An Open Letter to Al Gore
5 August 2017
Honorable Albert Gore
Former Vice President of the USA and
Senator from Tennessee
Dear Mr. Gore:
While I have not had the opportunity to see your new movie, An Inconvenient Sequel (see fandan.co/2v8m00I), due to travel, I have heard a range of reports about it, mostly positive. I look forward to seeing it. My reason for writing to you is because I hold a possibly very odd view about global warming. This viewpoint hasn’t gotten much attention, but I believe it holds promise for making progress in resolving the issue about which you are so passionate. What makes my viewpoint odd is that I am simultaneously a solid believer that global climate change is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed, and that humans are the primary cause of the problem; but in equal measure, I am a huge skeptic about the efforts being made to address the problem. I’m skeptical because I think that proponents of addressing the climate change problem are unintentionally “shooting themselves in the feet”. Unless and until the strategy of those seeking more action on climate change is revised, we won’t solve the problem, or if we solve it, it will happen far too slowly. Thus, this is really an open letter not only to you, as well as everyone else (myself included) who believes in human-induced climate change, but it is also an open letter to all of the skeptics of climate change. I encourage you, and everyone else, to read on, for an unexpected perspective on entire issue.
My argument is based upon four facts. These aren’t “alternative” facts (aka “lies”). I’ll call them “additional” facts, things upon which people on both the Left and the Right, Democrats and Republicans, can actually agree. Neither side has paid a great deal of attention to these additional facts.
Additional Fact #1: The Issue of Climate Change Has, Over Time, Gone From a Consensus Issue to a Partisan One
People may believe that Democrats have always endorsed taking action on climate change and that Republicans have always been dragging their feet. Actually, the evidence shows that back around 2003, the percentage of Republicans who believed in climate change was only 13 percentage points less than Democrats. That doesn’t sound like a hugely partisan issue. Today, however, the percentage of Democrats who believe in human induced climate change is 41 percentage points higher than Republicans. In a sense, you could make this into a “good news/bad news” argument: the “good news” is that you and others have heightened awareness of the issue, and it’s galvanized lots of action; and the “bad news” is that it has been turned to a partisan political issue. But if climate change is such an important issue — and I think it is — then this partisan divide needs somehow to be overcome, or at least reduced. Somehow, someway, a way needs to be found to turn a charged, partisan issue into a bipartisan one. Unfortunately, the road we’re on now isn’t going to do that.
Well, if I’m right about additional fact #1, then additional fact #2 ought to scare everyone a lot!
Additional Fact #2: When You Tell Someone That His or Her Facts Are Wrong, and That They Don’t Know What They’re Talking About, You’re Not Very Likely to Have Any Influence.
Those of us who believe that climate change is a real problem have, unfortunately, not exactly been persuading skeptics or the “undecided”. For a moment, consider additional fact #2 without referring to the climate change debate. Usually when we try to tell people they’re wrong, maybe even stupid for their beliefs, they usually get at least a little defensive. You, and most everyone else, probably learned the truth of this as a kid. I don’t know everyone, but everyone I do know tends to act, think, and behave is this way. Yet that approach is exactly the one that those trying to persuade the skeptics and undecided are using: I’m right about this subject, you’re wrong about, maybe even stupid, so listen up! Whether or not it is intended, that’s the message that much of Trumpian America hears from urban, liberal elites: you people are ill educated, you’re stupid, even occasionally “deplorable”! Well, I have an Ivy League education, I don’t think I’m stupid, and definitely not deplorable; and even though I believe in climate change, I find these types of arguments from Democrats and others on the left to be offensive, pandering, and, frankly, stupid! They’re stupid because they’re having precisely opposite effect of the intended one.
Somehow, I just don’t think that’s a winning strategy, so if you you really want to persuade climate skeptics and the undecided to change their minds, you might want to pull a page out of Dale Carnegie’s handbook, aka “how to win friends and influence people”. The current strategy to persuade skeptics maybe ought to be re-thought.
What are the implications for the climate change debate? Here are some suggestions:
- Stop making movies about climate change, not because the movies are bad, just that they re-inforce a partisan divide that doesn’t need to exist. Your new movie will reinforce what climate change believers already believe; and skeptics will never see the movie, so you’re not going to persuade them to change their minds;
- Stop insisting to skeptics that “there’s a huge global scientific consensus about climate change, so you climate change skeptics should stop being skeptical and get on the bandwagon!”;
- Stop criticizing climate skeptics and the undecided and, instead, say, “we think there’s an issue here, and we believe we need the help of skeptics, so first, please help us de-politicize this issue, then let’s figure out a way that all of us can claim a victory.
You may think, “this is a naïve view”, but I really don’t believe it has to be, for the reasons laid out below. Instead, climate change needs to be converted into a bi-partisan issue that has enough credit that can be shared by all sides. Let’s talk about how that might happen. Let’s begin with Additional Fact #3.
