Matt Niswonger

Real change happens when compassion leads the way


Editor Matt Niswonger hanging out with his daughter Mia after a day at the beach.

In his recent book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, conservative author Alex Epstein argues that liberal environmentalists are trying to rob Americans of their prosperous lifestyle by portraying fossil fuels as evil. The real evil, he says, is the idea that prosperity is a bad thing and should be reversed in order to preserve the planet.

He urges clear thinking Americans to stand up and resist environmentalists who use climate change as an excuse to erode the benefits of prosperity. After all, prosperity has given us modern medicine, longer lives, and all the wonderful freedoms that previous generations fought so hard to achieve.

Presenting a similar argument, Republican senator James Inhofe recently brought a snowball on to the senate floor and dramatically threw it on the carpet to illustrate his point that climate change is a silly farce, especially given how cold the recent winter has been for everyone east of the Mississippi.

Echoing the arguments of Alex Epstein and the fossil fuel industry as well as the majority of the Republican party, Inhofe is dead set against supporting renewable energy of any type and sees President Obama’s recent veto of the Tar Sands pipeline as a job killer and a step backward in our efforts to achieve energy independence.

Here we see how the debate over climate change is becoming increasingly polarized leading into the 2016 presidential election. I say politicians like Inhofe and thought leaders like Epstein are missing the point.

As much as people on both sides of the political spectrum want to frame this as a battle of ideologies, the challenges presented by climate change won’t be solved by anger and rhetoric and polarization. Rather, the only way to move forward on this issue is to check our egos at the door and listen to what our hearts tell us.

The basic science is that we have been using our atmosphere as a dumping ground since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We didn’t do this on purpose, but we know from direct measurement and ice core analysis that we have increased the CO2 concentration in our atmosphere from about 315 ppm to about 400 ppm in the last hundred years.

The implications of this are not difficult to comprehend. The people who are bringing this to our attention don’t have some hidden agenda. We simply cannot afford to continue to use our atmosphere for carbon dumping and this is a basic, safe assertion that is grounded in common sense.

So what now?

As I’ve mentioned previously in this column, large-scale energy reform is within our grasp and currently underway in California. Energy experts agree that the deployment of solar capacity in this state has been an unprecedented success in terms of the cost per watt installed. This is happening in real time and California is proving to the world that large-scale replacement of fossil fuel based electricity is quite possible if enough people are willing to get behind the cause.

What California’s solar initiatives are also proving is that listening to people who want to use scare tactics to paint energy reform as a red state vs. blue state issue are completely missing the point. We don’t need to sacrifice anything meaningful to address climate change. We just need to trust our hearts and take a stand for what’s right.

Kristin Conard’s article Solar Climbers shows what happens when compassion leads idealism. Top climbers Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright traveled to the Navajo Reservation to install solar panels for under privileged residents of one of the poorest communities in the country.  The company Goal Zero contributed the equipment and now some very appreciative folks will be getting free, clean energy for the next twenty five years or more.

Outdoor athletes know that true prosperity is not at risk because of environmentalism. That’s because true prosperity is having the time to take your kids out for a paddle on a SUP as Pete Gauvin reports on in Stand Up with the Children, or the ability to ski down Shasta after climbing to the top as Aron Bosworth describes in Ski Shasta. In other words, true prosperity is having just enough money and time to play outside in California.