In 1988 I decided to spend a few days researching this global warming thing. It had been simmering as a controversy for a few years, with some people warning the oceans would rise and threaten seaport cities, and others asking what was wrong with strawberries the size of basketballs and quoting the Bible that God instructed man to subdue the Earth.
It made sense to take a few days and satisfy the questions in my mind. After all, I worked for an electric utility trade group, writing a news service about energy. A few years earlier I had written a story about a government report that concluded it was already too late to stop global warming—we needed to put our energies into building dikes and taking other steps to deal with a hotter planet. I got an angry letter accusing me of needlessly scaring people. I was young—my reply letter dripped with snark.
My research into the science of greenhouse gases taught me that humans were changing the atmosphere enough to significantly affect climate by the middle of the next century. There were other contributors besides U.S. industry—China and India, of course, but also termites feasting on rotting wood in the world’s forests.
My personal conclusion was that the United States had an obligation to use its leadership position in the world to influence the human race to at least slow the coming disruption in the Earth’s weather patterns. Yeah that’s pretty grandiose for a lone trade association writer, but it started a couple of career touchstones for me. One was that as a writer I decided I need to believe in something. Call it a philosophy. Call it an editorial position. A point of view needed to inform my writing, for my own sense of purpose and fulfillment, as well as a way to interest readers by giving them something they’re not going to get anywhere else—my personality. That’s not exactly arrogance, but advice from William Strunk and E.B. White in the masterpiece The Elements of Style: “Every writer, by the way he uses the language, reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacities, his bias. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable.”
The other touchstone that started forming for me back in those late ‘80s days is a belief in a civilized common ground. Global warming was not a choice between a doomed planet and a doomed economy. So many paths are available if we’ll learn, listen, and talk to each other. A favorite quotation from media philosopher Marshall McLuhan goes, “There is no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to think.”
I took those hifalutin ideas from Washington, D.C., to try them out as editor of Kentucky Living magazine. It made for a pretty good laboratory: an environmentalist Yankee from Minnesota who marched in the first Earth Day, running a publication published by electric cooperatives in a state that got 90 percent of its electricity from coal.
I learned there are all sorts of answers out there, and you don’t always have to pick just one. Take this Green New Deal that’s getting a lot of deserved attention these days. I’ve read it and you can too. It’s only seven double-spaced pages long. It’s been criticized as super expensive. It will be—saving the planet, especially at this stage, will take at least the combination of a moon shot and an Interstate highway system. But it will create millions of jobs and technologies not even thought of. I’ve criticized it for including minimum wage and health care guarantees, but I’ve since learned why it makes sense to include those provisions—with such a huge shift in the economy, people’s lives and livelihoods need to be protected.
A less-sweeping Republican alternative to the Green New Deal would encourage solar energy, electric cars, nuclear power, and capturing greenhouse gases before they leave the coal plant. All good ideas, but not instead of the Green New Deal, in addition to.
Getting past the sloganeering to the solutions will be a long road. We’ll need to accept science and argue from the basis of what we know. We’ll need to talk instead of shout. To listen and learn. To stretch our imaginations. To practice kindness. We need to look past the stigmas of red and blue, coast and heartland, refugee, addict, Buddhist, Evangelical, prisoner, trans—labels that reduce who we are to a few syllables. Labels that limit what we can achieve.
Crazy lofty goals, yes, but I’ll be sharing in this blog ways I see them coming true, and on the ways I’m writing about solutions, like this piece on a group that’s giving out $20 million in prizes to come up with productive uses for greenhouse gases.
That’s my version of Strunk and White’s writer’s bias. I hope you’ll follow my postings and find them “inevitable as well as enjoyable.”