Congress may continue to fumble over taking any kind of cohesive action to address climate change, but its effects are becoming difficult to ignore. In 2012, extreme weather events scientists say were either caused or exacerbated by climate change cost the United States $100 billion -- most of which went towards federal crop, flood, wildfire and disaster relief.
Of course, climate disasters don’t discriminate against those who do or do not believe in global warming; they equally ravage conservative and liberal towns. Sadly, these are the political lines that have been drawn and perpetuated by those with a vested interest in Big Oil. More than 56 percent of House Republicans from the 113th Congress actively deny the existence of global warming, reports Think Progress. These same representatives also happen to have taken over $58.8 million from the fossil fuel industry.
For many climate activists and forward-thinking city officials, trying to convince climate deniers in their communities of the importance of preparing for climate disasters must feels a lot like trying to get a toddler to eat its vegetables — and perhaps therein lies the problem. For many, climate denial is an emotional issue for which no amount of logic can remedy. The more we try to convince climate deniers to see the light, the more entrenched they will become.
Rather than continue in a stalemate, many community leaders are turning to Political Communications 101: If you can’t win an argument, change the conversation.
With climate disasters expected to grow in frequency and scale, but many communities obstinate to accept global warming as the cause, major cities and small towns around the country are reframing the conversation in terms of 'resilience' and 'sustainability.' After all, global warming may be for commies but this is ‘merica, and if there’s one thing we are it’s resilient, right?
This focus on resiliency is empowering communities to shore up dams and dikes, upgrade sewage treatment plants to prevent overflows, and use rooftop gardens to absorb rainwater. Some are planting urban forests to provide shade from extreme heat, and farmers are receiving help from extension agents to fight against an influx of new pests.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, city planners decided to reframe the conversation when they realized discussing extreme events through the frame of global warming was a moot point. To put this into context, the city once elected as mayor Sen. James Inhofe, a climate denier who literally wrote the book on climate denial.
"The messaging needs to be more on being prepared and knowing we're tending to have more extreme events," Graham Brannin, Tulsa’s planning director, told the Associated Press. "The reasoning behind it doesn't matter; let's just get ready."
Granted, flood control projects and other resiliency efforts were underway long before global warming entered the public discourse. However, the sense of urgency created by climate change awareness has led to creative new proposals, such as helping people escape blazing temperatures or protecting coastlines from rising tides. It has also led to new sources of government funding.
Tulsa, for example, has been buying out homeowners and limiting development near the Arkansas River to help prevent flooding from major storms. With fears of future drought, Brannin is starting to push for water conservation efforts. A local nonprofit, Tulsa Partners, Inc., is advocating "green infrastructure" such as permeable pavement to soak up storm runoff.
Though these activities are clearly aimed at protecting communities from the effects of climate change, the city is not calling it a climate change initiative — the emphasis is on disaster preparedness.
But will this be enough? Preparing communities for climate disasters is a practical and important endeavor, but it will all be for naught if we don’t find a way to change the national conversation about global warming from debate to dialogue. Oil and gas companies continue to pour millions of dollars into propaganda public relations campaigns aimed at perpetuating a debate that should no longer be taking place.
One of the most popular scare tactics employed by these groups is to claim that investment in environmentally-friendly technologies will destroy the economy, which couldn’t be more incorrect, according to a report by the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Multilateral Solar and Wind Working Group. The report argues that we can achieve large-scale deployment of renewable energy that creates jobs, increases incomes, improves trade balances and contributes to industrial development — that is, if we pass the right policies and frameworks.
Until we purge Capitol Hill of climate deniers, these policies will be extremely difficult to implement. By then, it may be too late to deal with the causes of global warming, and we will be left to face its effects.
Think about that when you go to the polls in November.
Image credit: Flickr Rob Gross
Currently based in Washington, D.C, Mike Hower is a multimedia storyteller and strategic communicator helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower)
Currently based in Washington, D.C, <strong>Mike Hower</strong> is a new media journalist and strategic communication professional focused on helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. To learn more about Mike, visit his blog,<a href="http://climatalk.com/" > ClimaTalk</a>.