While we wait for the Trump administration to come to life
While we wait to see what the Trump administration is actually going to do or undo about addressing Climate Change, we can speculate about something other than gearing up for a lot of environmental fights. Of course, it’s prudent for environmental groups and states to protect our environment and not allow any backsliding on environmental protections we’ve already achieved. Our environment is our life support system, not a special interest; so those who ‘get it’ aren’t likely to let go of hope.
Along with preparations for traditional environmental strategies, environmental groups should be trying to figure out what went wrong in the last elections such that climate denial is now in vogue. We assumed that the public understands Climate Change—instead, they just thought other issues were more important, which is absurd. If the public knew that Climate Change is an existential threat that has to be adapted to, the US Presidential elections wouldn’t have even been close. I know, many people do not believe that Climate Change is a threat to our future, but this is an opinion based on many assumptions about past climate changes, past human endeavors, and probably a healthy dose of the will not to believe. (One can think of the ‘will not to believe’ in the context of Germany under Hitler where too many Germans chose not to believe what they were hearing about what came to be known as the Holocaust.)
My thesis that everyone must know Climate Change
My thesis about our failure at the polls last November is that environmentalists, scientists, bloggers, and our media failed to communicate to the entire public that Climate Change is unavoidable, that it must be addressed whether we like it or not. I don’t mean to say heroic efforts were not made by many parties to present evidence of this crisis, but that we failed to reach enough. I believe that if the entire public really understood the evidence supporting Climate Change and the threat to our life support system that this crisis presents, they would not have allowed Climate Change to simmer on the backburners during our last election. Many civilizations— Mississippian culture, Ancestral Puebloans, and early Easter Island, just to name a few—failed in conditions of changing climate and/or environmental failure. Of course, these civilizations didn’t know they were wrecking their environment or failing to notice ominous changes. There is no such lack of information and evidence for Climate Change today.
(You could say that there are many instances where people know cigarette smoking will kill them, yet they do it anyways. I would argue that they don’t know it. They think they know it, but convince themselves that it won’t be them that gets nailed. Just look at their 95-year old grandfather who’s been smoking all his life. Or, there are folks whose doctor has told them they are going to die of smoking but continue regardless. These folks know that their number is up and figure it won’t make any difference now if they keep smoking. But, for my argument, civilizations don’t think like that. Civilizations don’t say that our way of life is killing us and continue business as usual anyways. Not knowingly. I believe humanity, everyone, hasn’t been presented with the full picture of how environments work and how they fail. They may know other climate changes, but they don’t know Climate Change.)
There is already overwhelming evidence from our most credible sources that Climate Change is happening and that this crisis is a threat to our future. There are innumerable ways to get this information free. So there is no lack of expert climate information readily available. But here’s the rub: Somehow those who know Climate Change need to communicate this information to everyone on a scale and time frame that will matter. Pandering to people’s comfort zone is pointless; it encourages the wrong-headed notion that Climate Change can be addressed without challenging our way of life. If we could conduct a massive Spock-like mind-meld, I think we could go far in gaining a world-wide consensus on the urgency behind addressing Climate Change. We’d make the incorporeal jump between minds and bodies, clear of self-interests, beliefs, assumptions, politics and get to the heart of the matter.
Short of that, there may be a way to bake the reality of Climate Change into our present social and political zeitgeist so that it’s more comfortable for the majority of the public to accept it than deny it.
Climate Change Central
My thoughts strayed in this direction as I remembered the Climate Change Central project in Rochester back in 2008-09. So, for the record, I’m anchoring my idea on the great effort of two local women who spent their own money to set up a meeting place on Park Avenue to educate the public on Climate Change. They showed films, created a small library of books and pamphlets by local groups addressing Climate Change. They invited passersby to come in and just talk about Climate Change. It was a wonderful showcase for communicating with people about this crisis. Eventually, these women ran out of funds and the project vanished.
But this project could be resurrected in many ways and set on a much larger stage.
