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Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture

Last update - Saturday, March 1, 2014, 03:07 By Charles Laffiteau

Winter has been particularly nasty this year throughout western Europe and much of North America, but is this just a cyclical aberration or a harbinger of winters yet to come? Sadly, there is mounting scientific evidence that shows this winter is not a one-off event, but rather one of the long-term changes in our traditional weather patterns brought about by climate change.

Up until the turn of the century, during most of our winters the so-called ‘Polar Vortex’ had been a phenomenon exclusive to Alaska and northern Canada, well north of Ireland and most of western Europe. But several scientific studies recently published point to the record loss of Arctic sea ice over the past 20 years that in turn has caused a weakening of the winds of the Jet Stream flowing across the Atlantic from the Gulf of Mexico to northern Europe. When cold air can no longer be bottled up near the North Pole, the chill spills south across North America and is then carried by the Jet Stream to Ireland and Europe.
Last issue I expressed my hope that America would take action on climate change this year, even though President Obama only spent five minutes of his hour-long State of the Union address discussing environmental issues. Well right on cue, just days after those words were published US Secretary of State John Kerry told a group of Indonesian students in Jakarta that “climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
Was Kerry being a little over-the-top in comparing countries that do nothing to curtail the carbon emissions that cause climate change with nations that don’t take strong steps to protect their nuclear arsenals from falling into the hands of terrorists? Probably. But I should also note that during his Senate career, Kerry made climate change a major legislative focus and led the failed attempt to pass a climate change law in the Senate in 2010.
Furthermore, during his Senate confirmation hearings Secretary Kerry told his fellow Senators that if he was confirmed as U. S. Secretary of State, he intended to be a very strong advocate of policies to boost clean energy and energy efficiency in order to stem climate change, “not based on ideology but based on facts, based on science.” Secretary Kerry followed through and made climate change a major talking point in his discussions during the second half of 2013 with the leaders of India, the third largest global emitter of CO2.
More importantly, just two days before his speech in Jakarta, Secretary Kerry announced that the G2 of greenhouse gas emissions, China and the United States, had finally agreed on a plan to share information and work together to develop policies that would reduce each country’s carbon emissions after 2020. This was an important agreement because if two countries that have always been on opposite sides of this issue can agree, then maybe the other 200 nations working on a new global climate change treaty can finally strike a deal, too.
John Kerry chose Indonesia as the site for the first of a series of speeches he plans to give on climate change this year for two reasons: because it is a growing source of CO2 emissions from deforestation, and because many of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands are at risk from rising sea levels. But in his speech, Kerry chose to mention only the second reason, saying: “Because of climate change, it’s no secret that today Indonesia is one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the entire way of life that you live and love is at risk.”
Secretary Kerry also took shots at the climate sceptics that have stalled progress on climate change polices in developed nations with the highest per capita carbon emissions, specifically the US, Australia and Canada. “We just don’t have time to let a few loud interest groups hijack the climate conversation,” he said. “We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact. The science is unequivocal and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand.”
While I agree with Secretary Kerry that climate change deniers have succeeded in stalling climate change legislation, I don’t see calling them out in public as a viable counter-strategy. Extremist ideologues like the Koch brothers will never come round, but I believe there are a large number of conservative businesspeople in the sceptic camp who could be persuaded to support climate change policies if you figured out the right way to approach them.
For example, I knew a very conservative Republican CEO who was adamant that climate change was a hoax. But when I found out his golf club in Atlanta was replacing his beloved bentgrass greens with Bermuda grass, I suggested we ask his greens-keeper why. The explanation was that because Atlanta’s summer temperatures were now five degrees warmer during the day (and 2.5 degrees warmer at night), the bentgrass greens could no longer tolerate the heat.
That CEO now not only believes in climate change, he also told his company’s risk managers to include the impacts of climate change in all of their risk assessments. For years he refused to believe the world’s scientists, but his golf club’s greens-keeper was another matter.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011.

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