You should hear what these two rock stars of climate change have to say — The Mountain Town News

Katharine Hayhoe. Photo credit: Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Gina McCarthy and Katharine Hayhoe both can hold a stage like few others. McCarthy, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, brims with Boston sass, her arms slicing the air as her words pound out her arguments.

“The simple fact of the matter is that these two actions by the (Trump) administration—to pull out of the Paris agreement and also to try to repeal the Clean Power Plan—use a fundamentally flawed strategy,” she said during a recent speech at the Climate Leadership Conference in Denver. “It is fundamentally a misread of the United States of America. It is a misread of what we care about. … They have made a serious error of judgment.”

That error, she went on to say, was to think that a new president could stop the world from changing. “The world ain’t stopping, baby. It’s changing. You can’t look at the planet and say you’re not changing.”

Hayhoe, who is both an atmospheric scientist and an associate professor of political science at Texas Tech, lays out her arguments with less overt fire. But she, too, dazzles, her talking points sequenced like dominoes, one tripping over into the next. She employs powerful analogies.

“Why does climate change matter?” she asked in a speech at the same conference. She pointed out that building codes, plans for snow removal, and flood-plain planning are all based on the assumption that past intervals predict those of the future.

“What happens if the past is no longer a reliable guide and what if the variability is changing?” she asked.

She then showed an aerial map of West Texas, flat as few places are, and the roads that are straight as arrows. You can, she said, drive down most roads looking in the rear view mirror to guide forward movement.

But there is a highway that, after miles and miles of straight, takes a turn. She showed a picture of that curve in West Texas. Science, she went on to say, has three very important things to say about this planetary climate curve that we’re one.

One, the climate is curving. Weather observations made over the last 20 to 30 years clearly represent a collective change in the climate. It is now changing faster than any time in the history of human civilization.

Science can also tell us why this is happening. It’s not because of the change in solar intensity. Sunlight has been weakening for the last 40 years. Our global climate should be cooling. Instead, it is heating rapidly. Debris spewed into the atmosphere by volcanoes also fails to explain what is being observed.

“There is no convincing alternative explanation to the warming that we see today—and trust me, we have looked at all of them,” she said.

“There is no analog in the last 100 million years to what we see happening.”

What does explain this rapid warming is the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused primarily by the exhausts from combustion of fossil fuels.

The third thing science tells us is that the risk is serious.

“We care about a changing climate because it takes the threats we face today and exacerbates them.” We are already, she added, in the crosshairs of change because of the impacts of floods, droughts, wildfire, heat waves, and hurricanes. They are natural events, “but they are being amplified. “

This gives us three choices: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering, said Hayhoe.

Hear and see Katharine Hayhoe talk about “Bridging the Gap between the Science and Stakeholders.”

McCarthy, now a professor at Harvard University, was EPA administrator when the Clean Power Plan was drawn up. In Denver before her keynote address, she told reporters she doesn’t think the Trump administration will be able to cast aside the Clean Power Plan, as Trump has promised.

“This is not going to be a downhill glide for them. It will be a big slog, and it will be in court for a very long time if they choose to do it,” said McCarthy, minus the theatrics but no less analytical.

She said that the Clean Power Plan was carefully premised in science, every step taken to create a sturdy legal foundation. In issuing the rule in 2015, the EPA estimated it would reduce greenhouse gas emission from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

In fact, by 2016, emissions from the energy sector had fallen 14 percent compared to 2005 levels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. But more narrowly within the electricity sector of energy, they were 25 percent below 2005 levels, according to a 2017 Congressional Research Service report. This occurred even as prices of wind and solar began tumbling with comparable price reductions for storage.

Carl Pope, the former long-term executive director of the Sierra Club, drew from “Climate of Hope,” the book he and co-author Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor. In it, they argued that there was “actually nothing the president of the United States could do to prevent” the United States from its rapid adoption of a non-carbon-based economy. “So far, we look like pretty good prophets,” said Pope.

The United States has continued to cut its carbon dioxide emissions, he added, and the pace of retirement of coal-fired power plants has accelerated.

“We are retiring coal plants twice as fast since Donald Trump became president as we were in the period before Trump became president.”

Transportation, now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, is also changing. Electric vehicles are coming on like a tsunami, as one speaker at the conference said. Pope pointed out that the adoption rate is accelerating. Each year, new predictions are issued for 2030. Each year is 20 percent more aggressive than the year before.

See and hear Carl Pope.

Pope’s observations jibed with those of McCarthy in her remarks with reporters. “The world is changing,” she said. “Are we losing any momentum? Maybe, but I haven’t see that happen yet.”

But if the changes the Clean Power Plan sought to instigate are already happening, what should happen now is investment for innovation and technologies of the future. She said restarting the Clean Power Plan will not be enough for the next presidential administration.

Several hours later, in a keynote address at the conference, McCarthy was back to her sassy self before a friendly, even adoring audience. Here, she skewered a favorite argument of environmentalists. Saving the planet, she said, is not an effective political argument.

“The planet will be just fine. We won’t be able to live on it. That’s a significant clarification,” she said.

“We need to stop talking to people about the health of the planet. I don’t give a damn about the health of the planet. I give a damn about my kids’ and my future. That is what we need to remind people of. That’s what this is all about. That’s what the Paris agreement was all about.”

It being an awards banquet, McCarthy then swiveled to recognize the businesses being recognized for their efforts to effect an energy transition. That was a theme of the conference, perhaps a play to donors. But conveniently, there’s abundant evidence that businesses—along with cities and states —are, in fact, driving the change in the absence of federal leadership.

“We are celebrating companies that are not really doing business as usual,” said McCarthy. “They are actually doing business as unusual. That’s what we want to celebrate. That’s not the same old, same old. Businesses, cities and states are stepping up.”

The most effective action, especially in the environmental realm, has been driven by the grassroots. “It takes a lot of us working together,” she said.

And then she also had this key message, another theme of the conference: Government has a key role in helping disadvantaged sectors. McCarthy spoke to this “sense of equity that government can provide when we level the playing field. ,I want everybody’s world to be stepped up, everybody’s world to be elevated.”

Hayhoe had come at the same topic a little differently. A self-described evangelical Christian, she said part of the discussion needs to be about suffering, what does it look like around the world?

She also talked about how to talk about climate change with those who may be dubious about the need for changes. She suggested there are ample opportunities, because the changing climate “affects everything that is already high on our priority list.”

To create a common ground with disbelievers or those who don’t think it’s a problem, first find out what they do indeed care about it.

If it’s about water, then talk about water variability. If they care about their kids, talk about how it can affect their kids. If they’re birders or people of faith – almost everything that people consider important offers a shared value for continued conversation. Then talk about solutions. “It’s everything to do with what they perceive to be solutions.”

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