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The Paris Agreement

I’m trying to remain optimistic.

On the one hand the agreement reached in Paris seems a big step forward. It’s the first truly global agreement on climate change involving nearly 190 countries. It has a goal of keeping global average temperature “well below” two degress celsius. That is good.

On the other hand, words are cheap. The agreement has no teeth. There are no mechanisms to force compliance. And, beyond the statement that the goal is to keep temperatures “well below” two degrees, the actual emission reduction commitments would still allow temperatures to rise well above three degrees — an unmitigated catastrophe.

I can remain optimistic about the agreement only if all stake-holders see it as just a first step in a long process. Climate negotiators MUST return to the table every few years to update their commitments. At some point there will have to be better mechanisms to ensure compliance.

We still face enormous hurdles to reach the ambitous goal of keeping temperatures well below two degrees. The biggest hurdle is not the science, nor policy, nor even technology — we have more than enough evidence of the causes and potential consequences; there are policies that could be very effective (a revenue-neutral carbon tax); and we have all of the technologies needed to generate clean energy.

The biggest hurdle is the will of the people. The only way climate negotiators will be able to make the necessary commitments in coming years is if they have the will of their citizens behind them. It is now truly up to all of us. The policy wonks and technologists can’t do it without us.

So, what remains to be done is for most people to take ownership of climate change. People can no longer sit back and hope the experts will figure it out. People must speak up and force political leaders to do what is necessary. We all need to make the necessary changes in our own lives to move toward a fossil-fuel-free civilization.

Since it is now up to the will of the people, I can still remain optimistic. After walking a thousand miles and meeting hundreds of people along the way, I know that most have the courage, compassion, and creativity to respond to the climate crisis.

We can do this. We MUST do this.

Resources for Climate Change Activism in St. Louis

If you live in St. Louis, there are many ways to become active on the climate change issue:

  • NOKXL-STL This local group is part of a national campaign to fight the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline. According to a prominent climate scientist – James Hansen – building of the Keystone XL pipeline and the subsequent extraction of Canadian tar sands would mean ‘game over’ for the climate. Join this group to take direct action against the pipeline.
  • Missouri Beyond Coal Coal fired power plants represent the largest single source of carbon emissions. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign has already been instrumental in stopping or closing more than 150 coal plants. Missouri has some of the dirtiest coal plants in the country. Missouri Beyond Coal is fighting to close them down.
  • Citizen’s Climate Lobby A carbon tax is likely the most effective climate change policy. The Citizen’s Climate Lobby is a well organized group that is laying the political foundation to pass a national carbon tax. The St. Louis chapter of CCL can be found by clicking on St. Louis on the chapters map.
  • 350 St. Louis is the largest grassroots organization dedicated to fighting climate change. The local chapter has organized demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline at various sporting events (Hey! You go where the crowds are.)
  • St. Louis Climate Reality There’s no doubt climate change is a complex issue. Climate Reality is a national group organizing and training advocates to address climate change. The St. Louis group has a very active calendar of lectures, panel discussions, and film screenings.

And … if you feel like you just don’t have enough time to join one or more of these groups — Just start talking. Let people know what you think about climate change and what needs to be done.

Science and Belief

I had a good, long conversation with Ron in London, OH about the science of climate change. I said that I am not a climate scientist but that I believe in the scientific method and the process of scientific discovery. A recent study from the Consensus Project found that 97% of climate science papers agree with the notion of human-induced global warming. To me that is sufficient evidence to take action on climate change.

Ron said he is not convinced. He said most scientists also agree with the notion of evolution even though there are fundamental flaws with the theory of evolution. I won’t get into all of the details of our discussion of evolution, but at some point, Ron made an observation that may provide some common ground. He said that science should be seen as a process of discovering God’s creation. I think it is possible to find some agreement about scientific discovery even though we may have differing views about the origins of the underlying nature of things.

I think we can agree that various ecosystems are affected by our actions. For example, pouring toxic chemicals into rivers and streams can pollute those ecosystems to the point where fish can no longer survive and where our drinking water can become unsafe. How that river ecosystem came to be is irrelevant to the argument that our actions can harm that ecosystem. At first we didn’t know that our actions were affecting the ecosystem. But through a process of scientific discovery we found the source of the problem and we modified our practices to reduce the harm to the ecosystem (this is, of course, paraphrasing from many specific situations). In this case our scientific discovery helped us learn more about that ecosystem – or God’s creation – and how our actions affect it.

Why not consider the climate as something similar to a river ecosystem? In this case, a process of scientific discovery has found that our actions – mostly the burning of fossil fuels – is increasing the amounts of certain gases in the atmosphere – mostly C02 and methane – to the point where it is warming the earth. That warming of the earth can have many harmful affects on us and on future generations. Doesn’t that suggest we should change our actions to avoid those harmful affects just as we did to avoid harmful affects to a river ecosystem?

I would love to hear your comments on this. Particularly those of you coming from a more theist belief system than myself. Let’s this conversation going.

Some Common Ground

My goal is to have 100 good conversations over the course of my cross country walk, but once in a while I have a great conversation – like the one I had with my brother Rob. Rob describes himself as a conservative and a christian. I would add that Rob is also a very intelligent, thoughtful, and loving person. I know there are some issues we have not agreed upon in the past, but we found some common ground in our conversation about climate change.