Additional Fact #3: Since the Kyoto Protocol Was Enacted in 1997, the United States Has Eliminated More Carbon From the Atmosphere Than Any Other Country
Additional fact #3 is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention, yet it’s really good news! The USA never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and we dropped out of the Paris Climate Accord before it really could have a lot of impact. But while the USA never really signed on to either global climate accord, we’ve led the world in eliminating greenhouse gases over the past 20 years. Which actually is one of the arguments used by conservatives. It goes like this: if there is a human-induced greenhouse gas problem, it is getting at least partially solved without Federal government or international treaty-based action. One of the arguments that conservatives use is that whatever the problem is, it can be solved in ways that don’t involve international treaties, international bureaucracies that spring up as a result of it, and the unintended deposits of USA taxpayer money in the accounts of developing country despots. This is really a variation of a traditional Republican/conservative argument: we can solve problems without creating more Federal government, and more Federal government spending. Well, I have to agree, they have a point.
This bit of “good news” can be the basis of forging a new bi-partisan consensus on climate. It could go like this:
- Democrats and other liberals/progressives stop preaching about climate change to skeptical Republicans and other conservatives; after all, it isn’t working;
- The issue can be re-framed as follows: “what can we do to build upon the success of the past 20 years in the USA in being the world leader in eliminating climate change greenhouse gases”? If we do this, we may have potential because it will change from a “we’re right/they’re wrong” type of proposition into “we can both be right, if for different reasons.
- We can tell the rest of the world, we seriously wish you good luck with the Paris Climate Accord, but the USA is forging a slightly different path; and based upon our results of the past 20 years, we are confident a non-governmental, non-treaty solution can work well. One size does not necessarily fit all.
What might those “different reasons” be? For Democrats and other liberals/progressives, let’s make “carbon removal” a priority in order to save the planet. For Republicans and other conservatives, it could be, let’s make “carbon removal” a priority because it will help employ lots of people and can make a lot more people rich (and if not that, at least give them an honorable job that will help them support their families). Which leads me to additional fact #4.
Additional Fact #4: There Is Lots of Evidence Today Showing That Removal of Carbon From the Atmosphere, Or Preventing It From Entering, Can Be a Highly Profitable Business Strategy
Additional fact #4 is unabashedly a piece of good news. While it is a fairly recent development, unquestionably, money can be made from removing carbon from the atmosphere. Billions of dollars are being invested in companies to make this happen. Significant numbers of jobs are being created in alternative energy, for example, more than in traditional industries such as coal mining. In fact, whole new industries are being created. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, has truly moved the needle on electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are no longer just a fringe thing, they’ve gone mainstream. A key reason is that the operating cost of these vehicles is getting to be less than a traditional gas-guzzling one. So the investment increasingly makes sense without any reference to climate change.
Additional Fact #4 can be the one upon which Republicans and other conservatives get on board. The important point to make is, they’ll get on board not because some Democrat or Progressive persuaded them to stop thinking like an idiot. Instead, they’ll get on board because they’re actually really smart. Their version of “smart” probably isn’t the same as that for many Democrats. That’s because the Republican/conservative version of smart is to figure out ways to make money, and find solutions that don’t require more government. In other words, there can be more than one way to be smart!
Now the idea of making money isn’t the exclusive preserve of Republicans. If memory serves me correctly, Mr. Vice President, you’ve made a huge amount of money since you were Vice President as a result of making some shrewd business investments. Good for you! I sincerely applaud your efforts, and results, in the business arena. If you want to win over skeptical Republicans and conservatives, I think you’ll be more successful if you emphasize the economic benefits of removing carbon, not to beware of sea level rise. Provide skeptics and the undecided a way to want to be part of this solution, and let them do it for their own reasons, not yours.
To be fair, the responsibility for this is definitely not entirely yours, but you have the potential to be part of the “reframing” effort (i.e., reframing the climate change issue in ways that can permit a real bi-partisan consensus to emerge). At the same time, Republicans and conservatives need to take steps to de-politicize this issue. There are plenty of issues that deserve to be partisan — given the significance of climate change, and potential disastrous effects, THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM. To be fair, from what I’ve read, you do want to turn this into a bi-partisan one. Unfortunately, current efforts are not moving us closer to bipartisanship. Assuming so, a change in course may be in order. Thus, while I wish you well with An Inconvenient Sequel, more importantly, I encourage you to find a way to be part of a national effort to de-politicize this issue and make it truly bi-partisan, one that everyone can claim part of the credit, if for very different reasons. We can all benefit.
Carl W. Treleaven
St. Petersburg, Florida
Author, The Unexpected Perspective (at amzn.to/2tA55Cu)
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