Expert calls for culture change


POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Nobel Peace Prize winner speaking at the recent Hawaii Conservation Conference said a woman shouted at him that he is “;just as bad as industry”; by saying compromise is needed to obtain a change in energy policies.

Stephen Schneider, an internationally renowned authority on climate change, said he told the detractor, “;I share your anger but not your strategy.”;

It is better to make progress one step at a time than go full speed ahead and crash, he explained.

The Stanford University professor of interdisciplinary environmental studies and biological sciences has been involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since it began in 1988. The panel, created by the United Nations Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization, shared the 2007 Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

Worldwide since the 1970s, scientists concerned about the damaging effects of greenhouse gases have been telling political leaders “;exactly what is going to happen and what to do about it,”; Schneider said in a telephone interview.

But the warnings were ignored because “;politics is short term and local,”; whereas climate change “;is long term and global,”; he said.

Schneider said he discussed climate science in talks at the conservation conference at the Hawai'i Convention Center but also wanted people there to understand the context in which it fits.

Cultural change takes a long time, and people are “;addicted”; to oil, he pointed out.

“;You have to have a crisis to get anywhere,”; he said, referring to the auto industry's need for a government bailout in part because consumers want vehicles with higher fuel efficiency.

Hawaii is “;the No. 1 poster child for that mistake,”; with 92 percent of oil imported, Schneider said. “;It is completely vulnerable to fluctuations of the world market and the chicanery of supply.”;

He said scientists are frustrated because they feel nobody in Congress is hearing them, but “;they're just listening to special interests a bit more.”;

Polls consistently show people believe global warming is real, but it is not in their top five priorities, Schneider said. “;Therefore, politicians felt it was safe to swim upstream from national opinion.”;

He said climate change and energy should be one of the three top priorities, “;but not by itself. ... Don't make energy less polluting just because of climate, but because we would send fewer kids to the hospital with asthma and fewer adults with emphysema.”;

Alternate energy would solve many problems at once, he said, not only protecting the environment, but creating new business and long-term stable green jobs.

Special interests with a “;trillion-dollar investment created the old way”; have hired people with doctorate degrees and no scientific knowledge to help them keep the status quo, he said.

“;People have capacity to think long term, beyond greed,”; said Schneider, a prolific author whose next book, “;Science Is a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save the Earth's Climate,”; is due out in October. “;People love their children and want the best for them. What we have to do is take the love of family at home to the scale of the country and the planet.”;

He said people can help by educating themselves with information from credible sources, forming alliances to seek changes in energy policies and supporting “;politicians with courage who are flying in the face of the political establishment and campaign contributions from special interests.”;

Also, he said, “;Be a smart consumer. Look at gas mileage and costs. Teach your kids to turn the lights off when they leave the room and turn off the computer. There are so many things you can do in your lifestyle.”;