Tuesday’s Gazette-Mail opinion and commentary pages offered a variety of pieces on climate change, on promises for the future and legacies of the past.
Such discussion is to be applauded. There is, of course, an initial problem. As Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar, author, salesman and motivational speaker, put it: “The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.” For all too many, we are not there yet. Facts are being overwhelmed by misinformation on social media.
That said, as in most discussions, progress comes only when the various sides are, as they say, on the same page. Reading the collected comments, I am struck by a fundamental disconnect in the current discussion of climate change.
One perspective focuses on the science involved — how alternative energy production and use would make the planet a healthier and safer place to live. It is optimistic, based on the promise of a better world, or at least saving the one we have now.
The other side focuses on the social and economic cost inherent in structural change, of further burdens to already depressed communities and industries and further losses to current economic interests. This side is pessimistic, based on the failure of past promises and predictions, and fearful that, however well-meaning, change will compound, rather than ease, the current burden.
The optimistic perspective expresses the logic of change, a trust in scientific data and a faith in where it leads us. The latter perspective focuses on the politics of change, a deep-seated awareness that the political, economic and social forces responsible for present conditions will go unchanged.
Interestingly, the two outlooks are joined by a reliance on future discoveries, whether it be affordable battery technology not dependent on imported heavy metals or realistic commercial-scale carbon capture technology that would allow “clean coal.” Both recognize that there will be winners and losers no matter what we do or do not do. They differ, in the words of Martin Luther’s defense on charges of heresy in the 1521 Diet of Worms, on whose ox is being gored.
It is easy to envision an alternative future; it is much harder to figure out how to get there. As an advocate for a strong, scientific-based response to the inevitable threats of climate change, I am concerned about the lack of candor often apparent in the analysis and programs in support of that view. I am, however, heartened by recent discussion in the news media with a less starry-eyed view of that future.
Issues of social responsibility will remain — as with the environmental and health impact of mining, refining and recycling the chemical components of batteries.
Issues of disparity will remain — in the access to or ability to employ new technologies.
Issues of accessibility will remain — such as providing charging opportunities for people who park their electric vehicle on the street and providing parking spaces for charging vehicles that once drove in, fueled up and drove off.
Issues of scale will remain — an expanded electrical energy infrastructure must be capable not only of replacing energy lost from carbon-based generators, but of producing the additional energy needed to meet the needs of private and commercial transportation.
And issues of employment will remain — we cannot be blasé about the ease with which workers can be retrained and subsequently find well-paying employment in their community. The notion of a “just transition” for affected workers and communities continues to gain traction. This is well and good. But the idea means different things to different constituencies. More winners and losers. And it takes time. And money. Nothing will happen overnight.
We will, ultimately, have no consensus or real solutions to the impending crisis without a collective consciousness of the issues and collective will to action. Everyone must do their part, as best they can, in common cause. It is this cultural issue that separates the American response from the response of so many other countries — witness our response to the pandemic.
Above all, we cannot succumb to inertia. A journey starts with the first step, and all that. We must start now, doing all we can in any way possible.
But it must be done with candor, if it is to sell.