Sunday, August 26, 2012

How bad does it need to get?

In a recent editorial by Cornell economist Robert H. Frank in the New York Times, Dr. Frank expresses the opinion that the recent extreme weather will help push climate policy to national prominence by 2016.

I'd like to think so.

I am very interested in how long it will take for the American penny to drop on climate change. Other than the fact that all our lives depend on it, this was also, after all, the topic of my dissertation. And I deal with climate skepticism and denial each year in my classes.

(You wouldn't think we have many climate denialists at Unity College, but we generally get a few in each section, one or two or three. It keeps me on my toes.)

This would be a good time for some aspiring graduate student to do a poll of mid-western farmers. A before/after poll would be best, but failing that a poll that asks whether the subjects have changed their minds about climate change in recent years.

The results wouldn't necessarily be capable of extrapolation to other constituencies. As every good teacher knows, some types of people have minds that are easier to change than others.

But it might be a source of hope.

The heartland farming constituency is a powerful lobby. If they finally get the message (that climate change will ruin the value of their property and destroy their lifestyle) that might actually be helpful politically speaking.

I wrote my dissertation on the basis of an ethnographic and oral history research study of the development of the religious environmental movement in the US and it's potential to spread the word about climate change. To my admittedly historical mindset, religious groups have been important in most prime American issues from abolition on down through the years. I wanted to know if the current movement would help us get through with the climate change message. At the time, and still, the movement was moving to spread the word about climate change among different faith congregations.

I was particularly interested in the southern evangelical denominations, which have historically been slowest to change their minds on just about anything in American history from slavery to gay rights, and remain a force within the Republican party. They are the good folks responsible for the infamous item in the Texas party platform that attempted to outlaw critical thinking in schools.

Dr. Frank might be disappointed in how long it takes to bring climate change to the top of the agenda, if some of these Texans get their way.

How many bankrupt mid-western farmers does it take to outweigh the effects of a single southern evangelical pastor?

That's the kind of see-saw this climate thang will boil down to in 2016 or 2020.

For the record, Dr. Frank also echoes my proposal, given publicly in my last post to Andrew Revkin's NYT blog, to use an element of economic protectionism to force the Chinese to play ball on climate emission reductions. Not that I'm feeling protective of my idea. I don't particularly care who expresses it as long as it gets adopted and is used.

I'm also still watching the weekly El Nino stats, to see if the current conditions remain predictive of a reversal this winter.

So far, so bad.

It's going to be an interesting school year.

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