I expressed my concerns that, if we continue with business as usual, we will be leaving enormous problems for our children and grandchildren. He said that he is also concerned about future generations. He said he’s concerned about what kind of economy we will be leaving them; that if the government keeps spending the way it has been, prices will continue to increase and there will be fewer and fewer good jobs for future generations. I said that the effort to address climate change will require something like the war effort during World War II; and that it will likely involve a partnership between government and private industry. In addition, it will require strong cooperation between both political parties to make it happen.

I asked Rob how we could get both parties to cooperate on such a large effort. He said we can find common ground by focusing on the needs of future generations. The unifying question might be: “What can we do today to ensure that future generations have plenty of opportunities to live rewarding, healthy lives without being overly burdened by either economic or environmental crises?”

I truly appreciate the wise advice from my big brother and I will take it to heart as we move forward on the climate change issue.

What’s Your Source?

Several conversations I’ve had have ended with agreeing to disagree because we rely on differing sources of information.

One such conversation involved a government conspiracy. Here’s a summary of my conversation with Ralph (not his real name) which took place at a fast food restaurant in Rome NY:

Ralph: So is that your cart out front?

Me: That’s right. I’m walking across the country to raise awareness about climate change.

Ralph: Have you heard about chem trails?

Me: You mean the contrails left behind jet engines.

Ralph: No. I mean chemical trails deliberately sprayed into the upper atmosphere to cause global warming.

Me: Why would the government want to cause global warming?

Ralph: So that they can justify a socialist agenda to fight global warming.

Me: But what about all of the climate scientists who have made the case that climate change is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline, jet fuel and coal?

Ralph: Most of those scientists are being paid by the government. They’re in on the conspiracy.

Another conversation took place on the Erie Canal Trail. Tom (not his real name) and a friend were riding by when they stopped to ask about my walk.

Tom: So what’s the story?

Me: I’m walking across the country to raise awareness about climate change.

Tom: I hear ya? I know global warming is happening, but do you really think it’s anthropromorphic?

Me: The scientific consensus is that global warming is caused by human activities.

Tom: No. There’s no scientific consensus that makes that connection. There are plenty of scientists who disagree.

Me: But a recent study of the climate change literature, found that about 97% of climate science papers agree with the notion of human induced climate change. (see

Tom: I am a scientist with a degree from MIT and I can tell you that carbon dioxide is not harmful – in fact, CO2 is necessary for plant growth. The problem is not CO2, it’s the sun and the expansion of the earth. Look it up.

Finally, I had a brief conversation in Macedon NY with a young woman who was curious about the cart.

Maggie (not her real name): What’s the cart for?

Me: I’m walking across the country and I’m using the cart to carry my things – sleeping bag, duffel, tent ect.

After giving me some suggestions to improve the cart, Maggie asked: “What’s the purpose of the walk?”

Me: I’m trying to raise awareness about climate change. I think, as a country, we aren’t making any progress towards addressing it.

Maggie: Well I know the weather has been strange but there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s just God’s plan. Its part of the end times. It was foretold that the weather would become erratic in the end times.

All of these conversations end the same way. We agree to disagree because we trust different information sources. So how can we proceed if we can’t agree that there is a scientific consensus? I’m afraid we have to start there because all discussion stops if we can’t agree on that consensus.

What’s it gonna take?

I’ve often heard people say that making the changes necessary to address climate change will cost trillions of dollars – and that we shouldn’t make that kind of financial committment unless the rest of the world agrees to do the same. It seems to me that’s like a game of ‘chicken’; we’re all moving head on to disaster and no one is willing to change direction. Well, thankfully, not everyone thinks that way. I’ve met some people on my travels that are making changes without waiting for anyone else to do the same.

One was Eric who I met while walking just east of Monterey MA. He was on his bicycle and, I later found out that he almost always travels by bike. He sold his car a few years back and now he gets around by bike or mass transit. He is a locksmith in Boston and he even carries his tools to various jobs on his bike.
That shows dedication since the roads and streets around Boston are not always accessible by bike. When he does need a car, Eric rents from a local car rental.

I met Paul just east of Springfield. He stopped to talk to me after watching me negotiate a dangerous intersection. Paul works with, an organization that is working to adopt and rescue draft horses and to put them back to work on farms. Paul made a good case for using draft horses as part of a fossil-fuel free agriculture. Of course, in the scope of human history, draft animals have been the norm. Agricultural machinery powered by fossil fuels represent only he blink of an eye in agricultural history.

Finally, I visited the Berry Farm outside Chatham NY. The owner, Joe Gilbert, showed me how they are getting their energy from the sun – both photovoltaic and passive solar. The farm has an impressive solar array that generate enough electricity to power 15 homes. The passive solar panels are used to heat water which is then used to heat growing beds in several greenhouses. He also said that , by using a heat exchanger, that same solar heated water is used to cool the greenhouses in the summer.

So these are some people who are not sitting on their hands waiting for someone else to make the first move. They are taking the initiative now. And isn’t that kind of initiative a big part of what makes America an exceptional place?