Finding common interests in the quest to save the climate

By Michelle van Schouwen, Q5 Analytics

Ideally, it would be incontrovertible that people from all walks of life would agree that climate change is real, that it is largely caused by human activity and that mitigating its acceleration would benefit humanity.

But that’s not the way it is.

Given the fact that people in power are still arguing not only about taking action but even about the existence of a problem leads climate change activists to the conclusion that dealing with this issue will be a long, sloppy, and less than optimally effective process. Perhaps this will change. Perhaps the U.S. will soon join the rest of the world in the Paris Agreement, facilitating a more unified global response. Perhaps corporations will put muscle into a better future. In the meantime, climate change will cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars, not to mention severe reductions to biodiversity and a myriad of quality-of-life issues.

Facing bleak prospects for sufficient short-term response-by-power to climate change, activists will do well to rout out and leverage areas of common ground to engender new thinking and positive action among broader constituencies.

What, then, matters enough to get people motivated? Possibilities include:

-The need to feed ourselves. Agriculture, critical to feeding the planet, is highly climate dependent and is also a contributing factor in climate change. While environmentally unappealing commercial and government action (GMO crops and pesticides, fertilizers and more) will no doubt be among first “solutions” attempted, the preservation of a climate appropriate to growing crops is key and must influence policy. Food insecurity is already being strongly linked to climate change.

-Preservation of coastlines and human coastal habitats. We are not talking just about saving beachside property for the fortunate few. Coastal interests include major cities in the U.S. and across the planet, islands around the world, bio-diverse coastal flatlands, fishing communities, coastal national and state parks, and important coastal and marine tourism economies.

Specific financial impacts of severe weather, plus injuries and deaths caused by individual weather events. In the U.S. alone, we’ve seen a measurable increase in excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, flooding, severe hurricanes, and extreme winter storms. All of these cost dollars and lives. U.S Global Change Research Program provides excellent detail on this issue.

-The desire for a strong economy. Paradoxically, government and corporate leaders who disregard or deny climate change are generally doing so in the interest of avoiding change and its financial impact. Their interest lies in protecting immediate profits for fossil fuel, manufacturing and other industries. However, The World Economic Forum and leading economic researchers cite climate change as the largest threat to the world economy. Marshall Burke, Solomon Hsiang, and Edward Miguel, economists based at Stanford and the University of California Berkeley, say in an article published in Nature that “business as usual” emissions through the year 2099 would decrease per-capita GDP by 23%, with much larger impacts possible. The longer-term health of the economy relies on mitigating climate change.

-The need for global stability. The U.S. Department of Defense points out that climate change will accelerate instability in areas including regional norms, water and food availability and governance and corruption, all of which tend to interact. Climate change and related droughts, winds and flooding also threaten over half of U.S. military sites across the world.

-The desire to continue and to have a better world – utopia rather than dystopia. The popularity of dystopian fiction and movies, often centering on catastrophes brought about by environmental disaster, is not a coincidence but a harbinger. The next generation faces the possibility of a world far less pleasant than this one. Some are choosing not to bring children into the world, fearing the conditions in which such offspring might live.

If one or more of these factors can inspire groups of people to pay attention, the next step is to provide doable actions. These may include learning more about climate change, following the news, talking the talk (teaching and sharing information), running for office, advocating for policy and generally demanding more from business and government, joining an activist group, contributing to environmental causes, and making personal lifestyle changes or reorienting certain goals to help build a sustainable future.

Change can happen.