There’s been a lot of talk about climate change in the last week because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released their 5th Assessment Report. The IPCC was established in 1988 under the United Nations umbrella; their first report was issued in 1990. Nearly 4,000 scientists voluntarily sit on this panel, belonging to one of several different working groups. The IPCC scientists analyze all the available scientific evidence on climate change and then their peers from the larger scientific community review their conclusions. The latest report once again confirms that climate change is happening and that our burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to the problem.
I went to a lecture recently by French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour, entitled: “War and Peace in an age of Ecological Conflict.” He laid out his case for why climate change was still a debate and why the “campaign” has resulted in what he calls “quietism” (inaction) by the populace. The never ending debate is facilitated by a small band of climate change deniers who keep appearing in the media. He quoted Frank Lunz, an American political consultant and Republican Party strategist, who famously wrote a memo to Bush in 2002 saying: “The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science…. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field” (The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America, 2002).
I am still digesting LaTour’s talk which was excellent and thought-provoking, so I will simply recount a story that he told here. He asked us to imagine we were seated on a train when we see a corpulent man coming down the aisle. We also notice a little cat in the seat that he is about to sit on, but the man is oblivious to the fact. By direct observation, we know that there is a cat on the seat. We decide to warn the man. “There’s a cat on the seat,” we state the fact quietly. Or perhaps we add a layer of our personal values to the directive (we’d prefer he doesn’t sit on the cat) and scream passionately, “Don’t sit on the cat!” Either way, it is now up to the man to decide how he will respond.
In response to the IPCC report, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “The heat is on. We must act.” The IPCC promises solutions in upcoming chapters. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do, if you choose.