THREE EXAMPLES OF STUDENT LETTERS
While I’ve found we often agree on most important things, on the subject of climate change there are two notable points on which our opinions differ;
1) First, I know that, like me, you have examined the evidence and concluded that the Earth’s climate is indeed changing, much like it always has throughout history. But unlike me you don’t believe that human activity is the primary cause, and are unsure if it’s even a major cause, of the global warming we are observing today.
2) Second, and more critically, you think that even if humans are the primary cause of global warming, that fixing the problem would require dedicating far too many resources and result in us losing much of our technological and economic progress that has made modern civilization so civilized. In the name of “progress” on the issue of climate change, you believe that we would see society regress back to using pre-industrial technology.
I sincerely hope that as a result of this letter, we can understand one another’s positions better, and perhaps find a solution to the problem of climate change that we both agree on.
In response to the first point, I would start by saying I agree that it can be difficult to determine the cause of anything as complex as climate change with 100% certainty. And after all, we know from geological evidence that the Earth has been both much warmer and much cooler in the past. What I find critically important, though, is not the fact that the Earth is getting warmer currently, but the rate at which it’s getting warmer.
We know for example, that since the coldest part of our last ice age, the Earth’s temperature has increased by approximately 7 degrees. Over the past 100 years, the Earth’s average temperature has risen approximately 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The length of time it took to increase 1.3 degrees to reach 1918 levels was 9700 years. This tells us that climate change is happing much faster now than it has happened in recent geological history. But none of the usual suspects that might otherwise cause a rapid change in climate – such as super volcanoes or large asteroid strikes – were present in the 20th century. The only major variable appears to be the unprecedented level of greenhouse gasses we humans are pumping into the atmosphere.
I think what helped me really wrap my head around this was to realize that the sort of global warming we are seeing right now in a single lifetime used to take place over hundreds, or even thousands of years. A good way to visualize this is from the New York Times’ “How Much Hotter is Your Hometown” tracker at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/30/climate/how-much-hotter-is-your-hometown.html . It takes your hometown and year of birth, and tells you – based on weather reports over the past few decades – how much hotter your hometown has become since you were born.
Seeing just how much hotter my hometown of Indianapolis has become since I was born was shocking to me. I remember drinking hot chocolate during snowstorms as a child and building snowmen at Christmas with my sisters. Now when I go home at Christmas, it rarely snows, and is often wet and rainy with temperatures in the 40s or even 50s Fahrenheit. By the time I have children, cold, snowy winters may very well be nothing more than a memory for much of the Midwest.
The second point raised here – is finding a solution to global warming worth the cost? – is a doozy. Much like you, I enjoy being able to drive or fly wherever I want. More importantly, I look at how much better living conditions are since before the industrial revolution, and I can’t deny how much good technology powered by fossil fuels has done for the world. The average life expectancy has increased by 30 years in the past century alone, literacy rates have soared, and gasoline-powered combine harvesters have not only tackled much of world hunger; but have also freed most of the world’s population from a grueling lifestyle of subsistence farming. I can understand why you might be reluctant to accept any solution to anthropomorphic global warming that might mean giving all that up.
I think the good news here, and maybe where we can reach a point of consensus, is that we may not have to. I won’t lie and say that a meaningful end to – and hopefully reversal of – global warming won’t require sacrifice, and in some cases even radical change. But I firmly believe that there is a technological solution to be found to replacing our dependence on fossil fuels without giving up the most important parts of modern-day life. Already, the number of gigawatt-hours generated by solar power plants and other renewable energy sources has grown exponentially year-over-year. Electric cars, trains, and busses are being manufactured at an unprecedented rate and will soon become the norm. And a prototype electric airplane recently completed an around the world trip.
This is just scratching the surface of what is possible, if enough money and research was invested into discovering and developing environmentally friendly technology. Imagine what would happen if hundreds of billions of dollars were spent on viable energy storage technology, or on carbon sequestration? I believe, much like how the technologies developed by the space race in the 1960s (especially computer technology) ended up causing the beginning of the information age and the rise of a massive tech industry in the US, an investment in environmentally friendly technology in both public and private sectors will eventually grow our economy rather than drain it.
Most importantly, though, I think even if slowing or stopping global warming does nothing to grow the economy, the massive forest fires in California, or the slow-moving, heavy hitting hurricanes like the ones that hit North Carolina, or Houston, or Puerto Rico, show us that we can’t afford not to address climate change. We already know that, whether we are the cause of it or not, climate change is killing thousands of people every year and causing hundreds of billions of dollars of damage. I think the question isn’t so much “can we afford to stop it?” but rather “can we afford not to?”
Thank you for hearing me out! I would love to hear your own thoughts on these issues, and I hope we might be able to come to an agreement.
As a group, coal miners frequently align themselves with the opponents of human caused climate change, feel attacked by environmentalists, and consider their very livelihood at risk whenever legislation is proposed that would curb the use of coal to reduce emission of greenhouse gasses. This is in stark contrast to myself. I have no personal connection to the coal industry, nor do I know anyone involved in it and I concur with the evidence that human activity is directly influencing climate change in a substantial manner.
I’m not a climate scientist or climatologist, pick whatever seems catchier. I’m not a miner nor am I from coal country, but I do understand you position on climate change and how the politics around it influences you lives and your means. In the past decade we have seen severe flooding, droughts, hurricanes, and for me a remarkable tornado season. These environmental events have affected millions of Americans including people in coal country like West Virginia.
