by Kiran Garewal
On Friday, October 21, I and many other Heirs attended a talk hosted by Climate One, called Disruptive Climate and Politics, where Bill McKibben and Terry Tamminen were being interviewed by the host, Greg Dalton.
Bill McKibben is an author and environmentalist, and senior adviser and co-founder of 350.org, one of the largest climate activist movements in the world. He also served on the Democratic platform committee after he was appointed by Democratic presidential candidate and independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.
Terry Tamminen is currently the CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. DiCaprio has just released a new documentary, Before the Flood, which looks at dangers predicted in Al Gore’s famous documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, in a current context. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have heard that it is really good and am excited to see it soon.
Tamminen was also appointed Secretary of the California EPA by former Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and served as his Cabinet Secretary. However, Tamminen made it clear that although he was on “the other side of the aisle,” he was not on the other side of the issue.
It is easy to believe that climate denialism is part of the Republican position in the days of Trump, but Tamminen spoke about a time when climate change was accepted by nearly all politicians, including Republicans, and the issue was what to do about it. In fact, even as recently as 2007 during his presidential bid, John McCain said that global warming was “a serious and urgent economic, environmental and national security challenge.” Tamminen said that the recent change in position by many Republicans is largely because of the influence of far right-wing groups such as the Tea Party movement as well as funding from climate deniers like the Koch Brothers. As McKibben put it, “They’ve allowed the party to become a kind of subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry.”
McKibben and Tamminen proceeded to talk about how the more politicized the climate issue becomes, the less talked about it gets, and the less is done about it. Here is an analogy: Imagine your town has a big traffic problem. City council members will only feel pressured to do something about it if everyone is talking about it. There can still be a debate on what to do—in this case it might be whether to add more lanes or to encourage carpooling, but nothing will get done unless it is talked about. This same principle applies to any issue, including climate change. But it has barely been mentioned in modern politics. In fact, in the whole 2012 election cycle, McKibben said that neither major party candidate, Obama or Romney, talked about climate change once. This year, the Democrats see it as one of Trump’s weaknesses, Hillary has mentioned it a few more times—three times in the presidential debates and a few more campaigning. Not one question about climate change was asked in any of the three presidential debates. Additionally, it is an issue that disproportionately affects people of color or low-income. As McKibben said, “We need policy as we try to deal with climate change that means that the people who got left out of the last [oil and gas] economy don’t get left out of this [clean energy] one.” So if we want climate action, we need to talk about climate change, especially with those who we don’t usually talk about it with, and desensitize the issue.
Near the end, the audience had the chance to ask the speakers questions. Many Heirs asked questions, with topics ranging from petroleum use in making plastic to the role of HFCs in climate change to down-ballot environmental policies. Tamminen was excited about our interest in climate change and asked enthusiastically, “Who are these kids?!”
Once this great talk was over, there was a networking reception where the audience members got to mingle and meet others. We discovered that there are so many people involved in the climate movement, and even within these, how many are doing work relating to our oceans! It was an incredibly enjoyable and informative event, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go to another one.