How Forbes Got the *Climate Debate* Ridiculously Wrong

The climate debate has taken a nasty turn,” Forbes declared this week; but their November 14th article is so full of wrong – starting with the obvious error in that first sentence.

There is no “climate debate” between “climate affirmers” and “climate deniers”. There is the science and scientific consensus that human actions are contributing to current climate change; and then there are people who, for whatever reasons, ignore and deny the science. There is no “debate” here. There is fact, and denial of fact.

NASA graph showing the drastic increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1950
Climate Change: How Do We Know? From NASA Global Climate Change

Personal Responsibility for Combating Climate Change

The Forbes article, Does Greta Thunberg’s Lifestyle Equal Climate Denial? One Climate Scientist Seems To Suggest So, presents a false narrative that there is a big dispute within the climate advocacy community.

Now the finger-wagging is taking place among climate affirmers on the subject of personal responsibility for combating climate change.

There are two key actors in this unfolding saga. One embraces the importance of individual responsibility while the other derides it.

Greta Thunberg in her yellow rain slicker
Greta Thunberg outside the Swedish parliament, August 31, 2018 (photo credit Anders Hellberg, Creative Commons)

While they accurately describe Greta Thunberg’s personal lifestyle choices, they demonstrate the very point Michael Mann makes in the article they linked.

In that interview with The Guardian, Mann is quoted as saying, “there is an attempt being made by them to deflect attention away from finding policy solutions to global warming towards promoting individual behaviour changes that affect people’s diets, travel choices and other personal behavior.

“Them” in this sentence are the climate deniers – not Greta Thunberg.

The Guardian goes on to write:

Mann stressed that individual actions – eating less meat or avoiding air travel – were important in the battle against global warming. However, they should be seen as additional ways to combat global warming rather than as a substitute for policy reform.

It is clear that Mann does not “deride” personal responsibility nor imply in any way that Greta Thunberg’s lifestyle “equals climate denial”. To the contrary, in article after article, Mann’s point is:

This is why we really need political change at every level, from local leaders to federal legislators all the way up to the President. We need change not just at the breakfast table, but at the ballot box as well.

Michael E. Mann in Time Magazine’s Lifestyle Changes Aren’t Enough to Save the Planet. Here’s What Could

Perhaps even more damning to the Forbes article, Thunberg repeatedly makes the same point:

For well over a year young people have been striking from school every Friday, demanding our leaders take responsibility and to unite behind the science. The people in power have not yet done that. They continue to ignore us and the current, best-available science.

Greta Thunberg in The Charlotte Observe interview November 9, 2019

It’s Not an Either/Or Proposition

Michael Mann at podium giving his talk: The Madhouse Effect How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy
Michael Mann at CSICon 2016, October 28, 2016 (photo credit: Karl Withakay, Creative Commons)

Neither Greta Thunberg nor Michael Mann eat meat. That is a lifestyle choice both made, in part, because they “walk the talk” in their climate advocacy. Here is the critical theme: neither of them are demanding the rest of us make the same climate-related choices in our own lives.

As Greta Thunberg said in her interview with Democracy Now: “I go by bus, by train, electrical car, and sailboat now, as well. And it takes a lot of time. And, of course, I’m not saying that everyone should stop flying and start sailing everywhere. But it was — I thought that I am one of the very few people in the world who can actually do this and who has this opportunity to do this trip. And then I thought, “Why not?” And it sure gained a lot of attention.

In short, Greta Thunberg and Michael Mann are saying exactly the same things in their own ways.

What Mann additionally cautions against, however, is the weaponization of those individual personal choices – what he calls “deflection”. A false focus on personal responsibility for combating climate change allows corporate polluters and their beholden politicians to guilt us into thinking we, as individuals, are solely responsible for fixing the climate crisis; and that unless our personal carbon footprint is zero, we have no place advocating for governmental & corporate climate solutions.

This Forbes article is an example of exactly that sort of deflection, and I call B.S.

