Dr. Karyne Messina’s Newsletter — Issue #4: Bridging the Ideological Divide on a Warming Planet
The present rate of production of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion is about a hundred times the average rate of release of calcium and magnesium from the weathering of silicate rocks. As long as this ratio holds, precipitation of metallic carbonates will be unable to maintain an unchanging content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Within a few short centuries, we are returning to the air a significant part of the carbon that was slowly extracted by plants and buried in the sediments during half a billion years.
Restoring the Quality of Our Environment: Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Science Advisory Committee, November 1965
Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS. Whatever happened to Global Warming?
— Donald J. Trump, tweeting @realDonaldTrump, November 21st, 2018
Bridging the Ideological Divide on a Warming Planet
In Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, climate scientists Roger Revelle, Wallace Broecker, and others warned that “Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years …. The climatic changes that may be produced by the increased CO2 content could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings. The possibilities of deliberately bringing about countervailing climatic changes therefore need to be thoroughly explored.” The team predicted that, by the year 2000, we would see the melting of the Antarctic ice caps, rising sea levels, warming of the oceans, increased acidity of water, and other catastrophic events.
Well, here we are.
The heatwave that recently rocked the Pacific Northwest with 100-degree days was, sadly, not unexpected and only the latest reminder that decades of slow and steady global warming is reaching a tipping point. To say that it’s infuriating to see the can kicked down the road is an understatement — those fifty-year-old predictions that stunned Johnson are now coming to pass — and it’s clear that previous administrations chose to defer action on this issue rather than address it.
A section of the EPA’s website entitled “Climate Change Indicators,” opens with searing lines echoing those written by President Johnson’s climate scientists in 1965:
The Earth’s climate is changing. Temperatures are rising, snow and rainfall patterns are shifting, and more extreme climate events — like heavy rainstorms and record high temperatures — are already happening. Many of these observed changes are linked to the rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, caused by human activities.
To prevent further disaster, the answers are clear: cut carbon emissions drastically, and right away, while also mitigating the damage caused by decades of willful ignorance. The sins of the past will be with us for centuries to come, but we have the tools and knowledge to prevent total disaster if we are willing to work together now. That involves convincing people that global warming is real.
Unfortunately, we lost four precious years to make substantial progress on the problem during President Trump’s time in office. He was neither willing nor prepared to address this issue, or at the very least acknowledge its existence. His dismissal of existing scientific data was dangerous for the citizens of this country for whom the effects of global warming are already at hand. Trump and his advisors politicized global warming, while Trump’s ability to shift blame — projective identification in action — has altered how we communicate with each other, even though he’s no longer in office. These behaviors have made it nearly impossible to have an open and honest dialogue about present and future environmental issues since even basic facts were called into question under Trump’s presidency, such as whether global warming even exists. When facts are less important than ideology, there’s little room left for finding middle ground and even less hope of finding solutions that we all need, no matter where we fall in our political beliefs — we’re all breathing the same air, after all.
So, where does that leave us? We now have a nation where 10 percent of Americans think global warming is a hoax, and another 10 percent also doubt its existence, but if it were true, don’t believe humans are the root cause. However, I am optimistic that we can change the conversation — if Russian president Vladimir Putin can go from being a global warming skeptic to recognizing that the climate crisis is real, then I have hope for Americans, too. Ok, yes, easier said than done, but there are organizations working in the United States right now on facilitating conversations around hot-button topics like global warming. Bridge Alliance is a coalition of over one hundred organizations working together as “active stewards of our democratic republic.” Some groups lean left, others to the right, but all are united in a common goal to see beyond our political and ideological beliefs in service of solving the problems plaguing America (and the planet) today.
Braver Angels co-founder Dr. Bill Doherty, along with psychologist Adam Grant, journalist Amanda Ripley, and professor Kris Martin recently testified at on a Congressional hearing to discuss how to depolarize the U.S. House. The 11 bipartisan House members of the Select Committee to Modernize Congress convened the hearing in a bid to find solutions to make Congress “more effective, efficient, and transparent on behalf of the American people.” Doherty and his team recommended ways members of Congress could encourage depolarization, notably by inviting Braver Angels to host depolarization workshops. Here’s hoping the representatives take Doherty up on his offer.
The Flip Side is one such member of Bridge Alliance. It’s mission is to “help bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives” by providing summaries of the news and how those topics are covered by conservative and liberal news outlets. “It’s hard to convince liberals to watch Fox or conservatives to watch MSNBC,” states the Flip Side’s mission statement. “But if everyone takes 5 minutes a day to read The Flip Side, we’ll have a starting point when talking to our friends and neighbors.” It’s a start.
Other news: an OpEd and a conference on facing the threat of global warming
On July 9, the Baltimore Sun ran an opinion piece I wrote about my virtual visit to a Braver Angels meeting. I hope you’ll take a look and share your thoughts.
Please save October 22 and 23 for a conference co-sponsored by the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis, the Contemporary Freudian Society, and the Washington School of Psychiatry on how the psychoanalytical community must address the widespread apathy surrounding public understanding of the environmental crisis. “Awakening to the Existential Threat of Environmental Collapse: A New Imperative for Psychotherapists and Psychoanalysis” will focus on the serious threat to humanity caused by global warming and the unconscious processes that are associated with denialism. This conference is dedicated to the memory of Harold Searles. More details will be available in the coming months, but you can find early information here.