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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Blume: Getting to Yes

Rich Pedroncelli
Commentator Kathryn Blume says an aerial view of the parched California farmland, shown here near Stockton, Calif in May, 2015, got her thinking about how our fear of changing and of failure, cannot stand in the way of dealing with climate change.

I recently attended the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference in Sacramento. Our challenge was to figure out ways to influence both individual behavior change and transformation of collective systems in the face of a rapidly accelerating global climate “situation” - as the military guys called it. On the way home, we flew low enough over southern California to have a clear view of the effects of the severe drought they’ve been experiencing. Other than being brown instead of red, it looked like the surface of Mars – a dead landscape – both beautiful and terrifying.

All this got me thinking about fear: fear of our own culpability for having invested so heavily in fossil fuels; fear of change that’s both easy and impossible to imagine; and fear of our moral obligation to protect the future of life on this planet.

It is absolutely possible to move beyond a carbon-based economy and a carbon-based lifestyle, and there are many tools we can use to do it. But because it’s all so new to us, we often experience what I personally call an Implementation Mistake Fallacy, in which, if we make a mistake implementing some new technology, we tend to reject the tech rather than improve the implementation process. Psychologically this makes sense, since it’s a lot easier to say no than it is to work toward a complex yes, just as it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the fear that we’ll never get to that complex yes.

But when it comes to addressing climate change, we have to fight that fear. No matter how intricate, how disorienting, how much is demanded of us as individuals and as a society, we’ve got to commit ourselves to reach the yes of climate solutions.

We’re seeing the challenge right now in policy discussions, like the one about implementing a carbon pollution tax. Whenever someone says, “carbon pollution tax” all most of us hear is the word “tax.” The word we should hear is “pollution.” 

"No matter how intricate, how disorienting, how much is demanded of us as individuals and as a society, we've got to commit ourselves to reach the yes of climate solutions." - Kathryn Blume

Because that's what excess carbon dioxide is, and just like it’s not okay to pollute the ozone layer with chlorofluorocarbons, or let nuclear plants leak radiation into rivers, or allow lead in paint, it's not okay to dump toxic amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. For free.

We have to put a price on carbon pollution and we can do it in a way that both respects and responds to the needs of current and future generations. Somehow, though, we've got to find a way to get to yes.

Kathryn Blume is the executive director of the community climate game Vermontivate! and board chair of 350VT.
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