Is there a middle ground in the climate discussion?


Both sides in the debate agree the climate is changing — something that could be a starting point

(Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a three-part series looking at both sides of the debate over the changing climate and the divide between those who see it as a crisis and those who argue it is part of a natural cycle. The objective of this series is to provide insight into both perspectives as part of a larger conversation within our community. In Part III, we take a look at some areas where both sides could potentially find common ground.)

Oct. 30, 2019 — Climate and weather are critical components to daily life on planet Earth. The central role weather plays in all planetary life makes any discussion regarding the potential for dramatic or destructive changes to the Earth’s weather systems of primary importance — and underlies the urgency many feel regarding Climate Change.

The arguing and acrimony surrounding the issue of Climate Change often threatens to drown out the reason for the concern.

While hundreds of millions of individuals around the planet voice deep concern for the need to take action in reducing or eliminating man-made toxins and pollutants as part of impacting climate change, hundreds of millions of others go about their lives with little or no concern over the issue, choosing to believe that the human impacts on the planet are not as critical as others portray.

Regardless of where you stand on the debate, each side believes there is validity in their point of view that should be acknowledged. There is however an axiom that seems to apply in this situation, which is to hope for the best but plan for the worst.

This philosophy is embraced by the U.S. military, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and State and Municipal governments around the country.

The reason is simple: Science and what we understand about it is always evolving and changing, creating the possibility of misinterpretation — which seems to be the main thrust behind the current debate over climate change.

Not to say there isn’t common ground. There is no argument on some things, such as understanding that the planet’s resources are in many instances’ finite and that the processes we use to extract and consume them are often destructive, causing interruption of other natural cycles.

It is indeed the age of the Anthropocene, the Age of Human control of the biosphere.

Humans now have the ability and the necessary tools to alter, modify or destroy every habitat on Earth. This can occur through intent, neglect, misjudgment or inaction. We can redirect rivers to provide water to populations or ease navigational routes to increase trade, such as with the creation of the Panama Canal. But do we understanding the long-term impacts of humanity’s power to impose its will on the planet?

And do we understand the Earth’s ability to impose its own will humanity through its changing climate?

The food we depend on to survive is planted, grown and harvested based on predictable and consistent cycles of sun and rain.

Without this certainty, many segments of the food chain would be damaged, possibly beyond repair.

Locally, there are some individuals who have chosen a path forward that is more inclusive when it comes to what can be done and are working to address the issues that divide us.

Rev. Karin Baisinger leads the Florence Methodist Church and her sense of what needs to be done is based on looking ahead rather than arguing about the past.

“After attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto in November and hearing the call to non-violent action at a global gathering representing 83 countries and 210 spiritual paths and religions, I began reading more intensively about climate change,” Baisinger said. “I did some deep soul-searching about what is most important and how best to live this precious life I have been gifted with.”

Baisinger and her husband were in the process of selling their home in Eugene and moving to the Olympic Peninsula when she said she began to feel more and more strongly about a call to work with a community of faith, a United Methodist church, during a time she sees as critical for the planet, her children and grandchildren.

“We should be focused on what is best for the continued survival of all life on Earth, not just humanity,” she said. “There seems to be a sense that concern for the environment somehow diminishes humanity’s rights in the equation.”

Baisinger believes the climate discussion is also about social justice. As a member of her church’s Sacred Earth Initiative Team, she looks at the overall impact of pollution and other issues where individual behaviors can be altered to reduce the negative results of our action.

One Sacred Earth Initiative team member is Vicki Philben, M.D., a retired surgeon.

“She and her husband, Scott, are essentially ‘climate refugees’ in my view,” said Baisinger, who explained that the two became part of the congregation last year, just ahead of the devastating fires in Redding, Calif.

“We see the climate change emergency as a moral issue, one involving social justice,” said Dr. Philben. “The people who produce the most pollution are not the ones who are the most affected. Climate change will negatively impact everyone, but the people most impacted will be children, the elderly, people living in poverty and, of course, future generations.”

Philben said the poor produce only a tiny amount of pollution, “Yet, it is they who mostly bear the brunt of the negative effects of climate change. This is not fair. Again, this is a matter of social justice.”

On a local level, this means using the tools in our conservation and restoration toolbox properly and effectively, said Baisinger. It also requires erring on the side of caution and not recklessness, primarily as we have to think of future generations and the need to leave them a planet that can provide the essentials of life.

There are some simple steps that each of us can take that may make a difference moving forward.

According to the Center for Clean Air Policy recycling, composting and waste-to-energy programs can help on a small scale and, when combined with the work of others, makes a big difference. Recycling reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills and the need to process new materials from the environment.

In addition, composting reduces gases from organic waste and creates a viable alternative to adding man-made fertilizers.

Waste-to-energy programs divert materials from landfills and create new revenue streams.

All of these actions can decrease the impact each of us has on the environment.

Regardless of which side of the climate debate you stand on — man-made or natural cycle of the planet, crisis or not — the one thing both sides agree on is that the climate is changing and that humans play a role.

“Only a fool would claim the plastic island in the Pacific, the dead zone around Pripyat in Ukraine or the colorful rivers of China’s inland happened by themselves,” said Florence resident Matt Danielsson. “But modern doomsayers argue for a return to almost borderline medieval living, while I believe technology and innovation is the way forward if for no other reason than that it’d prevent mass starvation.”

While Danielsson agrees that society has reached a point where yesterday’s solutions to energy and industrial needs have become today’s problem, he believes it’s the same drive for innovation that created those solutions that will positively impact the future.

“What will come next? I don’t know. But we literally have armies of scientists working on it and a free market that will pounce on the next game-changing technology,” said Danielsson. “It won’t come out of the goodness of their hearts but because they want to make an obscene profit.”

What Danielsson says he does know is that the planet now hosts 7.7 billion humans. “If we try to yank oil out of the equation prematurely, as some extremists advocate, we are guaranteeing ecological collapse and mass starvation.

“So, let technology and innovation solve this problem; treading backwards while self-flaggelating doesn’t strike me as a winning concept.”

In the meantime, increasing numbers of large-scale conflagrations, burning hundreds of thousands of acres of land, forest and fields, are again striking places like California.

Additionally, fires rage over hundreds of thousands of acres daily in the Amazon and across large swaths of Southern Asia and Africa. A glance at the website Global Watch Forest Fire shows the number, location and severity of fires currently burning — and that number is often in the thousands.

Massive often unchecked wildfires destroy millions of trees and less noticeable biomass like bushes and grasses, which serve as homes and food for an array of wildlife, birds and insects. Most of these creatures will perish do to smoke inhalation before they are burned to death.

The smoke and particulate matter from these fires rise into the atmosphere, blocking the sun and migrating to other loca-tions, often hundreds of miles from the original fire. This makes breathing difficult and causes the death of many smaller creatures that cannot leave the fire location.

All of these scenarios, and their long-term impacts, need to be better understood to ensure that the actions we take to address our changing climate — whether through new technology, reducing our carbon footprint or a combination of the two — help mitigate the problem instead of adding to it.

Ultimately, the fact that there are divergent and passionate opinions surrounding the climate discussion means the sub-ject has risen to the level where a global conversation about it — something which rarely took place just a few decades ago — will continue.

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