What if our “warming” and “cooling” crises are really the same problem?

WELCOME back, Dr. Allan Schnaiberg! Scroll down to read the first two parts of this special 3-part series. And we’d really like to hear what you’re thinking.

    (If you’re just joining our series, here are all links to all of the parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.)

On Monday, I began this series by describing the two biggest problems we face: warming and cooling. I wrote: “Global warming poses threats to agriculture, weather, land use and our own survival. The second challenge is our economic decline – a ‘cooling’ rather than a warming trend.”
    If you’ve been reading Monday and Tuesday, we’ve also explored an experiment I’m proposing in re-envisioning our communities. If we are going to contend with the problems ahead of us, we need a dramatic change in the structure of our communities and our overall culture.
    Before you say, “Impossible,” consider this intriguing question: What if both of our big problems are really the same problem?
    Think about this for a moment. Ask yourself: How did Global Warming sneak up on us? Like many problems we finally are forced to confront, we should have been thinking about Global Warming for a long time. Scientists have noted carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere since at least the late 1970s. And, climatologists have linked these rising levels to increased warming of the earth’s atmosphere since the 1970s, as well.
    For years now, other countries have been noting this risk, which affect our ice sheets, rainfall patterns and temperatures. But as Americans we were skeptical about Global Warming and avoided signing the Kyoto Accords of 1992, which required developed countries to reduce their level of net carbon dioxide emissions. The Clinton administration paid lip service to the problem, but avoided any regulation of energy production and use.
    As we all know now, dealing with this problem is politically difficult. At the root of Global Warming was the dramatic mid-20th-Century increase in atmospheric release of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases, such as methane (a product of animal wastes and many landfill contents) plus the production and combustion of all fossil fuels (oil, gasoline, natural gas, coal, etc.).
    Why have we been so slow to respond? One reason is that some vested interests have been trying their best to confuse us. Industries that are major producers and consumers of fossil fuels organized a mass advertising campaign claiming that scientists are in “disagreement” over the “facts” of global warming.
    Ironically, when I was doing some research on the collapse of Enron, I discovered that in 2000 Enron was selling insurance and consulting services focused on helping other companies deal with the problems of climate change! Industry has been aware of the looming “warming” problem for years, but its primary mission seems to have been growth and expansion and rising sales.

Penguin family
    Are you beginning to see a deep connection between our “warming” and “cooling” crises? The industry-sponsored campaigns concerning Global Warming finally are crumbling because climate change is becoming more obvious. We are seeing increased hurricane forces, movements of bird species farther north to avoid local warming, and dramatic increases and decreases in temperature and rainfall.
    Our sympathy has been mobilized by media accounts of the problems of popular animal species, such as the polar bear and penguin, with the decrease and breakup of ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic.
    I believe we can draw parallels between our economic decline and our collective decisions that have worsened Global Warming. In short: We consumed too much too fast and we couldn’t stop. Our “warming” and “cooling” crises may be two faces of the same political, economic, social and cultural processes.
    In the experiment I proposed on Monday and Tuesday, I suggested ways that we can start to re-orient ourselves to our communities and perhaps begin to think in new ways about more tightly knit urban spaces.
    So, please, tell us what you’re thinking this week. Are you interested in the experiment I’ve proposed? Do you agree with my overall analysis?
    If these problems we face are related to American values — do you think we lost track of our values? Or do you think our values themselves are flawed?
    In my own work, I am more interested in helping people to sort out the seemingly contradictory points of view we encounter in our lives. I am not interested in labeling things “sins” or “errors” — but in collectively sorting out how to make sense of the confusing messages we are hearing.
    So, please, take a moment and add your own thoughts. What values should guide us as we deal with these twin crises, which may turn out to be two faces of the same long-term problem?
    What do you think we should do? What values should guide us?

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