Starting last Wednesday, the Folk Alliance International conference was held in Kansas City, where it will be held for the next four years and the daytime panels and lectures were capped off on Saturday afternoon with a presentation by music enthusiast, former Vice President and climate change activist Al Gore.
He spoke to a packed Grand Ballroom at the Westin Crown Center for about an hour, and the audience could not have been more receptive or friendlier. He was clearly a man at ease, who knew he was among friends, and this was conveyed by a warm, engaging and easy manner. It was enough to make me wonder “Where was this guy in 2000? This guy would have carried his home state, or at least most of those Nader voters and that would have been enough.” But he opted not to call for armed rebellion after the Supreme Court ruled, so to dwell on what might have been is folly and I dropped it before I got paralyzingly depressed.
What is within our power to change, as he pointed out, is the future, and then he made the people in that room – the artists, the songwriters, the musicians, the writers – responsible for making sure we each and every one understood that we are integral to making sure that we, as a society, choose the right pathways as we move forward. He is still, he says, a willful optimist about the issue of climate change, because the future is what we choose to make it and he is hopeful that enough people are waking up to the reality of anthropogenic global warming that critical mass will be achieved and the right choices will be made.
There are really only two questions that need to be answered. The first one is “Do we really have to change?” and the second one is, “If the answer to the first one is yes, can we do it?”
Well, I’m going to give away the game…The answer to both questions is “yes” – just don’t get depressed arriving at the first answer, because depression is paralyzing and counterproductive. Instead, work through the depressing part and keep in mind that it is the nature of equations to balance (that’s why they’re called “equations.”) and what is a real downer on one side might be a golden opportunity on the other.
Where the issue of climate change is concerned, it is time to put aside the right-versus-left, Democrat-versus-Republican, liberal-versus-conservative, hippies-versus-hippie-punchers paradigm that has managed to supplant real discussion over how to address a very real problem, and replace all that nonsense that generates more heat than light (see what I did there?) with a right-versus-wrong paradigm, and once that happens, most people choose right over wrong, and real, constructive debate and discussion can take place, instead of this shouting past one another that has been happening since at least the 80s, back before “climate change” was even called “global warming,” back when we talked about the “greenhouse effect.”
We live in a time when technology makes it possible for a message to be disseminated world-wide in minutes, and to reach more of the world’s people than ever before, the problem is, 85% of these life-altering technologies are powered by carbon-based energy sources, and that has to change.
I would never be so crass or Phelpsian as to be thankful for anyone’s suffering, I can’t contemplate the feeling of desolation that the victims of Cyclone Haiyan must still be feeling, or, for that fact, the anger of the residents of New Jersey who have seen their lives reduced to political chits as they struggle to recover from Superstorm Sandy, but I do think the frequency and the severity of extreme weather events have made it harder and harder for people who may not want to believe that those awful, dirty hippies were right, but it’s getting harder and harder to remain convinced they’re wrong.
What I learned Saturday that made me angry, though, was the part about surface-water temperatures being nearly 6 degrees warmer than average windward of where Haiyan made landfall and five degrees warmer windward of the New York-Newark metropolitan area. That information was readily available and easily verifiable. That it wasn’t reported as part of the stories in the main$tream media strikes me as nothing short of journalistic malpractice.
The other thing I learned that astonished me had to do with the internal strife in Syria right now. I was fortunate enough to attend the only town hall of it’s kind last fall when the President asked to hear from the country instead of killing a bunch of Syrians with conventional weapons to punish the President of that country for killing a bunch of Syrians with chemical weapons. My Congressman and every concerned citizen from Wellsville, Kansas to Warrensburg, Missouri (neither of which are in his district) – including a lot of Syrian-Americans – voiced their opinions on what we needed to do, but of the scores of people who spoke, not one mentioned the social tensions created by a million internal, environmental refugees, rural people and farmers who had been driven off their land and into the cities not just by drought but by desertification, and how these environmental refugees bumped up against the million or so Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria to escape the war in their own country.
Let’s recap…we have Syria, an Arab country with a population of about 22 million, about a million of whom are internally displaced by climate change. That’s not politics, that’s reality. As in, that is an objective, verifiable truth, something that really happened. Now consider the million Iraqi refugees that poured into Syria’s cities. Now consider one more thing…the average age in Syria is 22. Suddenly the fact that it exploded in violence three years ago makes perfect sense.
A lot of people seem terribly concerned that 99.99% of the scientists are wrong and, worse, that the hippies were right. Again. They like to wring their hands and look at us with pleading earnestness and say “But what if you’re wrong?”
What about that? What if we are wrong? Well, for starters, wind and sun aren’t fungible. They don’t go onto a global market, they don’t fracture the bedrock of the Earth, nor do hey knock down mountains. So even if we’re wrong, we get cleaner air and cleaner water, fish that is safe to eat, and true energy independence, just for starters. Along the way we might get, as side benefits, better-designed neighborhoods and communities that are less car-centric and friendlier to foot and bike traffic and public transit. Clean air, clean water and walkable neighborhoods all conspire to make for healthier communities, and healthier communities are just nicer places to live.