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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Andrew Revkin: Generation Hot meets Generation Coal. Mark Hertsgaard took his “ Generation Hot” campaign to Washington to confront lawmakers fighting restrictions on emissions of greenhouse gases. He calls such politicians “climate cranks”

Generation Hot Meets Generation Coal

Mark Hertsgaard, a journalist and author long focused on the environment, has a new book and a related environmental campaign. The book, “ Hot,” focuses on building resilience to climatic and related challenges looming in the next 50 years. I’ve just started reading it this weekend.
This post is not focused on the book. This week, Hertsgaard took his “ Generation Hot” campaign to Washington to confront lawmakers fighting restrictions on emissions of greenhouse gases. He calls such politicians “climate cranks.” You might also call them “Generation Coal.”
There are now dueling YouTube videos (do you remember the  dueling videos of a clash between whalers and environmentalists?) portraying one resulting Capitol Hill confrontation, between Hertsgaard and his team and Senator James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who is the minority leader on the environment and public works committee and has long described catastrophic human-driven global warming as a “hoax.” Hertsgaard’s video is above, Inhofe’s below.
The videos likely will entertain and energize the audiences each man is cultivating — in Hertsgaard’s case communitarian activists hoping to build momentum for restrictions on greenhouse gases and in Inhofe’s case a mix of ideological conservatives and free-marketeers. (The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has done a lot of work revealing how powerfully such  cultural and ideological predispositions shape views of the phenomenon too loosely called “global warming.”)
For whatever reason, Inhofe’s video has attracted close to 20 times the views of the nearly identical depiction of the Capitol Hill encounter from Hertsgaard.
Regardless of video viewership, I don’t see this approach to activism being a productive way forward on climate and energy, particularly for young people seeking a meaningful role in fostering progress that can fit on a finite planet. In a 2008 piece on what I call “Generation E,” I articulated a form of activism that might work. (Also see “Young Activists Seek Roles on Energy, Climate.”)
Below you can read Hertsgaard’s replies to a couple of questions I sent during his Washington tour, followed by a very different approach to the denialist/crank/realist/skeptic community (choose your label as you would your favorite physics Nobel laureate) articulated by Randy Olson, the marine biologist turned filmmaker who is also the author of “Don’t Be Such a Scientist.”
Do you think it makes sense to keep focusing kids on the “woe is me, shame on you” approach to climate action given [the] entrenched nature of both the “alarmed” and “dismissive” elements in society? (as  delineated by the Six Americas study?)
As someone who has closely followed the climate change issue over the last twenty years and has seen how the disinformation campaign of the carbon lobby and other deniers has undermined strong U.S. government action to confront this threat, I think it is important and, yes, effective to to call out the deniers for what they have done. That the U.S. has done so little against climate change is due in no small part to the fact that our government and, crucially, the mainstream media have spent almost as much time over the last twenty years listening to anti-scientific climate cranks as they have to genuine, peer-reviewed scientists. All of us will suffer as a result, but if I were under the age of 25 I would be especially angry about this. Indeed, as the father of a five year old daughter, I find myself very angry as well. I therefore find it entirely appropriate for young people in particular (and all of us who love them) to give voice to that anger and to demand better. This is an emotional truth, and emotional truth is critical to effective messaging.
That said, my message in HOT and the message of the Generation Hot campaign to confront the climate cranks is by no means solely a negative one (as in your reference to “woe is me, shame on you”). On the contrary, roughly 80 percent of HOT is devoted to on-the-ground reporting that focuses on solutions–not just the relatively well known options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and otherwise limiting global warming, but especially the related but much less recognized imperative of preparing our societies for the many significant climate impacts (e.g., stronger storms, deeper droughts, harsher heat waves, etc.,) that, alas, are now unavoidable over the years ahead. The fact is, there are cutting-edge leaders throughout the world–in government, in civil society and even some businesses–that are already implementing effective measures to both “avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable,” as the specialists urge.
In sum, I think we need both a strong moral message that pulls no punches about how we got into this mess AND a strong pragmatic message that emphasizes that there are many things we can do to cope with our dilemma. In that sense, HOT (which, I understand, you’ve not been able to read yet) is a good news story about a bad news predicament. And we will be emphasizing BOTH of these messages as our Generation Hot campaign goes forward (the 3 minute video you saw of course could not do justice to this). I speak to college and high school kids all the time, and I know one cannot simply be negative in discussing the climate crisis or they will turn off and become paralyzed by despair (as many grown-ups already have). One must offer hope as well. Fortunately, there are ample, concrete reasons for hope–not just in the form of the solutions I report in HOT but also in the lessons we are getting these days from a country where I have reported in the past: Egypt, where a tyrannical regime that seemed impregnable as recently as two months ago has now fallen to a popular, largely peaceful and entirely unexpected revolution.
You also seem, by using “Republicans” as a uniform term, to close out the option of highlighting Republicans (however few they may be) who are engaged on this issue, like  Sherwood Boehlert.
I would be delighted if more Republicans accepted mainstream climate science and took the climate crisis seriously, but it appears that is no longer acceptable behavior within the GOP. During the 2010 congressional elections, denial of man-made climate change became a litmus test issue; not a single new Republican Member of Congress will say (at least publicly) they accept that human activities are dangerously overheating the planet. As I wrote in my opinion piece yesterday in Politico, which you should read if you haven’t (and which criticizes the media quite strongly for its de facto enabling of the climate cranks), the U.S. Republican party is the only major political party in the world that still rejects mainstream climate science. Look at the right-of-center parties currently heading the governments of our closest European allies: Britain, Germany, France. NONE of them have questioned the science behind climate change for more than a decade; they may argue about which policies are the best way to address the problem, what mix of government regulations and private sector actions is best, but not one challenges the science. For that matter, these parties’ climate policies are far more aggressive than those of U.S. Democrats, much less Republicans.
So it’s the current Republican party that is the outlier here. It is telling that the one Republican you cite by name in your question, Sherry Boehlert, is retired; he would surely not survive the Republican primaries were he running for Congress today…more’s the pity.
Randy Olson posted a piece on his blog this week rejecting the us-versus-them approach on climate, alluding to  a famous duet at the Grammy Awards by Elton John and Eminem, who found common cause in fighting HIV despite huge differences on homosexuality.
I agree with Hertsgaard, utterly, that the Republican Party has utterly failed to articulate any kind of energy policy despite clear signals that business as usual produces building risks of instability (climatic, economic, strategic) in this century. Review this piece for more:
The Republicans are little different on science and innovation, despite transitory nods to the need for a sustained push in this arena, including a recent column from George Will, as discussed here:
To my mind, President Obama, despite dodging the issue in his State of the Union message, still has a chance this year to marginalize polarizing voices and build a new route forward on energy and climate. Let’s hope he takes the chance.

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