The disconnect between the climate change “debate” in politics and climate change action on main street couldn’t be greater.
Climate change has been rife with political rhetoric (is it a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese?) but short on substantive discussion. Not a single question on the topic was posed to either candidate during any of the debates. Recently, scientific and news outlets took notice and published a series of articles. Andrew Revkin on DotEarth (”New York Times”) included comments from many experts. David Leonhardt, also in the “New York Times”, blamed journalism, and The New Scientist weighed in with a piece by Matthew Nisbet.
The omission is stunning, and especially given recent events. The Paris CoP21 agreement was just ratified and enters into force in a few days. Last week the parties modified the Montreal Treaty to reduce HFC emissions in order to address climate change. These alone will be major policy drivers for the nation. This year is on track to be the hottest on record. Hurricane Matthew just ravaged parts of the east coast and in the wake of historic flooding across the country. There has been no shortage of reminders to politicians or the media that climate-change is one of America’s greatest challenges.
Amid political disinterest and denial, I flew to Florida to address the annual convention of Florida Green Builders Coalition. My topic was on defining a new sustainability and aligning with nature to address climate change. Florida is one of the most vulnerable States. A one-foot sea level rise (SLR) leaves over $4 billion in taxable properties vulnerable; that value rises to over $31 billion under a 3-foot rise scenario. In March 2015, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting alleged that State employees were banned from using the terms climate change and global change. All major US news outlets and several international ones carried the story. Climate-change has been frozen out of the political discourse.
When I got to the convention, nobody was debating climate change. But for a different reason. They were too busy dealing with it.
Individuals and companies experiencing problems from climate change, and expecting more, were fully focused on fixing them. Many saw business opportunities. I met the head of a company that sells electric-car charger stations, and learned that many places now have more charger stations than gas stations. A next move is to use this technology to reduce parking needs. IFAS Florida extension educates on using native plants for multiple purposes, including addressing stormwater and flooding. A developer excitedly described the design of Babcock Ranch, the first solar-powered, sustainable and resilient city and that has just broken ground. Consultants and government employees are developing ways to conserve water and reduce energy, certifying activities, and actively working with affected residents and interested parties. I met individuals using their own money to build climate-resilient homes. Architects, engineers, contractors, and developers sought my opinion on what they were already implementing and what kinds of solutions would be needed next. Chief Resilience and Chief Sustainability Officers explained what science-based SLR scenarios they were using and how they were working collectively for integrated resilience.
No one is waiting for Godot.
When it comes to climate change, main street is already on the job. There is no excuse for ignoring climate change in the electoral process. But let’s not overlook another reality. The political arguments and the omission of climate change from policy debates hasn’t stopped anyone here from doing the work. My experiences suggest that this is the case in much of the country. For instance, the generating capacity of renewable energy systems has surpassed coal power. Innovators and practitioners are confronting the problems that we all face. They are doing so in direct response to current and projected impacts of climate change.
Knowledge that can help those engaged in this work is frequently not communicated to them. Three kinds of information that can help them to shape their innovations and actions are:
1. Knowledge of the existing or upcoming treaties, laws and policies that are likely to affect them. For instance, CoP21 and a recent US Appeals court ruling pave the way for Carbon taxes and Carbon offsets.
2. Awareness of the incentives and ordinances that are emerging locally across the country.
3. Understanding of the local and science-based climate-change projections that can lead to workable solutions.
Climate change has become a bottom-up issue. Individuals and the private sector are no longer waiting for Washington to decide whether it is real or important. They are taking the lead.