Sunny day high tide nuisance flooding in Brickell, Downtown Miami, Florida on October 16, 2016
Sunny day high tide nuisance flooding in Brickell, Downtown Miami, Florida on October 16, 2016. (photo credit: B137, Creative Commons)

Florida Ocean Alliance Stakeholder Meeting – November 14

According to a FOA press release dated June 24, 2019: “The state of Florida has awarded the Florida Ocean Alliance a grant to develop a much-needed Strategic Plan for Florida’s Oceans and Coasts. Senate President Bill Galvano championed the project as part of the Legislature’s focus on Florida’s ever-growing water issues. The Alliance will work closely with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in carrying out the project.

To help create a Strategic Plan to protect the state’s water resources, the Alliance will host public hearings across the state with citizens and other stakeholders, including industry, environmental groups, and research institutes. The project will provide a roadmap for the state to address the conservation and management of the state’s estuaries, bays, and oceans in order to preserve them for future generations.”

The Florida Ocean Alliance is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to bringing together the private sector, academia, and nonprofit research organizations in Florida to protect and enhance Florida’s coastal and ocean resources for continued social and economic benefits.

Florida Ocean Alliance Mission Statement

The mission of the Earth Ethics Institute is to foster Earth Literacy in the course objectives of each discipline and all campus operations at Miami Dade College, as well as in the South Florida Community and the extended Earth community beyond.

Earth Literacy includes an understanding of cosmology and ecological principles as the basis for sustainable living. The cosmological context is the story of the Universe, as contemporary science describes the developmental process out of which Earth and all life emerge.

Earth Ethics Institute Mission Statement

Environmental Crisis ⇔ Democracy Crisis

In order to address the environmental crisis, we’re going to have to spend some time fixing the democracy crisis.

Vice President Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”

King Tide + Hurricane Dorian = Miami Flood Alerts

Miami-Dade County has issued a “be ready” advisory in advance of Hurricane Dorian’s approach. According to the latest forecast models, Dorian will be passing somewhere over Florida at the same time as coastal Miami-Dade is experiencing King Tides. If Dorian comes ashore over Miami this weekend, the flooding could be severe.

An already saturated ground, King Tides, plus possible heavy rain and storm surge from Hurricane Dorian sounds like a trifecta for flooding. Be careful out there Miamians.

Greta Thunberg Arrives in New York

Greta Thunberg sailing into New York, heading up the Hudson River to North Cove Marina. (photo from @GretaThunberg Twitter)

Greta Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old Swedish girl, has captured the world’s attention with her year-long climate change activism. She is the genesis of “Fridays For Future” as more than 2 million teenagers have followed her lead and taken part in “climate strikes”.

The movement began in August 2018 when Thunberg began skipping class to sit outside Sweden’s Parliament, holding placards saying climate change had reached a crisis point. She came up with the idea while speaking with like-minded peers who were inspired by students in Parkland, Florida, who walked out of their classrooms in protest of the lack of action on gun control after a shooting there left 17 people dead in February 2018.

NBC News, How teen Greta Thunberg shifted world’s gaze to climate change, August 17, 2019

As of August 29th, there have been 5,202 #ClimateStrikes in more than 170 countries.

“We know that our future is at risk. We would love to go back to school and continue with our everyday lives, but as crucial as this situation is, as serious as this situation is, we feel like we must do something about this now.”

Greta Thunberg, Summer Meeting in Lausanne Europe (SMILE) at the University of Lausanne, August 2019

Today, Greta completed her two week trans-Atlantic sail from Plymouth, England, to New York.

Fridays for Future… as well as a number of other youth activist groups, are organizing a climate strike on September 20. Adult organizations are also getting into the mix, helping plan a global strike on September 27. Sandwiched between that, world leaders will meet at the United Nations for a one-day climate summit in the run-up to a major climate conference in Chile known as COP 25 later this year. Thunberg’s message to those leaders in clear: “COP 25 must be a breaking point” she said at a press conference.

Brian Kahn, Gizmodo Eather, Greta is Here, August 28, 2019

Sept 14: Miami Climate Alliance General Meeting

Miami Climate Alliance is coming together to share campaign updates, learn about climate justice initiatives in our community, and celebrate our 2019 wins!

