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The Human Impact of Climate Change: Opportunities & Challenges

The Interactivity Foundation (IF) has recently published a guidebook for public discussion on “The Human Impact on Climate Change,” edited by IF Fellows Dennis Boyer, Jeff Prudhomme, and Adolf Gundersen. The guidebook was developed from the group discussions of 16 panelists in two groups from south central and southwestern Wisconsin.

Human-Impact-on-Climate-coverTest discussions facilitated by former Wisconsinites in Tucson, Ariz., and in Sonora and Mazatlan, Mexico, further developed the text of the discussion guide.

Six contrasting policy possibilities emerged from these group discussions and are described in this discussion guide along with possible implementations, examples, and consequences:

  1. Promote climate awareness: Improve public understanding of climate impacts, their consequences, and options for action.
  2. Change consumer habits: Focus on human consumption as a source of atmospheric carbon and greenhouse gases.
  3. Go for results: Identify efficient and low-cost solutions that are currently available for short-term action.
  4. Heal the planet: Plan and implement long-range recovery and rehabilitation of ecosystems.
  5. Deal with a different world: Adapt to changed conditions and plan for climate emergencies.
  6. Focus on the developing world: Assist developing nations in reducing climate impact activities and help them “leap over” traditional industrial development to clean technologies.

In developing these possibilities, the project panelists felt that much of the existing political “debate” about climate impacts has been unhelpful to citizens and policymakers. Eventually, their discussions designated certain issues, such as “Is the planet getting warmer? How is the climate changing? What role does human action play in global climate change?” as questions that rely more on empirical scientific research for their answers. Conversely, they designated other key questions, such as “What public policy choices might we make about climate change? What, if anything, might society do about global climate change?” as public policy questions that need exploration by all citizens.

This distinction helped the panelists to side-step much of the highly partisan and interest-group-driven “debate” and engage in a public conversation that was more anticipatory and imaginative. Their explorations seem to be shaped by three realizations:

  1. Universal agreement on the precise nature and extent of climate impacts is difficult to achieve and waiting for it could forestall consideration of workable impact policies.
  2. There is sufficient current evidence of dramatic environmental consequences connected to climate impacts to merit development of policy responses.
  3. Significant institutions and interests are assuming that human climate impacts are real and must be accounted for.

This last point accounted for a dramatic shift in the project discussions. Among the more conservative panelists, the realization that major financial institutions, large investors, risk managers, insurers, and military and national security leaders take climate impacts into account in their planning was a turning point. It was seen as evidence that the politicians often lag behind in both consciousness and practical problem-solving.

The sense that emerged from the climate project was that these starting points for public conversation represent a possibly useful foundation for discussion of the opportunities for innovation, economic development, and prudent planning related to climate impacts. Now it’s your turn.

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/human-impacts-on-climate/

This resource was submitted by Peter Shively of the Interactivity Foundation via the Add-a-Resource form.

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