Carl Safina, Elaine Karmarck, and an assembly of prominent Stony Brook professors joined together Tuesday in order to discuss an article by Peter Goldmark and climate change.
‘Time is Running Out,’ an article about a conversation with Goldmark, was handed out to each member of the audience at the event bearing its title. Goldmark is an expert on climate change. The article states that while change is beginning to take place, it is moving too slowly and that young people need to insist that the government take action on the issue.
The discussion was moderated by James Klurfeld, a journalism professor at Stony Brook. He had to do a lot of work to keep the speakers from talking past their allotted time. Throughout the event, time kept running out on the passionate panelists. Here’s a brief summary of what each of them said:
Carl Safina, the president of the Blue Ocean Institute, said that the book End of Nature had a strong influence on him. McKibben was able to present enough data to convince Safina, who at the time was a sceptic, that humans could effect the weather.
Since then, he has become a climate change activist. Safina doesn’t just have science on his side, he has first hand experiences. He has traveled the world listening to locals who had stories to tell and evidence to show. Coral reefs are dying, glaciers are melting, and arctic villages are being washed away and he has seen it all. According to Safina, the evidence is overwhelming.
Malcolm Bowman, an oceanography professor, thought that including the cost of damages in the price of coal may be the best way to curb pollution. Externalities, as these costs are called, allow coal to be produced cheaply because industry doesn’t have to pay for the damages.
“It’s not in our genes to see global warming as a problem”, he explained. It happens over a period of time longer than our life times, so we aren’t programed to worry about it. But if we worry about our children and our grandchildren, we should worry about the climate.
The ‘biggest hope’ he said, lies with governors in the Northeast and West Coast who are enacting climate legislation in their own states. For now, he feels that national reforms are difficult to imagine.
Elaine Karmarck, a Harvard professor and an advisor in the Clinton Administration, discussed the problems with environmental policy making. Cap and Trade bills, she said, failed because of its complexity. According to one woman in a focus group, the problem was with who would be in charge of pollution levels. “We’re going to give the future of this planet to the people who crashed the economy!?” she said.
Another problem is with the politicization of the issues. In this case science, which seeks to tell the truth based on fact, has become part politics, which is more concerned with votes and money. She pointed out that politicians with coal or oil in their state are unwilling to vote for climate change legislation.
She pointed out that in the late 90s, belief in climate change had nothing to do with party affiliation. Since then, more and more Democrats have come to see it as a reality while more and more Republicans think its a hoax.
In order to get climate reform, she believes we have to appeal to Republicans. One way she suggested framing it was in terms of national defense. If we say that buying oil from the Middle East poses a threat to our security, Republicans may support green initiatives.
Also, with a major tax overhaul possible in the near future, Kamarck thinks that a compromise can be made to tax carbon. If a tax on carbon is used to replace the loss of revenue from a reduction in income tax, Republicans may be on board. If, of course, Republicans are willing to make any compromises.
Elizabeth Bass, the Interim Director of Stony Brook’s Center for Communicating Science, said that the nature of climate change has made it difficult for the media to cover.
The media, she said, is more interested in short term events, like the weather, than long term stories like the climate. This year, climate change has received less coverage than any year since 2005.
She explained that “It was a story when the glacier started to melt. Its not a story if the glacier melts a little bit more.” A possible solution to this was focusing on specific events related to climate change, such as the costs due to water levels rising in a costal city
Lee Koppelman, a Stony Brook professor who is an expert in local level policy, started off by talking about the dangers of scientists becoming activists. According to Koppelman, the reason scientists are trustworthy is that they base their conclusions off their data. But when scientists get involved in politics, they become just about as believable as, well, politicians.
He focused on the e-mails that proved some scientists fabricated models to make the threat of climate change seem more drastic and immediate. Scandals like these make other scientists seem less credible.
Koppelman received the loudest cheers of the night when he encouraged students to chain themselves to the trees that may be torn down to make room for a hotel on campus. He also criticized Brookhaven National Lab for their plan to tear down a forest to put up solar panels.
“I have the wrong damn audience.” he said after seeing almost every hand grow up when asked if the crowd believed that humans had an effect on global warming. The ‘wrong damn audience’ of about 150 students, adults, and senior citizens enjoyed the talk, but weren’t the people Koppelman and the others wanted to convince.
He left us all with an inspirational story to think about. One man was able to change the law in 10 of 13 town boards on Long Island just by lobbying them. In those townships, all new homes must be built to meet energy efficiency standards. Stories like that, he reminded us, are all the more reason to get involved in making a difference.