In the life of both our place and our family there is no issue more important than climate change and how it is affected by our relationship to the natural infrastructure. Yet it is damnably hard to understand, as a forecast. Complexity is expressed in parts per million and an array of assumed variables. This complexity lends itself to the partisan warriors who specialize in division.
I have struggled to understand the level of future risk and can assure you my knowledge will always be fractional. Yet in my research, I have found America’s National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) deeply informed and their findings clearly stated. A couple of paragraphs from NASA, I hope, will serve as a teaser for skeptics to go to its website.
“Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.
The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.”
During the coming weeks I am going to share my thoughts on what is widely described as an “existential issue” or the “issue of our times.” I will meander a bit because for me the journey informs the conclusions. My conclusions are not informed by having satellites in the sky. Also, climate trends are not the only challenges we face. Nature’s virtuous circle has been broken.
My wife and I have a small farm called Nature’s Reach. I have the good fortune of practice and result as contrasted with theory and projections. In ways, not intended, Nature’s Reach has become my laboratory or model, if you will. And my perspective is informed by growing up on land that had been “reclaimed”, the swamp was drained and I am not talking about the metaphorical one—but my birth place. I grew up in Southeast Missouri several dozen miles from the Mississippi River.
In Missouri I was a part of a small group that successfully initiated a constitutional initiative to add an eighth of a cent sales tax for the preservation of natural habitats. The issues that shaped that campaign and so many other environmental initiatives were ones in which cause and effect were explicit. There were few hidden variables.
The assertion that we are, in part, responsible for climate change is different and controversial. When it comes to the potential for effective countervailing and timely actions to mitigate climate changes, the controversy thickens. Asking people to make abrupt changes in their lifestyle is, in a sense, a gift to the critics.
When it comes to the issue of our time, there should be constant efforts to find common ground. This, in my mind, should be a first principle. Climate progress will require winsome narratives and broad spectrum alliances—narratives that expand the scope and benefits and alliances that reach across the lines that divide us.
The challenges posed by the undisputed warming trend and its cause are too many and too varied to be resolved or mitigated by anything short of unified actions. In the United States, that means gaining a substantial measure of unity up and down the government hierarchy. And, because individual liberty is both a constitutional guarantee and a cultural imperative, inspired and inspiring leadership is not optional.
I welcome feedback and hope this series of columns might draw our community into a give and take on the issue of the day. If so inclined read and then post your thoughts.
POSTSCRIPT: Each episode in serialized TV shows comes with an ever-so-brief refresher of past episodes. I decided to apply this approach to a series of columns on climate change, except for one variation. There will be one bridge to each column and this is it: Human re-shaping of our natural infrastructure has confronted us with existential issues. This column is one in a series that began with, The Issue of Our Time.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.
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