Last night I attended a talk by meteorologist Paul Douglas, at the Eden Prairie High School. The talk was “Weird Weather: Minnesota’s New Normal? Our Changing Climate and What We Can Do About It,” and it was sponsored by Environment Minnesota, Cool Planet, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. I didn’t count the number of people in the audience but it was well attended (over 100, for sure). Extra chairs had to be brought in.
You probably know of Paul Douglas either because of his own fame or because I often link to (or facebook-post) his blogs at Weather Nation or the Star Tribune, and I frequently post his videos. Paul is an Evangelical Christian Republican who insists that we must adhere to the data and the science. He is outspoken on climate change, global warming, and science denialism, and he is sincere, thorough, and forceful in these areas. I consider him to be a very close ally. The contrast between what Republicans seem to think as a cultural group, and what Evangelical Christians seem to think as a cultural group, and what Paul advocates makes him, in his own words, a Human Albino Unicorn.
The talk, as something organized by three environmental activist groups, had the usual suspects in attendance. I recognized several fellow activists from the Twin Cities area, including individuals from 350.org and Obama’s OFA. I had the sense that I was attending a Democratic Farm Labor (that’s what we call Democrats ‘round these parts) convention being run by a Reasonable Republican.
Needless to say, Paul provided an excellent presentation that would have provided any skeptic sitting near the fence a gate to pass through when the moment was right. His talk would have likely convinced any dyed-in-the-wool septic in attendance to at least be quiet about the skepticism and let others take the conversation for a while. Paul tied together several reasons to respect the science and to act on it, touching on diverse perspectives including personal morality, concern for our children and grandchildren, business acumen, responsibility for the Earth’s environment, conservative political thinking, and (briefly, he did not belabor this point) religion.
Since I’m all into climate change and stuff, and give presentations on the topic myself, there wasn’t much new that hit me on the head, though I saw a lot of other heads being whacked with facts and ideas in the room. But there were two things that gave me a double take. They were both brought up in the question and answer period.
One came as part of the answer to the question, why isn’t there more climatology, and in particular, climate change, in with the weather reporting on local TV? I should note right away that this is one of the reasons you should read Paul’s blog. You get the weather AND the climatology. If you are in the Twin Cities area, his Strib Blog is the place to go. If you are elsewhere in the US or beyond, his Weather Nation blog is the place to go. There is a lot of overlap but somewhat different regional coverage. Anyway, Paul’s answer included this: On news TV, global warming is toxic. Meaning, specifically, stating the basic fact that global warming is established science is not really allowed on standard news TV, local or national. The False Balance sells, admitting the facts is boring. More importantly, stating that climate change is real and important will piss off 30% of the audience and the people running the news shows don’t want that. The anchors, including the weather reporters, are to be beloved, not reviled. So “just don’t do that” is the policy in newsrooms.
The other whack on the head was in relation to a question that I thought at first was a bit obnoxious but then I realized it was one of those questions that IS obnoxious but usefully so, and necessary. The question was, in short, “Is there anybody in this room that didn’t already believe in global warming before this talk … was anyone’s mind changed?”
One person raised their hand to indicate a changed mind (everyone cheered) but this apparent fact was left on the table: This talk didn’t do anything but reinforce everyone’s existing position. That was a bit depressing at first.
However, I think the implication and factual basis of that question were wrong. First, there were probably several climate change denialists in that room, but they simply chose not to raise their hands either because they would have been deeply embarrassed or because their mind was not changed. I recognized one person that I’ve encountered before who is a denialist, and he remained silent. I have given talks on climate change attended by people I know are denialists and they’ve stayed silent or asked questions that did not indicate their denialism. So, yes, there are people in the audience who do not “believe in global warming” and I suspect a talk like Paul’s would have an effect on them, eventually.
Also, this: Nobody should “believe in global warming.” That’s where Paul separates his own beliefs (i.e., that there should be Republicans at all … or his religious beliefs which are based on faith) and a scientific approach to life, including both business and climate. A different question might have been, “Was there anything in Paul Douglas’s talk that you didn’t know before, about climate change, that you now know? Did you learn anything new either about climate or about how to talk about climate, in this talk?” The answer to that would have been, for almost everyone in the room, “Yes, many things.”
And this is a very important reason why “preaching to the converted” is important. Anti-climate science industrial interests spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on public engagement to develop and shore up their political position. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year buys a lot of rhetoric, but it does not buy one drop of truth. But truth by itself is not enough. Grassroots organizing and the power of citizenry, when armed with the truth, is enough to effect major change if it is sustained long enough over a sufficient range of the population (and done well). Last night’s talk was a highlight moment for local and regional activism in support of the planet we live on. Those who attended will keep Paul’s talk with them for decades, and it will supply them with tools and ideas, and perhaps most importantly, inspiration and hope, regardless of their personal staring point.
So, yeah, it was a great talk.