The Climate Crisis Heats Up

It’s time for a little upstate update on climate change. Don’t worry, I’ll try not to mention Al Gore.

What got me started on one of my favorite subjects was that Friday morning a friend wrote to say: “Even as scientific evidence for global warming grows dramatically stronger, popular belief that global warming exists has undergone a precipitous decline–apparently the result of misinformation and a simple disinclination to accent an inconvenient truth.”

Of course that worried me a little. I thought that we’d turned the corner on “belief.” Some of my most conservative friends will now admit that the climate is changing, and they’ll even concede that the change could be human induced. I forgot how stubborn the popular imagination can be, especially when an issue becomes a “red” and “blue” flashpoint.

But like it or not, the lines are blurring and climate change is making for interesting and productive partnerships.

On Saturday morning in a NEW YORK TIMES op-ed co-written with John Kerry, U.S. Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham announced he is seeking consensus on climate change: “Global climate change is not a religion to me but I do believe carbon pollution is harmful to the environment and I want to find a way to fix that problem.” The next day the NEW YORK TIMES called Graham “the next GOP maverick on climate change.”

Congratulations Senator Graham. Even though you are not a “true believer, welcome on board anyway! Maybe your problem solving on climate change can redeem South Carolina after a summer of bottom of the barrel political embarrassments.

Then Sunday brought news of writer and climate activist Bill McKibbon’s worldwide climate change event. His organization, 350.org, sponsored Saturday events and activities around the world highlighting the number of parts per million of CO2 that scientists claim would constitute a safe level in the atmosphere. We’re now at 390.

“It was ordinary people rallying around a scientific data point,” McKibben said when asked the significance of the day’s activities. “Nothing like that has ever happened before.”

McKibben wrote the first popular book on climate change, THE END OF NATURE, back in 1989. Two years ago he came to Spartanburg as the keynote at Wofford’s Association for Study of Literature and Environment conference. He spoke passionately about the need for change then. Now years later he’s still in the middle of the struggle, using his imagination to find new ways to talk about climate change.

Here in Spartanburg there was at least one rally for 350.org, a gathering at the annual Nu-way 5K run. Across Southeast there were many more.

In an upstate editorial, Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet joined his voice with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to go on record concerning the seriousness of climate change and the importance of the current political discussions. They thanked Lindsey Graham for his leadership and asked other legislators to join him in the fight to pass strong climate legislation.

So what’s it all mean? I hope it’s a contradiction of my friend’s fear that understanding of climate change and belief in its seriousness are in “precipitous decline.”

I wouldn’t call climate change my religion either, but I believe the health of the environment is the most important issue of the century. A failing economy pales in comparison to a failing planet.

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