November 17th, 2017
I went to a symposium. The title of the session was: “Facing the Challenges Together: Climate Change Impacts on Human Health”. I bet that somebody spent hours, or even days, coming up with that slogan. The printed schedule of events had a picture of the earth surrounded by a stethoscope. Nice. The symposium was designed for people who work in the public health area, so it kind of made sense for things to be geared toward that population. I am not part of that group, so I felt a bit left out.
There were a number of speakers. They were all intelligent and knowledgeable. They also tended to speak in jargon. I found it both interesting and amusing to listen people babble on, using words that made sense to them, but perhaps unaware that these same words that would be very unfamiliar to outsiders. I heard a lot about “priority populations” and about “vulnerabilities, resilience, and mitigation”. I basically understood what was being discussed, but clearly this was a language peculiar to professionals working in the public health field.
There were question and answer sessions interspersed between the lectures. One guy asked, “What do we say to somebody who thinks that climate change is actually good?” I can understand the sentiment of somebody who thinks there might be an upside to climate change. Anybody who has lived in Wisconsin knows how brutal the winter weather can be. I worked for nearly twenty-eight years on the dock of a trucking company in the Milwaukee area. The weather conditions on an unheated loading dock are exactly the same as the those of the outside environment. If it is minus ten degrees outside, it is minus ten degrees on that dock. I used to dread the end of January/beginning of February because we would always get a week when the temperature never rose above zero. Zero Degrees Fahrenheit. That’s lethal. That’s not much above the summer temperature on the surface of Mars. Climate change? Fuck yeah!
There were few , if any, climate change skeptics at that symposium. The presenters had a sympathetic audience. It seems to me that the folks talking about climate change do not sell the idea very well. The scientific evidence seems overwhelming, yet people still are not convinced. In order to sell the concept, it has to be made personal. A picture of starving polar bears cubs simply is not good enough. I don’t care about polar bears. They are ruthless carnivores who would gladly kill and eat me if they had the chance. The little balls of white fur in the climate change propaganda are not persuasive.
However, the public health and safety angle is persuasive. If somebody comes to me and says, “Hey, we are expecting people in our county to contract West Nile virus and dengue fever in the next year or so”, I might pay attention. Or if somebody tells me, “Yeah, fifty people may die in Milwaukee this summer from extreme heat”, I might listen up. I may not care about flooding in Bangladesh or droughts in Syria. However, even if I don’t believe in manmade climate change, I will care about real life problems in my own community. I will give a damn about problems that affect my own family and friends. I will care because now it’s personal.
There are clear connections between climate change and public health issues. The climate in Wisconsin is changing. We are getting warmer and wetter. These changes are making a difference. These changes will cause new problems. We don’t really have to care about the causes of climate change, at least not at first. We will need to care about the resultant issues. Caring about the problems caused by climate change will force us to eventually confront the underlying causes. We have to get kicked in the head before we notice the big issues.
Mayor Barrett spoke at the symposium. For the most part, he talked like a politician. Well. that’s his job. However, he discussed the effects of President Trump pulling out of the Paris Accords on climate change. On one level, it sucks that he did that. On another level, it might be a Godsend.
Barrett said that over 380 cities and municipalities, including the City of Milwaukee, have joined “We Are Still In”, which means that these communities are still involved with the Paris Accords. This also means that in the United States there are at least 380 climate change laboratories. There are 380 local groups working to fight against global warming and/or the effects of it. That means there are 380 different possible local solutions to a global problem. That’s actually pretty cool. The Federal government (i.e. the EPA) does not necessarily have all the answers. A bottom-up solution to the problem might be better than one forced on local communities from the top. Ironically, Trump might be doing the citizens of this country a favor.
I had an interesting morning. I learned some things. It was worth my time.