It seems that despite whatever statistics are presented to show evidence of climate change, a vocal contingency continues to question the findings. It has become an ongoing source of contention and debate.
Recently, Wellesley College hosted a conversation entitled “The Politics of Climate Change.” Present were former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (Class of 1959) and Carol Browner, who served as EPA Administrator from 1993-2001 and was the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy from 2009-2011.
Peter Thomson was the moderator. He prefaced the talk by giving a rundown of the most current headlines on climates issue—including those dismissing the science (and yes—those folks found their way into the Twitter stream!). His first question was, “How close are we to meeting the challenge of climate issues?”
Albright, who is both funny and direct, spoke bluntly. She referenced those who maintain the science remains unproven as “delusional” and “flat earth people.” Browner commented that the level of deniers was at a six-year high. In terms of countering those who challenged the science, she said, “We are not doing enough.”
Contextualizing the scenario beyond American borders, Albright said, “We need the national climate agenda to extend out to international policy.” She mentioned Thomas Friedman’s column, “WikiLeaks, Drought and Syria,” an examination of the direct connection between the Syrian uprising and that country’s drought.
Albright pointed to China as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. “The Chinese know they can’t breathe, but they are energy hungry,” she said. There was a mention of the four hundred coal-fired plants that China plans to build, and the ramifications it will have for California via air transport. Reacting to that dire news, Browner noted that China does have an emerging grassroots environmental movement.
Giving a quick primer on international relations, Albright explained that foreign policy was “getting others to do what you want.” Concerned that people are “siloed” into their own specific areas while needing to see the larger picture, she called for intersectionality and an interdisciplinary discussion.
Browner emphasized, “Climate change is a reality.” She supported Obama’s use of his executive power and saw the tax code as an incentive. She pushed “resiliency and adaptation” as a key strategy. “This is the biggest problem we have ever faced,” Browner said. “We have changed the planet. We can not delay.” However, she wasn’t pessimistic and insisted, “We can solve it.” On a pragmatic level Browner suggested that once regulations were developed, entrepreneurs would build widgets to “realize these regulations.”
Albright called attention to the role of media, government, and the electorate in the climate change debate. She wanted to see a better educated population getting STEM awareness early on, and called for more people to vote and get involved. On the role of government she insisted, “It is the price of living in a civilized society. Government is not evil. It’s on your side.” She pointed to the power of local government to make tremendous change.
In the ensuing question and answer period, the first topic was fracking. Browner was quick to note that the EPA had the right to regulate the process before Dick Cheney got involved. [This is known as the Halliburton Loophole.] Her belief is that “natural gas is better, but not much better.” She has strong concerns about large-scale capital investment in the extraction method and asked, “Is this really where we want to be thirty years from now?”
The discussion about fracking led to a parsing of the excessive use of water—a finite resource— in hydraulic fracturing. This morphed into a dialogue about water supplies and how water boundaries will line up with political boundaries (America shares its water supply with Canada and Mexico.).
Albright, who has more experience than most with what she termed “the unintended consequences of decisions,” offered the audience a chilling prediction. She said, “The 21st Century conflict will be over water—not oil.”
Hopefully, those in Congress who are not looking at the ramifications of climate change—at home or abroad—will get the message sooner rather than later.
This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.
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