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Solving Climate Change Without Battling About Climate change

August 4, 2011, 3:14 PM

            I’ve had an interesting conversation with a colleague the past few days about an earlier piece I wrote here, Cool Dudes, Hot Temps: The Climate Change Battle Will Get Us Nowhere,  in which I made the case that arguing over the facts about climate change is really a surrogate for an underlying battle of deep worldviews, which is not likely to end up in anything more than ongoing polarization and stalemate…which delays solving the problem.

            I offered this as an alternative:

The solution is obvious, though hardly easy. We have stop making climate change a zero sum if-you-win-I-lose battle. We have to frame the issue in ways that work within everybody’s underlying cultural/tribal perspectives. We have to realize that answers are more likely to be found, and solutions are more likely to be reached, if the goal is finding common ground, to one of the most serious threats humans - all of us - have ever faced.

The colleague is not keen on that approach. He’s still in battle mode, writing;

“There is an alternative to changing people's minds/identities: defeating them! Building political power and implementing changes over their objections.”

 “I see one side that's very keen to win and another side that's "not about winning," and the latter is getting beat.”

He challenged me to come with up more specific suggestions about finding common ground. Here goes.


Suppose I told you that you could double the gas mileage you get when you drive. Without sacrificing one iota of power or performance, without having to drive 55 instead of 75 or only going 120 miles before your battery runs out, you could cut your gasoline bills in half. As a side benefit you could reduce local air pollution, and help national security by reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. But those are side benefits. You could gut your gasoline bills in half. How’s that sound?

To do this you’d need to trade in your current vehicle for a more efficient one, and not everybody can spring for a new car or truck. So suppose I throw this in the deal; if your vehicle is more than five years old, the government will pay you $2,000 to help you with the trade-in. Two grand off a new car or truck, of your choice, that cuts your fuel bills in half!


Did I try to change you from a climate change denier to a true believer? No. Did my suggestion about a more fuel efficient car say anything about climate change? No. Did I, however, propose something that might appeal to even climate change deniers, and help solve the problem? Yup. That is what I meant when I suggested moving past the zero sum if-you-win-I-lose cultural battle over climate change, and finding common ground that will help solve the problem.

I just didn’t do it by trying to win. Not, at least, if winning means what my friend thinks it should mean…getting others to see the problem the way he wants them to, or forcing solutions on them politically…by ”defeating them”...a you-lose-so-I-win zero sum proposition. I’m suggesting a redefinition of winning, to mean finding solutions that are more universally appealing and don’t engender political conflict and delay, solutions that make progress on the huge and urgent problem of climate change.

There are a lot of these opportunities, things that would mitigate climate change that can be supported for other reasons. Using less energy saves everybody money, and reduces the local air pollution that kills tens of thousands of people a year and sickens hundreds of thousands more, costing people their wages and the economy productivity. Reducing dependence on foreign oil is good for the economy, and prices, and national security. Even adaptation to climate change, like infrastructure to deal with the prospect of increased flooding, makes sense as part of the commonly accepted goal of emergency preparedness, whether the flooding is coming from rising seas or just an exceptionally snowy winter, as in the U.S. west last year. None of this needs to be argued within the polarized context of the climate change battle. There are significant, immediate benefits in these and other actions apart from how they might help mitigate what we’re doing to the biosphere.


Please don’t hold me to the details of any of these ideas. They are of course more complex in the real world than I have made them out to be. They are offered here merely as demonstration of an idea, an approach, a recognition that the argument over climate change is not about climate change per se but something far deeper, less amenable to resolution, rooted in an ideological resistance to other perspective that is intrinsic to the human animal and likely to keep us locked in combat and unable to make progress unless we move past climate change as a battle and look for solutions, instead of victory.


Solving Climate Change With...

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