock. America’s international problems are equally daunting— chronically at war, instability of oil supplies, target for terrorists, loss of credibility and the growth of China.

There’s a crisis of confidence in the heart of Americans. U.S. Citizens have lost faith in their politicians and their leaders. They no longer believe what mainstream media are telling them. They know fundamentally that something is not right. Their democracy is broken; their liberties are curtailed by an overzealous Homeland Security behemoth and the 1 percent own more than the bottom 100 million Americans combined.

Summer of Discontent—the Turning Point


Adding to current political and economic crises is the emerging realization that climate change is a very real threat that can no longer be ignored. Last summer, much of the country witnessed a heat wave never felt by anyone.

The disastrous Colorado fires, the unrelentingly scorching heat and widespread droughts have now convinced dozens of millions of Americans that climate change is real.

The summer of 2012 has done more to galvanize public opinion that climate change has already started than the world-wide campaigns by activists, organizations, scientists, climatologists and environmentalists combined.

Consumers are also feeling it with rising corn and soy prices which are sure to lead to much higher food costs in the future. Climate change is becoming an issue of far greater concern than that of terrorism, war, the economy, gay marriage, abortion, education and gun control. It’s the only issue that truly affects every single living thing on the planet.

Fred Krupp (Environmental Defense Fund and co-author of “Earth: The Sequel”) says that:

One scorching summer doesn’t confirm that climate change is real… what matters is the trend—a decades-long march toward hotter and wilder weather. But with more than 26,000 heat records broken in the last 12 months and pervasive drought turning nearly half of all U.S. into disaster areas, many climate skeptics are reassessing the issue.

According to a recent report in Bloomberg Business Week, a poll taken in July 2012 by UT Energy  shows that 70 percent of respondents now believe that climate change is real compared with 52 percent in 2010. Climate change deniers who say it’s not taking place fell to 15 percent from 22 percent.

Feeling the Fear

Fear is a powerful and primitive human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger and was critical in keeping our ancestors alive. The long trends are ominous! For the first time ever, Americans fear the effects of climate change. They wonder if the droughts will persist year after year; they muse over the crop failures, depleting water supplies and aquifers; they’re asking questions about how their children and grandchildren will deal with these conditions as they worsen.

Americans are seeing and feeling the symptoms of global warming like never before in recorded history. In recent years, interest in warming statistics has been overshadowed by more immediate concerns such as terrorism, war and a poor economy. Americans now are starting to feel the fear.

Scott Stenholm reports in Huffington Post that:

this summer has marked the dawn of a new era where a poor economic climate will not only pale in comparison to, but will be exacerbated by, actual climate. Global warming is literally cooking our lakes, rivers and oceans as evident when it was recently reported that hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of fish have died as a result of water temperatures reaching as high as 100 degrees in Iowa and Illinois at an enormous cost to the fishing industry there.

Fear is a great motivator, it’s the ultimate motivator. As reported by Bill McKibben, in an email sent to subscribers of 350.org:

Just last week, the U.S. climate movement showed us just what it means to organize with courage, even when faced with foes like the fossil fuel industry. Across the country, protests rumbled the industry, and it looks like it’s just the beginning… doesn’t sound like a movement that is paralyzed by its fear. In fact, that sounds like a movement that is ready to end business as usual for the fossil fuel industry.

Photo: Jenna Pope | Forward on Climate Rally

We’re slowly accepting that new thinking, combined with courageous political determination, rational bipartisan solutions and American willpower, will be essential to win the war on climate change. Nothing less than the American ingenuity typified by the Manhattan Project, in which the U.S. beat the Germans to the bomb and eventually won the war setting off an unprecedented economic boom, is required. A return to commonsensical solutions that address both climate change and its effects on economic health is fundamentally critical for success.

The Link to Common Sense

To ignite the forces of revolution you need to light a match. Occupy Wall Street provided that spark. Occupy has exposed corporate greed, lawless bankers, massive campaign donations choking the political process, a broken dysfunctional democracy, rising inequalities between the rich and the middle class, and an unsustainable debt load that will be passed on to future generations.

But to sustain a revolution, you need to build a fire. Fear of climate change may just be the fuel that feeds that fire. When fear is present, common sense solutions are sure to follow. One can either be immobilized by fear or motivated to take action. And a growing number of people are recognizing that the warming of the planet is caused by human activity. Fear can be quite paralyzing but can also lead to extraordinary courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

Seeking solutions that are logical and rational and making decisions that will have a positive impact on our environment is common sense. Rampant economic growth must be replaced by sustainable activities that will not rob future generations of their right to the same opportunities we have enjoyed. That too is common sense.

Emerging Consensus

The recent emergent conservative view is evidence that common sense has a chance to succeed. In the same article, A New Climate-Change Consensus, Krupp establishes the emerging consensus:

Respected Republican leaders have spoken out about the reality of climate change… these views may turn out to be a welcome turning point. For too long, the U.S. has had two camps… one camp tended to preach about climate science … the other camp claimed that climate science was an academic scam designed to get more funding, and to strangle economic growth… constructive conversation rarely occurred. If both sides can now begin to agree on some basic propositions, maybe we can restart the discussion.

Proposition 1 – uncomfortable for skeptics, but it is unfortunately true: Dramatic alterations to the climate are here and likely to get worse—with profound damage to the economy—unless sustained action is taken. As the Economist recently editorialized about the melting Arctic: “It is a stunning illustration of global warming, the cause of the melt. It also contains grave warnings of its dangers. The world would be mad to ignore them.”

Proposition 2 – uncomfortable for supporters of climate action, but it is also true: Some proposed climate solutions, if not well designed or thoughtfully implemented, could damage the economy and stifle short-term growth. As much as environmentalists feel a justifiable urgency to solve this problem, we cannot ignore the economic impact of any proposed action, especially on those at the bottom of the pyramid. For any policy to succeed, it must work with the market, not against it.

Richard Muller, Berkeley Physicist

In a 2011 study, funded by climate-skeptical industrialists David and Charles Koch, University of California, Berkeley physicist Richard Muller (also a climate skeptic) confirmed that temperatures have been climbing over the past five decades.  His conclusion:

“You should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.”

A more recent analysis by Muller’s Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature research team has produced a new analysis of global temperatures over the past 250 years. The conclusion is that “climate change is ‘almost entirely’ due to greenhouse-gas pollution.”

Are we witnessing the beginning of an intellectual revolution?

Can we hope to see the emergence of common sense in our politics and economic systems now focused on perpetual growth? The fear of annihilation, our responsibility to future generations, the threat to survival are basic rudiments of the human species… Humans have been adapting to a changing planet for thousands of years but can we adapt to massive global climate change?

The successful revolution in the final analysis requires conviction of the need for change in attitudes and values. We are not there yet. But it might be a beginning.

In the words of the great Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi:

“The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation’s development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success.”


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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger


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