A Public Debate on Climate Change: Dangerous or Necessary?

The White House Chief of Staff has wide ranging powers in any typical administration. He controls what goes on the president’s desk and ensures that the objectives set out by his boss are met with each tumultuous passing day. In short, he is the country’s unelected Chief Executive Number Two. General John Kelly of the current Trump White House sees his role in a similar fashion. His attempts to restore a semblance of order to the scandal-ravaged administration have made waves in Washington — he has been called one of the three “people that help separate our country from chaos” by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN). And his recent decision to snub EPA Chief Scott Pruitt for wanting live, televised, debates questioning climate change reflects just that. Or does it? From a political standpoint, the Trump administration could do without any more distractions like these. But when it comes to the well-being of the American public, could a national debate on climate change be exactly what we need?

Here are some facts: 48 percent of Americans believe that climate change is the result of human activity. Even more — 61 percent — believe that we will have to make major changes to our way of life in the next half century to address climate change. So why do we still hesitate to fully embrace policies and ideas that tackle this colossally critical issue?

The reason for this, I believe, lies in our unwillingness to talk to each other.

Too often, those who are adamant in their refusal of man-made climate change feel attacked by the left-wing media with their “deep-state conspiracies” and seemingly ulterior motives. And those who have been taught about anthropogenically-caused climate change as the unfortunate yet undeniable reality, see no need to convince those with differing beliefs. This has led to a complete stagnation of conversation where both sides remain blinded by their convictions, unwilling to engage and intent on dismissing the other. To be sure, one side is empirically backed by science and the other is not. But if we are to convince the masses, science can only be a part of the debate. It requires the bridging of a gap that transcends politics — it requires each side to trust the other and understand its concerns. While that is far easier said than done, it can begin with a genuine debate and conversation on whether or not climate change is the result of human activity. What can we aim to get out of such a debate? Well, for starters, we can aim to convince the 52 percent of Americans who deny man-made climate change that slightly altering their mundane day-to-day activities can have a profound impact on the planet, things like using a canvas bag instead of disposable plastic bag every time we go shopping, or cutting down on mindless water usage, or simply reducing the number of shirts you purchase. Combating climate change will be a long and arduous journey, and there is only so much public policy can fix. It will require the efforts of every individual to create a sustainable future. But for that, we need to be on the same page.

As recently as April 24, 2018, the Railroad Commissioner for Texas, Wayne Christian, published an article titled “The Science on Climate Change is not Settled.” In it, he cited a study that stated that “the average temperature around the world has only increased by a historically unremarkable one degree Celsius over the past 150 years.” Characterizing this one degree increase in temperature as “unremarkable” is not only deeply misleading, but also highlights the gross misinformation that has entered the mainstream in the public sphere — something to which even an elected official like the Railroad Commissioner of Texas has, too, fallen prey. Which is why we need to get our facts straight, and into the open. If done right, a public debate on climate change holds the potential to sway minds and bring us together in a shared cause.

So, I say let’s do it. Scott Pruitt’s crusade to dismantle the very purpose of the EPA undoubtedly casts a dark shadow on efforts to battle climate change. But if this debate becomes a part of Pruitt’s legacy, his time may have yielded substantive results after all.

Categories: Environment

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