October 17, 2021

Big Problems Might Require Bigger Thinking

Guest Opinion
By Cathye Williams | Sept. 25, 2021

In recent years, my concerns for the Earth have led me to a better understanding of politics, public policy, and the legislative process. And while I'm by no means an expert, I feel that I’ve learned much from experts — most importantly, how to discern good information and strategies from those that are ineffective or harmful.

Many of the experts I rely on are women. Around the world, women and girls are first and most deeply impacted by pollution and extreme weather disasters, the spread of disease, and the shortage of food and water. Since they experience these multiple threats firsthand, their experiences and ideas must be included in the full spectrum of strategies we need to make a liveable planet for all.

Moreover, women have the community-building and relational skills that it will take to build a worldwide team to meet these multi-threat challenges. Women throw their minds and their hearts into solving problems. This makes them ready to take up challenges where we must, as A. Johnson and K. Wilkinson put it in the 2020 anthology, "All That We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, “insist upon action that’s necessary, rather than what’s expedient or practical."

I have run into this barrier of “practicality” a couple of times recently and found it annoying and spirit-crushing. In both instances, I felt like I was getting a paternalistic pat on the head while the ideas I feel most passionate and confident about received a solid poo-pooing. Not surprisingly, in both instances, the “poo-poo-er” was a man. Even more frustrating, these men were also allies — environmental advocates whose voices are respected.

While bordering on “man-splaining,” their dismissiveness wasn't, I believe, ego-driven or intentionally condescending. However, in both cases, a more open mind and attitude might have gone a long way and achieved better results for our common goal.

The first letdown came during a presentation by a journalist who has chronicled the climate crisis for decades. His evidence was riveting and made a compelling case for green technology and renewable energy. However, when the discussion turned to solutions, he dismissed my question about carbon pricing out of hand, stating that Congress would never pass a carbon tax, then went on to reference a news item in which an Exxon exec was recorded saying that a carbon tax would never happen.

Is anyone surprised that someone from the oil industry would dismiss a plan that would severely diminish their operations? And moreover, do we environmentalists want to be the ones giving credence to that message? That day, the presenter had an opportunity to not only educate about the threats we face but also to advocate for multiple solutions to those threats. Instead, he threw aside the one strategy considered by experts to be our “best first step” to addressing the crises. In the process, he might have influenced his audience to discount it as well.

This disappointment was replicated during an online exchange with a talented, knowledgeable writer and founder of a conservation nonprofit. He, too, derided carbon pricing as a “pipe dream” and advised that we “keep our eye on the ball.”

His remarks might have been better suited to a frank one-on-one discussion. Instead, he shared his argument in the comments of a social media post where I was asking others to advocate for a price on carbon. It was like having a stink bomb of negativity lobbed into my community meeting. The irony is that this person actually supports carbon pricing. Sadly, putting his pessimism about it in that forum might have undermined my effort to motivate others to support it as well.   

It’s hard to know how these dismissals have influenced the thought of the many who heard or read them.  What I found most disheartening was that these men reduced the painstaking work of other peoples’ activism, strategic planning, and relation-building to starry-eyed optimism; a clear juxtaposed to their “pragmatism.” 

In advocating for President Biden's huge infrastructure proposal — and making it sound like it’s our only hope — they also presented choices that need not be made.  

Can we work hard for a multi-billion dollar infrastructure bill and rejoice when it passes, even in a less than perfect form? Yes! And can we continue to push for other transformational policies that will not only mitigate and prevent the worst climate impacts but also lift millions out of poverty, reduce global conflict, and regenerate resources? Yes! And so much more. 

Given a do-over, I would have shared a few “fun facts” with these gentlemen:

Carbon pricing wasn’t even mentioned as a consideration for the budget bill at the beginning of August. But after Senators received over 54,000 calls in a three-week period, it now is.  

Multiple news outlets have confirmed that carbon pricing will likely be part of a draft budget resolution coming out of the Senate Finance Committee. 

The budget reconciliation process takes place over a few months, giving environmental advocates in the Senate more opportunities to build in actions and protections. 

How much more might we achieve if not for the naysayers? 

To change everything, we truly do need everyone. We can each pick our routes to get there and still cheer on those who choose other paths. Someday soon, the sausage will get made. Things will get chopped up, and no one will be completely happy, but we will be on our way to a clean, just, and more peaceful world. 

Cathye Williams serves as a volunteer and media liaison for the Grand Traverse area chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, www.citizensclimatelobby.com. She writes from Benzie County. 

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