Climate change: Can we make room for debate?

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With the recent hits of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I find many commentators are speculating as to how these hurricanes are occurring. And it doesn’t take long for global climate change to enter the conversation with “experts” and socio-political commentators pointing out that these hurricanes — and virtually any powerful weather event — are anecdotal evidence of “global climate change.”

Unfortunately, if one were to point out the obvious — that it is hurricane season in this region — they would run the risk of immediately being labeled a “climate change denier,” and the discourse would also include comments like, “How could you be so heartless to all the people who have died, or are being affected as a result of these horrible, natural disasters?” Or, “with so much ‘scientific consensus how could any thinking person with a heart possibly deny that it is “global climate change” that is causing all of this?!”

The implication behind such questions is that if you disagree with claims of “global climate change” you are a horrible person that does not care about the planet.

But many “global climate change deniers” do not deny that we experience severe storms. They do not deny the devastation these storms have on the lives of its victims, and many make donations to charities and volunteer to help those in need. Some deniers may even agree that these storms are signs that our climate is different than it has been in the past.

However, what most “global climate change deniers” do call into question is how quickly these natural disasters are attributed to the collective effects of human industrial behavior, that man’s use and production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are causes of these natural disasters.

In other words, anything from simply breathing to the use of carbon-based energy sources is somehow throwing off climate balance (whatever that may be) and will ultimately lead to our planet’s destruction.

But there are many other natural factors which produce far more carbon gases than humans, including animal output, volcanic activity, or even cosmic debris that burns off before entering our atmosphere, to name a few.

Besides, is it not true that such severe weather has existed prior to the Industrial Revolution? So, why are such factors hardly mentioned in the discussion? And does it not strike anyone else as odd that meteorologists cannot predict the weather one week from now, but “climate change advocates” can seem to predict volatile climates well into the next century?

Further, the historical evolution of the current global climate change theory itself does raise questions. One can recall the 1970s Time Magazine issue that warned of the dangers of the next “global freeze,” intonating that within the next few decades the planet would experience massive cooling.

In the 1980s and ’90s, there was a marked shift to the dangers of “global warming,” suggesting the global temperatures would rise over the next few decades, and the bad guys were polluting companies (remember Captain Planet?).

At the turn of the millenium, the language switched to “climate change,” with the focus on regional disasters and “odd” climate phenomena (remember “El Nino” and Al Gore’s, “An Inconvenient Truth”), all of which continually shamed industrial behaviors of companies and emphasized how recycling could save the planet.

Now we hear about “global climate change,” which includes collective individual behaviors and industrialized countries (not just some companies) as causal agents to a virtual environmental armageddon.

While many deniers would agree that conserving and reusing rresourcesare good things, these ever-evolving climate-based theories and their geopolitical ramifications — which advances investing trillions of dollars in transforming companies and entire countries to “go green” — seems to be a massive over-reach.

For example, advocating public policy to alter individual human behavior ranging from reducing human reproduction, to punishing and taxing individuals, to adopt “green” mandates. Considering this, would it not be prudent to advocate discussion and debate on the issue?

For the most part, I tend to be more skeptical than not of global climate change simply because I do have questions (beyond those identified here) that I have not heard addressed. But, whether one believes in “global climate change” or not is their prerogative

What ultimately concerns me is the notion that the discussion of this issue is settled, when there are millions who either have questions, doubts, or outright deny “global climate change.”

Unfortunately, in our current socio-political climate (pun entirely intended) it would seem that our nation is no longer capable of having civil public debates.

There is a socio-political totalitarianism that has crept in, where, for example, if one questions the validity of “global climate change” on any level, they are belittled and berated in the marketplace. Their questions or counterpoints in the discussion are not even expressed, much less considered.

The net effect is the silencing of opposing viewpoints and a perpetuation of a single-point of view. Even when there are valid questions and data that challenge this view, they are either ignored, or the theory evolves without questioning the underlying assumptions (as shown previously).

The only way we can ever hope to have open, public debate is to treat all parties with respect and seek first to understand, rather than be understood. This begins by not assuming that “deniers” are ignorant, intellectually challenged, or scientifically backward.

It also means that “advocates” should not be immediately viewed as anti-American communists, agenda-driven opportunists, or media-propaganda dupes.

When valid questions are raised, rather than deflecting, or belittling, and questioning one’s character or intellect, let’s rise above the negative impulse and respond to the issue at hand, knowing that on some level we do have some shared goals. Only then can constructive public discourse begin.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville with her husband and their five children.]