City Promotes Dialogue on Climate Change as Essential Prerequisite to Action

Posted Oct. 12, 2016

MP3 Interview with Chris Schweitzer, organizer with New Haven’s Healthy City, Healthy Climate Challenge, and, program director with the New Haven/Leon Sister City Project, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

climate

Renowned climate scientist James Hansen and other experts have long insisted that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cannot remain above 350 parts per million if we hope to maintain any semblance of life on earth as we have known it. That warning was underscored when the level of carbon dioxide surpassed 400 parts per million for the entire month of September 2016. In fact, every month for the past three decades has seen hotter than average temperatures.

A new paper published by Hansen and his colleagues declared that reducing the amount of heat warming gases like carbon dioxide and methane released in the future will not ensure our survival. The scientists maintain that governments working together must devise new methods to remove massive amounts of existing global warning gases from the atmosphere, an extremely difficult challenge.

This challenge is made more difficult, especially in the U.S., by the propaganda churned out by the fossil fuel industry and allied politicians – a major obstacle blocking congressional action while the severity of climate change grows more dire. One group in New Haven, Connecticut, has initiated a new effort called ‘Let’s Talk about Climate Change,’ as a strategy to challenge congressional gridlock. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with New Haven’s Healthy City, Healthy Climate Challenge organizer Chris Schweitzer, at a downtown New Haven intersection where his group set up a display of more than two dozen colorful, inflatable plastic aliens. Interviewed at the installation site, Schweitzer explains the message being sent with this art installation. [Rush transcript.]

CHRIS SCHWEITZER: So, we’re using the aliens to get people to think about how, through climate change, humans are creating an alien planet – a planet that has different climate and weather systems than we’ve known for all of human history. And we’re particularly inviting people to start talking more about climate change. We’re organizing Let’s Talk About Climate Change events and inviting other folks to likewise have formal or informal discussions and just get people talking about climate change.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How would that work? Do you have experts come, or is it just a group of people?

CHRIS SCHWEITZER: This is being organized by Healthy City, Healthy Climate Challenge, and on that website we have a lot of great resources – videos, discussion guides, graphics – and it could be as informal as you want – have people over to your house to have a discussion, put up a sticker, sign up in your office, just get people talking about climate change. We started this because different surveys have shown that even though people are concerned about climate change and aware of it, they feel it’s too hot a subject to talk about it, and they feel that other people don’t want to talk about it, but surveys show most people do want to talk about it, so we’re trying to do posters and stickers and discussions and this kind of event and invite people to talk about it more.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And what’s been the response today?

CHRIS SCHWEITZER: Today’s been very positive. People are really interested; they like the aliens and all the wise-ass signs the aliens have up, and are willing to take stickers and flyers, which is good.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You’ve got these signs. One says, “All these scary stories about aliens destroying your world – and you’re doing it to yourselves!”

CHRIS SCHWEITZER: Right, we have a lot of kind of wise-ass signs that people made up, about aliens coming and saying, “This is our Planet B. Where’s your Planet B?” kind of thing, just part of the idea to get people thinking in a fun, whimsical way.

BETWEEN THE LINES: While I was waiting for you, there were five guys, workmen, on their lunch break, just sitting on the steps where we’re sitting now, and I went over to them with a sticker and asked if anybody wanted to talk about climate change. One guy very vocally said, "No, thank you;" he didn’t want to engage. One of them did take a sticker, and we ended up having this fascinating conversation about insulation, about different kinds of insulation, and how this one kind is the best, but it’s also the most expensive. And then I said, "But if you live in your house long enough you’d not only recoup that, but you’d start saving money," and he said. "Sure."

And then when the man took the little handout, one of his fellow workers said, "What kind of car do you drive?" And I went over and talked to him and said, “It’s not really about that. It’s not about trying to make people give up everything, but that there’s so many ways we could be more energy efficient and in terms of renewable energy," and then one of the other guys said, “We carpooled; that’s our contribution.” And I said, “That’s great, that works!” So, it was sort of a Let’s Talk about Climate Change microcosm of four or five people just sitting there, and some actively refusing to engage. And it’s an interesting question about what do they think people are telling them they need to do? How much do they have to suffer, versus how much, if they don’t do anything, they’re going to have to suffer down the line. So, are there any particular approaches or factoids that you think are particularly good to engage in this conversation?

CHRIS SCHWEITZER: Well, we really think that policy change is really important, for the state, particularly, to really try to cut back on fossil fuels, cut back on natural gas use; support policies that encourage people to weatherize their homes and encourage solar and community-based solar, because that’s where you get the most impact, is changing the systems away from fossil fuel-based energy systems and transportation systems to ones that use clean energy – wind, solar and other forms of energy. But for those who care right now, you can look at your own greenhouse gas footprint, and make some choices, because most choices, in our estimation, that are good for your own health and good for community health, also cut greenhouse gases – biking more, walking, taking the bus once in awhile, carpooling, weatherizing your house, eating more local food – these are all good things for your health, for the environment locally, and for cutting greenhouse gases.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And some of them would also save the person money.

CHRIS SCHWEITZER: You mentioned earlier about policy changes and what the state is hoping. I’m not sure how it’s going. Several years ago, the current administration decided we need to add lots of capacity of fracked gas because I guess folks still considered it a bridge fuel, which now a lot of people including most environmental organizations certainly don’t think that anymore, and with methane leaks that happen at every stage of the process, it is not a bridge fuel. It’s a fossil fuel at least as bad as any other fossil fuel. Is there anything specific you’d like to see the state do, or the city of New Haven?

Well, the state is working on a new climate action plan for the state, so to make that as strong as possible and really, you know, go as far as possible. California is out front in many areas. And then try to get some real money behind that to make sure there are resources to do the programs. Likewise, the city is working on a climate and sustainability framework right now and the city has really invested a good amount of time to make that happen. So that’d be great, and hopefully, again, the Board of Alders and the mayor can come up with some resources to really implement those programs.

We encourage people just to think about how do you make social change in any context. People need to talk about it, and climate change has been confused for people through some really slick corporate media, and a lot of Republicans have done a lot to deny it, and so people are confused and nervous about talking about it, but we need to talk about things that are impacting us, and will impact our children. So it’s just important to start talking about it, learning about it, and making some concrete choices.

For more information, visit New Haven’s Healthy City, Healthy Climate Challenge at healthyclimatechallenge.org.

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