America, Adapt!

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A while back, I asked for your input for a paper I was writing, concerning practical solutions for adapting to climate change. The paper was for a contest, which, unfortunately, I did not win. I'm sure others were more prepared to offer innovative solutions. I felt my paper made a good point, however, so I'm taking the opportunity to publish it here.

America, Adapt!

Leading our Country towards Sustainable Solutions

By Karmen Lee Franklin

Climate change is inevitable; this is obvious to anyone taking the time to examine the
multitude of evidence at hand. These changes, regardless of the causes, may affect everything from our individual, daily habits to our entire culture. Yet, for some reason, the mere mention of climate change often evokes a cringe from the average individual. Some even consider "global warming" to be a vast conspiracy to destroy technology or undermine the economy. Bearing these rampant misconceptions, our society will find it difficult, if not impossible, to agree on effective policies for adaptation. Before we can work on a solution, we need to change our cultural perspective. The next president, as the leader of our nation, may be in the best position to guide such a change.

We need to learn a nationwide lesson in cooperation--this is a not a zero-sum game, oil tycoons versus tree-huggers--we're all in this together. We need to open the channels for conversation; a grand discussion between political think tanks, energy corporations, manufacturers, scientists and individual citizens. It is no coincidence that as we face problems of global size, we are using communication tools of the same scale. The individual citizen should be informed about the practical choices or changes in habit they can make, which can lead to a better future for all of us.

The first necessary step towards a cultural attitude adjustment is to battle myths and misconceptions about climate change. Some extreme naysayers believe "Global Warming" is a hoax, yet even these arguments stem from simple assumptions and misunderstandings. Humans are not separate from nature, despite American cultural predispositions which suggest otherwise. Some claim that chemicals are harmful, ignoring the fact that humans are chemical-based life forms like everything else (at least until they find a chemical they like.) Others claim, with various explanations, that humankind rules over nature (at least until the earthquakes or hurricanes hit.) These anthropocentric assumptions, used by many of us, in one form or another, allow us to ignore our responsibilities. We don't have to clean up our mess if it isn't our home.

Another potentially harmful misunderstanding lies in our acceptance of technological advances. Most people alive today have seen cars, light bulbs, and supermarket steaks for their entire lifetime. They can't imagine living in a world any different. We take these things for granted. Yet, just a few generations ago, automobiles and prepackaged foods were the stuff of dreams. Since these technologies are relatively new, the rules regarding their use should not yet be set in stone.

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Inserting these simple ideas-humans are natural; change is natural-into our popular culture will promote a positive cultural attitude towards sustainability. The question then lies in the method: Can the president reach the people, and how? History shows it is possible. In 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt convinced the American public to invest in water conservation. "Spending like this is not waste. It would spell future waste if we did not spend for such things now," he said, in one of his legendary fireside chats. He explained, with vivid imagery, how the plight of drought-stricken farmers affected workers in clothing factories and steel mills, as well as their families, and all others who ate wheat or corn or dairy products. "In a physical and a property sense, as well as in a spiritual sense," he explained, "we are members one of another." The same words would ring true today, in regards to our need for sustainable energy.

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In another example, in 1961, John F. Kennedy addressed Congress in a speech broadcast nationwide on black-and-white TV. Encouraging the public to embrace technology, he set a lofty goal: "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." In spite of the high costs of such a venture, he convinced the nation that it was possible. "I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary," he said. "But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership." His words inspired the necessary decisions, indeed. By the end of the decade, man walked on the moon, as America watched on TV.

Each of these programs inspired individual citizens to feel as if they were participating in the decision, and emphasized their importance to technology, to one another, and to the land we call home. Most importantly, these programs took advantage of cutting-edge media to spread the message to the American public. If our future President elect made a speech, as Roosevelt did, on the radio, or even as Kennedy did, speaking to television cameras, would it have the same impact? It's unlikely. It would be more noticeable to not broadcast a presidential speech on television and radio. These forms of media have become so integrated in our lives, that they are far more ordinary than noticeable. A campaign which encourages a positive attitude towards sustainable energy use would need to use broadcast technologies, but not depend on them. A 21st century campaign needs to rely on 21st century technology, internet-based media.

A well-publicized blog by the president would have the same personal intimacy as Roosevelt's fireside chats, and be just as tech-savvy for the day. Wiki-style databases, designed to share solutions, observations, and ideas, would allow the public and the government to exchange information with scientists in the field. Other internet-based technologies, such as podcasts, shared video, and interactive flash-based games may also be useful in getting a message out to the public.

In addition to using the most modern media outlet available, the campaign should be all-inclusive. If we are to find sustainable solutions that work for everyone, no one can be excluded from the conversation. Highly partisan statements should be avoided at all costs. Everyone, young or old, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, has a stake in the future. Everyone wants to be successful, and live in a comfortable environment. Everyone wants cheap and easy power.

New technologies and ideas which may provide this, without reducing our natural resources, are being developed all the time. These could include making subtle changes in our eating habits or our transportation of goods and people, finding more effective use of the power in our homes, businesses, and industries, revamping old renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and windmills, or developing relatively new or rare methods, such as geothermal wells or algae-based oil farms and other bio-diesel fuels.

The challenge lies not in finding new ideas, but bringing them all together on one page, and sharing it with the public in a manner that encourages their involvement. In order to realize the potential of any of these technologies, or to decide which are most effective, (and at which scales,) we need to involve people from all walks of life. Together, we must leave our anthropocentric assumptions behind, and prepare for the future.

Humans are natural. Change is natural. With the right presentation, taking advantage of the latest media trends, the citizens of our nation can agree on these simple things. Once there is some agreement, only then can we work at setting adaptive policies. 21st century technology allows every citizen to be involved. The next president has the opportunity to use these new forms of media to influence our cultural perspectives. This can provide new forums of discussions, working towards sustainable use of our resources, and the development of clean technology.

Image Credits: FDR delivers a radio address. 1936. Courtesy of the Smithsonian. JFK addresses Congress. May 25, 1961. Courtesy of NASA. "Adapt fish" created by the author.

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This is just a fabulous post.

You write, "The challenge lies not in finding new ideas, but bringing them all together on one page, and sharing it with the public in a manner that encourages their involvement."

We need some new leaders who know how to do that and, more importantly, have the desire to do it.

Oh, hell yeah! (if you'll pardon my language.) Thanks, Donna, consider it done!

Trinifar, If I had won the contest, I could have had the chance to drive the point home in person to some of these new leaders. (The desire is up to them, unfortunately.) As it is, I hope they'll catch on, on their own. Thanks for commenting!

Hey Karmen,
Good reading paper, Chaotic Utopia. I agree that we need full support and cooperation by everybody.

I feel compelled to point out this particular sentence in the paper for pondering:
"Some claim that chemicals are harmful, ignoring the fact that humans are chemical-based life forms like everything else (at least until they find a chemical they like.)"

-Does this mean all chemicals are not harmful? Humans have proven capable of some quite horrendous creations throughout time. Take, for instance, the emissions/CO2 of various sorts being emitted into the atmosphere theory, and over time how it has been causing global problems belief (Human Cause). So, looking back with hindsight, could, & should, we have developed better fuel sources, emissions, etc.? It is all just chemicals, though, right? Does this blow the "global warming problems caused by man" theory right out of the water, then? Since everything on earth is chemicals?
-But, perhaps the human race should show more discretion with its freewill towards choices of use of those chemicals?

Very important, in the paper, was
"We need to learn a nationwide lesson in cooperation--this is a not a zero-sum game, oil tycoons versus tree-huggers--we're all in this together."
-That's one great sentence, Karmen. Nice One!