I’d like to see brick-and-mortar institutions focused on Climate Change education in Rochester, and in every community. But first, I’d like to shoot for the stars with my vision of what could be: A climate institution where there would be a curator and staff of experts. There would be similar institutions in each community. Using our best communication tools, there would be displays explaining what climate change is and how this Climate Change is different. Each community would have Climate Change brought home through photo galleries, films, and artistic works that demonstrate how each community was contributing to Climate Change and how each community would be affected. For example, Climate Change in Rochester won’t look the same as Climate Change in Alaska (which is warming faster and more dramatically).
This climate institution would have books. It would have examples of climate models, with scientists describing how such systems worked. More public knowledge about climate modeling would convince many more people how rigorous predicting our future climate has become. Check this out:
Demystifying Climate Models By Andrew Gettelman, National Center for Atmospheric Research Richard B. Rood, Climate and Space Sciences, University of Michigan Springer 2016 Download PDF from Springer Open Access "Uncertainty is not a weakness. Understanding uncertainty is a strength, and a key part of using any model, including climate models."
There would be interactive displays where various scenarios were modeled so the public could see the local advantages of taking action and the disadvantages of not doing so. It could be a sliding scale that would demonstrate various scenarios—like a scenario where we started building up our various infrastructures, like our sewer systems and highways, and then see what happens when there is more flooding—as predicted by climate studies. Activists and environmentalists would be able to set up booths explaining how climate justice for challenged communities are a vital component of addressing Climate Change. Projects would demonstrate likely outcomes in the future of where we took proper action and where we didn’t. There would definitely be an Internet station with online portals that would help visitors navigate and interpret the great wealth of data and information on this crisis.
My special climate educational dream project:
In the center of each institution would be a gigantic hologram, a 3-D image of Earth projected into a space where the public could walk around it and climb via a spiral staircase to perhaps several stories. This Earth hologram wouldn’t just be an image; it would be a computerized composition that visualized data from past and present monitoring data. It would be the ultimate pedagogical tool for Climate Change. The public would be able to see Earth breathe and react to the slightest biological and physical forces. The public would see various scenarios tested on this hologram and see what climate scientists see when they run possible situations in their models. Seeing Climate Change in this way would give the public, at every level of education and background, the feedback they need in order to grasp this extremely complex crisis.
The Climate Museum
While many will see this idea as unlikely, wildly expensive, and completely improbable, something like it is actually is happening in New York City.
“We are launching a climate museum in New York City to serve as a hub for climate engagement and leadership in a challenging world. The Paris Agreement of 2015 holds great promise for the transition to a clean energy economy and culture. Despite the range of efforts across society to make this transition real, the threats of denialism and obstruction are more potent than ever. We must rise to this challenge together. To do so, we need something new: a public space where we can gather to learn about climate change, face our fears, share solutions, and commit to change. The Climate Museum will be this place: a cultural and educational institution dedicated to climate issues and solutions.” The Climate Museum
The Climate Change imperative
This idea of a public space to learn about Climate Change must work. Traditional environmental actions—marching*, publishing newsletters, protesting, fighting in the courts, and even joining environmental groups--don’t get our entire public engaged. It gets lots of folks engaged, but obviously not enough. In fact, these activities may be distancing ourselves from the very public we are trying to reach. The NYC museum project must be scalable, in order for millions of people in all walks of life. Nobody doesn’t like museums, as millions already visit them each year.
A smaller vision involves relatively inexpensive public spaces where volunteers would explain Climate Change and connect with the public—as was the case with Climate Change Central. After rent for a room, utilities, and insurance are accounted for, in-kind services, donations, and volunteers could make this project doable. Given the imperative of getting the public up-to-date on Climate Change, the cost would be minimal. Discovering the god particle, the Higgs Boson particle, cost billions and billions of dollars. Though a very interesting particle, it won’t save humanity. Just saying…
* I don’t mean to undermine the importance of marching, rallying, and demonstrating in any way—as I have been a part of the largest environmental marches in and around the Northeast for many years. For the purposes of this essay, I want to highlight in the importance of reaching folks who wouldn’t even think of marching in the streets to save their environment, which I suspect is a lot of people. Those are the people we need to reach.