By Justin Isherwood
Climate change has its well-known nay-sayers, remarkable as this seems. As should come as no surprise, throughout our history various issues have divided the public including our own American Revolution, to suspect if the Founding Fathers had polling data available they might have hedged their bets on independence.
The list of our country’s internal discord is long, from prohibition and women’s suffrage to emancipation, add the divisiveness over WWI, Labor Unions, the draft, vaccination, communism, the Vietnam War, birth control, Social Security, nuclear weapons and always the issue of taxation, on whom and how much. There has not been a generation spared some gut-twisting issue concerning our national will and course.
To suggest that climate change is a different kind of issue is a self-serving statement. Rather that climate change is just another public schism like prohibition, the polio vaccine, our entry into WWI. As for the rightfulness of any issue, when it came to emancipation, England, our former oppressive landlord, got it done a generation previous to what we as free people were willing to attempt.
What distinguishes climate change is it’s not just a domestic debate, isn’t a Euro-American issue like WWI. Unlike the draft and birth control there is no generational gap when it comes to climate change and its consequence. Should we get the business of climate change wrong, it won’t be about winners and losers and who gets the spoils, climate change will be an equal opportunity despoiler.
If we get climate change wrong, if we somehow miss this bus, we forfeit our window of opportunity, we will together be in a world scene where given norms are forfeit. Climate change would be one kind of event if we had yet a millennium to plan, build and reconfigure. That we can lose our coastal cities and their civilizational worth within a century is a high cost consequence for which nothing in human history has prepared us.
Every writer on the subject of climate change does so from their own sense of the science. I am for the most part a mature person, a reader of science, to include a subscription to the American Academy of Science. My life as a farmer is quite remarkably a life of science, the whole-earth kind and the chance to do field science on a daily basis. My field success or failure is just another science project – what works, what doesn’t, what might – these words drive and inspire the practice of agriculture.
A year ago, I penned a book celebrating Hancock Agricultural Research Station’s 100th anniversary and how UW-Madison as a Land Grant College followed the will of Justin Morrill and the then-new President Lincoln. The Wisconsin Idea can be described as the union between our state university, its research and outreach, and the how/why/what of our daily lives, to include almost every aspect of my farm life.
It was University Extension as taught my mom’s generation how to safely home-can vegetables, how to equip a farmhouse with a septic tank, control dairy mastitis, rotate crops, attempt hybrids, use insecticides, practice potato blight control. That I rotate pearl millet to modify soil nematode numbers is due to the research of a lady named Dr. Ann MacGuidwin and saves something of $200 per acre without resort to an effective but harsh chemical solution.
My one regret of my college career is not taking more biology courses so I could more quickly mentally boot-up to field science. Perhaps if I had taken fewer history courses, tomorrow I will regret having said that.
For those of us who believe climate change is real and will effect planetary function and human society, the problem is we don’t know how to talk about climate change in the lower case. CLIMATE CHANGE for believers is all caps, to include some exclamation points.
I was on a panel discussion at a Milwaukee symposium to represent the agricultural perspective to climate change. It happened that I spoke last. What was noticeable was the sheer passion of my fellow presenters; two lawyers and the biology professor. Their vast knowledge, their data points, the BTUs, the tons of carbon, heating degree days, species extinctions, civilizational risk, all of it the routine Armageddon. Their presentations were scary as they were valid, delivered with an Old Testament zeal to please pleaseplease do the right thing and avoid the apocalypse.
Perhaps the problem of our national discussion of climate change is the core heat of that discussion, never mind that it is real and scientifically cogent. The well-meaning intensity of climate change and its consequences reminds too many of the Chicken Little mantra. The talk about civilizational collapse, of sea rise, of agricultural lands turned to desert, what some pose as an uninhabitable planet, all in the hope of bringing about cultural and behavioral sobriety regarding climate change. To be dutifully followed by solar, wind, carbon credits, mass transit, less fertilizer, less red meat, carbonless energy, carbon sequestering. All of which needed to begin yesterday, because it’s such abundant common sense. Never mind climate change for many of our brethren is not such common sense.
As Jane Austen pointed out, sense and sensibility is not very common. The general public’s response to climate change has been somewhere between dismissive, resistant and fraud, including a blatant and crippling political backlash against climate alarmism, egg-head science, because God won’t let this happen, and if it does, it’s God’s will, as all Kamikaze pilots understood.
If we who support climate change initiatives had better studied American history and its moods we might have foreseen the popular negation of climate change by a public that generally doesn’t do the science, yet enjoy its benefits at every turn of our lives. To suspect it is an intrinsic human characteristic that we don’t want to know how things work, as long as they do, and we are righteously indignant when they don’t.
Where does public discussion of climate change go once the science has been politicized? Do we have to wait until the signs are so obvious we all universally comprehend? Isn’t an ice-free Arctic ocean climate signal enough? Ocean temperatures? Sea rise? Storm intensity? Has the enclave of denial become so resistant that we cannot act effectively before even more extreme consequences prove the fact? It does seem that cities, states and corporations are elected to address climate change without federal support.
Similarly are American corporations, our banking institutions, the stock market increasingly willing to steer the economics of alternatives? Will there be a black-list of non-complying business, communities and states, as is the routine of commerce that clearly understands the consequences of a failed practice, be it pesticide residue or worker health and safety. There is not a corporate board on this planet that doesn’t understand the economic free-fall of climate change.
Perhaps, like many issues of American history, where public mood is the operative factor, that mood will change. A light will go on and they will “get it.” If America has shown itself capable of one thing in our history, we know how to play catch-up. To wonder if this habit might be flawed when it comes to climate change.