WHEN: Saturday, September 14, 2019 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

WHERE: Miami Dade College – Wolfson Campus; 300 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, Florida 33132; Chapman Conference Center Room 3210

  • Translation available in Español & Kreyol
  • FREE parking available at MDC Garage 1 – 500 NE 2nd Avenue – For free parking you must use the 5th Street entrance and let the attendant know you are attending the meeting.
  • Metromover stop: College/Bayside

Coral Gables Styrofoam Ban Blocked by Florida Appeals Court

Biltmore Hotel Miami, Coral Gables (photo credit: Pixabay)

In February 2016, the City of Coral Gables, in Miami-Dade, approved an ordinance to prohibit the sale and use of expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam). The city was then promptly sued by the Florida Retail Federation, a powerful lobbying group that represents Publix, Target, Walmart, and other large retailers.

At the same time, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature passed HB 7007 into law (F.S. 500.90) forbidding any Florida municipality from enacting local ordinances banning expanded polystyrene. Signed by Rick Scott (R) on March 16, 2016, the law was made retroactive to January 1, 2016.

A year later, on February 27, 2017, Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto ruled in favor of Coral Gables. Last week, a three-judge panel of Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal over-turned Cueto’s ruling.

The case focused heavily on a wide-ranging Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services bill that state lawmakers passed in March 2016. The bill barred local governments from regulating food-related polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, containers and made that prohibition retroactive to any local ordinances passed after Jan. 1, 2016.

CBS Miami, “Florida Appeals Court Blocks Coral Gables Styrofoam Ban“, August 14, 2019

In Florida Retail Federation’s original July 18, 2016 press release, then President/CEO Randy Miller misleadingly said, “The City of Coral Gables is another example of a local government believing that the laws of the State of Florida don’t apply to them in spite of the fact that the Florida Legislature passed a law this session that preempted municipalities from passing a local ordinance banning the use of polystyrene.” To be clear, Florida Legislature passed their law more than a month AFTER Coral Gables passed their ordinance.

Miller further claimed: “…implementing a patchwork of different ordinances like this, which could change from street to street or block to block, is not only confusing to customers but also difficult for retailers.” This, of course, ignores the fact that the very same legislation allows other municipalities to retain their polystyrene bans.

Miami Beach was the first community in Florida to pass a local ordinance and in 2014 banned Styrofoam products on beaches and in parks and sidewalk cafes. It has since expanded that ordinance to apply to all foam containers, except for those used with raw meat.

According to the Surfrider Foundation, Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Hollywood Key Biscayne, North Bay Village and Surfside have also adopted some restrictions on polystyrene products in Florida.

Miami Herald, Legislature advances bill to prevent local regulation of Styrofoam trash, March 8, 2016

Meanwhile, Surfside is rescinding its new ban of single-use plastics after receiving threats of lawsuits from Florida Retail Federation, the same group that sued the City of Coral Gables.

The bottom line is that neither the Florida Retail Federation, nor our Republican-controlled Florida State government, seem to care about Florida’s environment. This seems particularly short-sighted for a state so reliant on tourism.

Plans to Protect

Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.

Stewart Udall

August 29: Resiliency Through Landscape Design in Public Spaces

Join USGBC Miami and leading industry professionals as we explore how resilient landscape architecture can be an effective tool to mitigate impacts of more frequent tidal flooding, coastal erosion, and stronger hurricanes. Learn what local designers, city officials, and organizations are doing to manage our climate adaptation strategies and to improve our local blue-green infrastructure by building with nature.

PANELISTS

  • Susanne Torriente, Chief Resiliency Officer, City of Miami Beach
  • Marta Viciedo, CEO & Co-Founder, Urban Impact Lab
  • Christopher Counts, Principal, Perkins & Will

WHEN

Thursday, August 29, 2019 from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM (EDT)

WHERE

Miami Design District, Palm Court Event Space, 140 NE 39th Street (3rd Floor), Miami, FL 33137

COST

  • USGBC Florida Members: Free
  • Non-Members: $15
  • Partners: Free with promo code

SPONSORS

  • Perkins and Will
  • Witkin Hults Design Group
  • Miami Design District