The Outing of Climate Change: How About a Policy?

On the heels of bad news from Poland, three brilliant scientists call for a shared vision that embraces both energy and climate.

This week saw the follow-on meeting to the Paris Climate Accord. The news is not good; or, as the Washington Post put it, “We are in trouble.” But at least the facts are clear. The Global Carbon Project reported that carbon emission levels are not only growing (this year, 1.6 percent), they’re expected to jump another 2.7 percent, to 37.1 billion tons in 2019.

Washington Post_emissions
Carbon emissions, the chief culprit in climate change, have hit a record high, and are climbing. It’s fair to say as this chart climbs, the quality of our (increasingly close) future goes down.

Building a shared vision

Which brings me to a conversation among three brilliant scientists. Held during the Texas Tribune’s always-fascinating TribFest and sponsored by BP, an early champion of carbon reduction. The panel included:

  • Jason Bordoff, formerly the senior director for energy and  climate change at the NSA (yes, climate change impacts national security in a big way), now at Columbia
  • Katharine Hayhoe, the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech.
  • Michael Webber, the Webber Energy Group, soon to be scientific and technical director at the French energy powerhouse ENGIE, on leave from the University of Texas at Austin

Embracing both energy and climate

The consensus: Effective climate change policy has to grounded in a shared vision in terms of food, jobs and opportunity. It must embrace both climate and energy. As Hayhoe pointed out, it starts with a simple question: What do you care about?

“The only reason we care about climate is because it affects things we already care about. It’s not an environmental issue; it’s a human issue. This is why I care about a changing climate, because it exacerbates our greatest humanitarian challenges: poverty, hunger, inequality, and more.”  @KHayhoe

Epic droughts punctuated by Biblical Floods

Texas is among the fastest-growing states in the country and number one in terms of climate vulnerability. Thanks to the EPA’s rolling back restrictive guidelines, drilling is booming along the Gulf Coast, one of the nation’s most environmentally vulnerable regions. Houston, at the epicenter of drilling activity is still recovering from the most expensive ($125 billion and counting) hurricanes in history.

The world’s 505 remaining whooping cranes winter on the environmentally-sensitive and oil-rich Texas Gulf Coast

The most frightening trait of climate change is its pace: 50 percent faster than the rate of at which its been historically measured. Are we too late?

Leadership matters

Final note: I attended the session thanks to an invitation from Paula Barnett-Bulcao, BP’s senior director of government relations and public affairs. I’ve admired BP for years for their vision and willingness to wear a white hat in an industry known for climate degradation. Barnett, who’s been with BP for 16 years, told me that when she was starting out in the industry, BP was the company she knew she wanted to work for.  High praise.

Stay Curious Despite the Shutdown: Try edX

“We’re looking for the international space station,” my elderly neighbors said as they looked up at the night sky.

“What does it look like?”  I asked.

The night sky on Oct. 13, 2013 in Austin, Texas.  That's Jupiter above the tree. Courtesy Night Sky Network.
The night sky on Oct. 13, 2013 in Austin, Texas. That’s Jupiter above the tree. Courtesy Night Sky Network.

“We’re not sure, but it’s supposed to be out here someplace.”

We spend a lot of our time looking for things without knowing exactly what we’re looking for.   Ideally, there’s a sense of wonder, but also frustration and alas, impatience.

Whether it’s a job, a new client or partner.  We know they’re out there, somewhere.  But where?

The trick is to stay curious, so curious we keep trying.

To keep my curiosity in tune, I’m trying our edX, specifically Dr. Micheal Webber’s Energy 101 MOOC.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

The content is terrific, especially the widgets.  I find myself sliding over maps of Europe, Africa, India and South America to get a sense of our world — in constant flux.  Want to see fracking in action?  Stephen Rountree’s 3D infographic is one of the best I’ve seen.

But it’s the sheer scope of the effort that sparks my imagination.  Comments and introductions from people all over the world – Iran, Palestine, Iceland.

It’s like the night sky; makes you think anything is possible.  (Even this photo, taken by intrepid volunteers on Astronomy Day 2013 by the Night Sky Network, despite the federal shutdown)