OPINION: The Politics and Small Gestures of Climate Change

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The issue of climate change is a hard one to fight. But that doesn’t mean we should allow ourselves to be less motivated to address it. It means the opposite, in fact – it is hard to fight and that means it deserves our utmost attention and energy. That is, of course, if you want humanity to survive, which I wouldn’t want to push on you.

There are a few factors that make climate change an especially tough issue to garner consensus and adequate group action around. There are more than just these few factors, of course, but I wanted to bring these up specifically to hopefully address either the people who do not agree with me, or those that do, but are feeling unmotivated toward the crisis.

First of all, the pace of climate change and who it affects first make it easy to continue ignoring, as well as the culture of denying its effect or even its very existence. Rob Nixon, currently a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spearheaded this idea in his 2011 book, “Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.”

He defines “slow violence” as a “violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, and attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all,” which is the exact medium of the global warming crisis.

He also argues that it is ignored because who it affects most violently are the fringes of modern society, or those that don’t have the power to affect change against it. When the sea rises and devours the land of a tiny, politically unimportant, island culture, what are they supposed to do about it? When geologic landmarks slowly erode and catastrophic natural disasters occur, what are the people of the devastated mountain village supposed to do about it?

This idea, as climate change progresses and we do not, is going to be tested. California is burning. How long can we continue to ignore the affected?

It is not our fault that we didn’t fully grasp the planetary consequences our innovation and evolutionary success would cause. It is our fault if we understand it now and still do nothing.

Nixon also addresses what he calls the “forces of inaction.” He says that “environmental activists face well-funded, well-organized interests that invest heavily in manufacturing and sustaining a culture of doubt around the science of slow violence, thereby postponing policies that would help rein in the long-term impacts of climate change in particular.”

According to him, these forces are driven by a “coalition of Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Tobacco, led by ExxonMobil and Phillip Morris,” which has “amassed an army. . . to sponsor uncertainty around climate change.” And this brings me to the culture of doubt in this country relating to this scientifically agreed on issue.

I brought up the Pew Research Center in part one of this series, and their Jan. 28 article “Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society,” in which their data revealed that 9 percent of scientists agreed that climate change was real because of natural patterns, and 87 percent agreed that it was real, and that it was because of human activity.

Well, they did research on another related question posed to U.S. adults: “Do Scientists Generally Agree About Climate Change?” The data gathered earlier showed that the scientists did very much agree, but 37 percent of U.S. adults said that “scientists do not agree.” Those 37 percent are wrong – but why?

One of the most glaring, and quite frankly embarrassing, issues with the public’s climate change knowledge is that one of our country’s two major political parties (go ahead and guess which one I’ll say) has a knowledge problem of their own.

The site, PolitiFact, who explicitly strives to express no political bias, rates the claims of politicians from both sides on their veracity. In their May 18, 2014 article, “Jerry Brown says ‘virtually no Republican’ in Washington accepts climate change science,” they did their research to determine if this was true. They concluded that it was, indeed, “mostly true.” They looked up stances on climate change that Republican members of Congress have taken. They found that “eight out of 278, or about 3 percent,” of Congressional Republicans have professed to believe climate change is real and man-made. That means that the percentage of House Republicans that believe climate change is real and man-made is the same fringe percent of scientists who don’t believe it exists at all.

To complete this bleak look at our country’s Republican legislative mindset, Wired published an article Jan. 21 of this year, titled “Here Are All the Senators Who Do and Don’t Believe in Human-Caused Climate Change.” They detailed the voting results of an “amendment adding that human activity was a significant contributor to the aforementioned climate change,” and “49 senators—fully half the upper house that represents our grand republic—do not (believe that the activities of human beings contribute to climate change).” Of the 49 senators who voted against, every single one was a Republican member.

So either they’re not intellectually capable of understanding scientific fact, in which case they shouldn’t be leading our country, or they are intellectually capable but choose to ignore or even oppose it anyway, and absolutely should not be leading our country.

Perhaps they are pinned in from political reasons. Pew also published a June 16 study of the American public titled “Ideological divide over global warming as wide as ever,” that found that only “38 percent of conservative Republicans say that there is solid evidence of global warming,” and that “conservative Republicans stand out as the only ideological group in which a majority says that there is not solid evidence of a rise in the earth’s temperature.”

The PolitiFact article I mentioned earlier also brought up that it could be the public driving the Republican legislators toward this outrageously indefensible position, not just the other way around. They said “agreeing with climate change science also could be a political liability for Republicans.”

They also quoted Audubon Society President David Yarnold, speaking to the National Journal in 2013, as saying, “Most Republicans say the same thing behind closed doors: ‘Of course, I get that the climate is changing, of course I get that we need to do something – but I need to get reelected.”

This is something both Republican leaders and voters need to take responsibility for. There is a way to be a Republican and believe in clear science. Former Congressman Bob Inglis, PolitiFact details, “formed the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a conservative group that agrees with climate change science. Energy and Enterprise Initiative spokesman Price Atkinson said Republicans support efforts to reduce CO2 emissions but criticize the way Obama and Democrats want to go about it.”

Businessman Jay Faison also wrote an article for Politico on July 19, titled “I’m a Republican. I Want My Party to Tackle Climate Change,” in which he laid out ways that fellow Republicans can get on the clearly right side of this issue, while keeping to their principles. It is best for you and your party to see the light, and come up with your own solutions to our global crisis.

Let’s not get ourselves stuck in a cycle of idiocy. It’s time to adapt.

Though this is an incredibly daunting and difficult issue, I still have a great deal of hope. Because, and this is the big takeaway: in the same way that the slow violence of climate change is difficult to see because of its incremental and gradual accretion, the small incremental gestures we can make ourselves are also largely unseen and unappreciated. . . but incredibly powerful.

The opportunities for small gestures you can make toward this issue are everywhere. You’ve heard about recycling, or walking/biking more, but these are not all you can do. Science is trying to warn us of the crisis, but is also finding new gestures we can easily make. For example, you can now, when you pass, choose to do things like get a biodegradable urn, where your ashes provide nutrition for the growth of a tree. You can have your ashes become an ocean reef, or be launched into space to mix and mingle with the star dust, if you’re feeling particularly romantic.

Another easy thing could be to not vote for those who are, about our fading species and the even more rapidly fading other species, unconcerned. Or, you could simply write to your local politicians to tell them that you, as a matter of fact, are.

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Jonathan Greig
Hi, I’m Jonathan. I graduate this December, majoring in Anthropology, with minors in Creative Writing and Political Science. After that … we’ll see. Maybe graduate school in environmental anthropology. Maybe I’ll finally pursue my old childhood dream of becoming an infomercial host. It’s up in the air. Some of my interests and hobbies include devout sports fanaticism, religious study, and composing country songs that serve to explain the unearthly amount of disdain I have for country music. My band’s called Catfish Hurricane, you should check us out. Well, actually, you shouldn’t. I love writing, which is how I accidentally stumbled into this job. This stumbling into good things is my plan for life in general.