A Game Changing Public Relations Avalanche on Climate Change – Just When I’m About to Have a Break

Yesterday (May 29, 2014) was commencement day at my school, and the day that I was able to post my grades. Officially, the school year has ended and my summer break starts now (I do not take part in the two summer sessions that we provide).

This blog will be the last one to be posted before I take off to Europe. The trip will last about a month and will be the type of trip that I like most – a combination of vacation, family events and professional activities. The trip will take me to England, the Netherlands and France, ending up in Reykjavik, Iceland. In Iceland I will attend the Sixth International Conference on Climate Change. This is the same conference that I attend every year (see the July 16, 2012 blog about the Fourth Conference in Seattle and the July 2, 2013 blog about the Fifth Conference in Mauritius). I like this series of conferences because the attendance is limited to about 200 participants, but includes active participant from all corners of the world. It addresses both the science and social science aspects of the most important issues, and as an added bonus, the meetings take place in great places that make them convenient excuses to combine work with vacation.

Such a trip has direct consequences for my blog postings. My editors (LCG Communications) have outlined their expectations: I can have one week break; as to the rest of the time, they expect full compliance with the schedule (posting every Tuesday). As usual, such a strict regime presents its own problems. I have to refer to ongoing events in my posting and the ongoing events are subject to their own deadlines and although it appears that the debate on climate change often takes “vacations” on its own, being a global phenomenon with a present global impact, it doesn’t take a “real” break. My writing opportunities in Europe will be considerably more limited than the ones I have at home, so I have to do most of the writing before I leave.

The present time is particularly challenging and exhilarating with regards to climate change. At least in the US, it seems that there is a concerted effort to move the debate on climate change in the most unexpected directions and to accomplish this through the public opinion. Many of these efforts are not organized by the government but instead through the media; still, recently they seem to be coordinated with some of the most promising actions so far by the Federal Government. The efforts include two top TV programs and today’s EPA announcement on new climate change regulations, which will probably continue to be the focus of public debate. I was seriously considering changing my travel plans to be here to follow the changes, but everyone else involved told me to not even think of such a thing.

Here is the plan: Starting with this blog I would like to cover three topics:

  • I will speak to my impressions of the Showtime series “Years of Living Dangerously”
  • Following my practice from the previous two conferences, I will present the program of this year’s conference
  • I will try to address Monday’s presidential (and EPA) announcement of the USA’s new policy to mitigate climate change.

In addition, in keeping with my previous practices, I would like to focus on what I have learned at the conference with the focus on Iceland, the host country. The problem is that the events that I have decided to focus on don’t exactly follow my timeline for posting the blog – so I (and my editors) will have to accommodate. The details for each of the topics are specific and they will become obvious as we go along.

There is (in case you hadn’t yet noticed) an issue with this plan. I just mentioned there being two top TV productions, but I have only promised to address one here. “The Years of Living Dangerously” centers on climate change and the rest of the blog will focus on my take of it. However, yesterday evening I watched another program, “Cosmos,” on the Fox network, presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I was watching this program without any expectations that it would make any significant contribution to the climate change debate. I was wrong. Last night’s (Sunday, June 1, 2014) episode was the best popular presentation that I ever remember seeing on the topic and I have been in this business for many years. Especially impressive is that the program is broadcast by Fox network – a network that many consider to be the mouth piece of climate change deniers. Perhaps even more importantly, it was broadcast only one day before the EPA announcement of a major new mitigation policy to limit greenhouse gas emission. It’s hard to believe that such timing was coincidental. I am fortunate enough to teach two related courses – one on cosmology and the other one on climate change. I now plan to experiment with providing the two TV shows as learning materials with some cross talk between them. Both provide opportunities for students to watch them at their convenience.

The rest of the blog will focus on “Years of Living Dangerously”:                                

“Years of Living Dangerously”

I have referred to specific aspects of this program earlier (April 22, May 20 and May 27, 2014 blogs). The show is split into 9 segments; I have seen seven of them. The 8th one is scheduled for Monday, June 2 and the last one is scheduled for Monday, June 9, three days after I leave for Europe. I will submit this blog on Tuesday, June 3, in time to be posted on the same day. For those of you that haven’t yet had the opportunity to view the show, you can refer to the show’s web site. Believe me, it is a must. My family is not as focused on climate change but as a show of sympathy they watched. My wife’s response after almost every episode is a full day of depression. I want to explain that this is the wrong attitude but I know her better than that. In my last blog on the show I would like to focus not on the stories in each individual episode, but instead on the buttons that the show presses for me. Here is my list of the buttons for the first eight episodes.

Pressed buttons:

  • Finding common language
    • Episode 1 – Evangelical scientists in Texas
    • Episode 3 – Republican Congressman Grimm changes his mind
    • Episode 4 – Christian Evangelists: a father and daughter
  • International perspective of contributions to climate change
    • Episodes 1 and 2  – Indonesia’s burning of rain forests to make way for palm trees for palm oil production, and the Indonesian government’s support
    • Episode 4 – Exploration of the thawing Arctic
    • Episode 8 – Water stress as an instigator of instability and violence in Yemen, the first country that might go dry. Climate migration in Bangladesh from the south to Dacca, the capital
  • Climate change and security
    • Episode 1 – Drought as a trigger for the Syrian civil war
    • Episode 7 – Shortage of bread caused by prolonged global droughts as a trigger for unrest in Egypt and much of the rest of the Arab world
    • Episode 8 – Water stress as an instigator of instability and violence in Yemen
  • Extreme events
    • Episode 2 – Massive fires in the western US, intensified El Niño and Sandy in NYC.
  • Transfer resources to developing countries to stop exploring and using fossil fuels
    • Episode 4 – Greenland
  • Energy transition
    • Episode 6 – Focus on the US – Wind turbines to supplement income in farms in Kansas; the Heartland Institute; leaks in natural gas wells and piping.
  • Tipping over the edge
    • Poor countries
      • Episode 7 – Egypt
      • Episode 8 – Bangladesh and Yemen
    • Episode 7 – Poor people in rich cities – Far Rockaway in NYC.
  • Mitigation
    • Episode 7 – “Climate Core” to help companies to be more sustainable

The weakest button in my mind is the assertion that the battle over human-induced (anthropogenic) climate change can be won by America decreasing its use of fossil fuels. Even by doing so, America’s actions would not prevent Bangladesh, Yemen, Syria and Egypt from suffering the consequences of climate change – the problem is, after all, global. That said, such action would boost China, India, Bangladesh and other developing countries into realizing that they can develop economically while changing their energy supply to non-carbon-fueled energy sources. The developing countries will never agree to the shifts unless convinced of their economic feasibility. The necessary changes can only be accomplished by developed countries leading the way and through the transfer of resources and technology from the developed world to developing countries.

The program up to now has restricted itself to examining what not to do; unfortunately, it has not talked much about what we can do differently in the challenge to maintain sustainable global development.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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