The Hole Problem

I ran into Larry Schweiger in the restroom of the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, CA during the Al Gore training program yesterday and  commended him for his moving speech in the morning, as one grandfather to another. Larry is the President of the National Wildlife Federation and is on the Board of the Climate Reality Project. In the ensuing conversation, I asked him what he thought of the Operation Missing Link demonstration outside the hotel and he said, “Oh, they are misguided. We need to focus on CO2 and shouldn’t be getting distracted with other issues.”

Earlier in the day, I had reposted Marilyn’s note regarding the Operation Missing Link demonstration on the Presenters Working Group Facebook page and had my group Facebook privileges summarily removed by The Climate Reality Project. It has been a while since I had my knuckles rapped by a stern school mistress, but it is the stifling of dissent that is truly troubling. I don’t even agree with Marilyn’s framing of the deficiencies in Mr. Gore’s slide show, but considered her note beautifully written and worth sharing. Specifically, I don’t think that there is a gaping hole in the slide show where half the solution has gone missing, but that there is a gaping hole in the slide show where nearly half the problem has gone missing, which will likely lead to a biofuels-style fiasco if Mr. Gore’s prescriptions are pursued.

When we define the problem inadequately, the solutions that we come up with can be completely counterproductive. The biofuels fiasco is well understood by now. We narrowly fingered the automobile to be the chief culprit causing climate change and thought it would be a good idea to convert food into fuel and pour it into our fuel tanks. And now we have this disgusting spectacle of rich people burning food to go to the Mall, while the poor and the orang-utan starve and die.

This same story is about to repeat as we narrowly define the problem that we’re trying to solve. Firstly, we keep focusing on the fever that the earth has contracted in the form of global warming while stoutly ignoring the underlying cancer which is our unsustainable consumption patterns. Secondly, even while addressing the fever, we continue to ignore methane, black-carbon and short-lived climate forcers and rush to solve the CO2 problem with carbon pricing. This will most likely exacerbate global warming by eliminating the aerosols that are currently shielding us from the true effects of the climate change we’ve already caused. Prof. James McWilliams wrote a brilliant piece addressing Bill McKibben on this issue and it is well worth reading.

Finally, Mr. Gore’s slide show itself has devolved into an “I’m right and you’re wrong” style diatribe which is unlikely to win the hearts and minds of the intended audience. And therein lies the true tragedy of the training event, that almost 1000 people flew in from all over the world and spent precious time and money to become ineffective communicators. With leaders like these, is it any wonder that the climate movement is floundering?

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