Change for people does not come easily, especially when your options are limited, and tradition bids you to a path. I can personally attest to this matter of human nature. I come from farming people on the great plains. On the plains you can see things coming from a long way off. This vantage can give life a slow plodding feeling and impart a sense of nothing being immediate. We as a people have never been accused of moving too quickly through life. In three generations of my family, however, we have seen drastic changes in the environment and weather that has directly affected our way of life. In the last 30 years summers have gotten longer and hotter, winters are warmer and wetter, flooding worse, and new weeds and insects have introduced themselves into the environment.
Humanity, collectively, has more power to reshape the world than we ever have before. This isn’t a new development, we’ve been doing it since the 1850’s. In the 1930’s my family experienced one of the worst man-made ecological disasters this country has ever gone through. The dust bowl nearly destroyed the Midwest, and helped to crash an already faltering economy, but we got though it and learned a lot in the process. Change came, and it came with a vengeance. The lessons learned over 80 years ago are still influencing us today, farming was forever altered after that, and we are still learning and changing today.
If generational farmers can learn to adapt so can you. This isn’t a question about who is at fault or where the truth in a matter lies. The world has changed drastically since the start of the 20th century. We are now nearly two decades into the 21st and the pace of change seems to have speed up even more. We no longer do things the way our grandparents did because of that change and our children may not do things the way we are now in an even smaller amount of time. I think it is a small matter to agree that the environment around us has changed. You don’t have to agree with me on the primary cause, but we can at least agree that we should attempt some shift to at least better understand why the climate is changing the way that it is.
I would like to put to you an opportunity to work together on a small project. Simply put, we will ask questions and be inquisitive about your industry. What is your coal used for? Where does it go? How is it used and where does the left-over byproducts end up? How much coal is used every day in the United States? How much in the world? These questions will help us understand the means and method of use in a broader sense and inspire new thoughts on our interactions with the planet and what small part we all play in its development. I am hopeful that together we can determine a more productive and meaningful path for the future.
To whom it may concern,
Over the past couple of years, climate change has become an increasingly contended topic that, when brought up, often tends to lead to an intense, politically-charged conversation that resembles a heated argument rather than a rational debate. While I understand that this issue is one that many feel passionate about, this topic is one that should be approached in a sensitive and respectful manner. Finding common ground between the two extremes of opinion is essential.
With this in mind, I personally feel that climate change is one of the lesser crises that our country faces, but a crisis nonetheless. I believe that climate change is a legitimate, existing issue, but I differ from most advocates of decreasing our environmental impact in that I also believe:
Regarding my first point, I would like to bring up that China is the country that contributes most to the earth’s pollution (about 30% in its entirety), as many individuals in the United States seem to believe that our country is to blame for the earth’s current high levels of pollution. Despite this, China itself does not seem to be grappling with its environmental impact in the extreme way that the United States does. Most countries, in fact, do not seem to be as greatly concerned as our own. I feel that if actions to counteract climate change are to be taken, they are to be done so by all the countries that have been recorded to have significant, detrimental environmental impact. The United States alone is not responsible for this. However, this in itself raises another issue. Uniting a large number of countries to put funding towards such a highly contended issue is unlikely. Therefore, a solution that is efficient and delegates responsibilities appropriately would be very difficult to obtain logistically.
I also believe that it would be unfair to United States citizens to impose any form of taxation or mandates concerning climate change. Striving to lessen your individual environmental impact is great, but it is a personal choice that is not practical for some individuals. I, for one, come from a large family. My dad works very hard to support us, and has to commute for several hours a day. He drives a relatively inexpensive car, which may not be effective in reducing pollution, but it would be impossible for him to decrease his impact, as we can not afford a more expensive, efficient car. Any form of taxation placed on my family for the resulting car emissions/pollution would hurt us, for we strive make ends meet as it is. Using U.S. car emissions as a further example, decreasing their levels would be great, but this does nothing in regards to the emissions of other countries, touching back to my point that our country should not carry this burden alone. I applaud anyone that goes the extra mile to carpool, take the bus, or ride their bike when traveling. I myself bike to class everyday, but the bottom line is that such a choice is not always one that works for everyone, and penalizing those who don’t have the means to make any form of required change would be unjust.
Overall, the issue I have with our country’s such strong advocacy for decreasing environmental impact is that it is applied to such a local level. Let’s make climate change a worldwide issue that is focused on countries working together, not pushing United States citizens into a certain standard of living.
How specific has the author been in listing at least two ways that the people she or he is addressing differ from the author’s own view on climate change? Are the differences real and substantial?
6-7: The author describes a definite group of people – organized or not – that differs from the author’s perspective. The author presents at least two detailed ways that this group differs from the author’s perspective. The differences are clear and definite. They constitute real differences not vague or superficial differences.
5-6: The author describes a definite group of people – organized or not – that differs from the author’s perspective. The author presents at least one detailed way that this group differs from the author’s perspective. The difference seems reasonable but is a bit vague and/or a bit superficial.
2-3: The author vaguely describes a group of people that seems to differ in some way (or ways) from the author’s perspective. It is not precisely clear who the group is that the author is talking about nor how the group differs from the author’s perspective.
1: The author vaguely describes a group that seems in some way (or ways) to differ from the author’s perspective. The author never makes clear how the group actually differs from the author’s perspective.
Does the author convey her or his message in an emotional as well as rational way – such as through telling a brief personal story or through a few anecdotes – that would likely hold the attention of the those who disagree with the author. Does the author make use of some of the ideas in the background readings that discuss how to talk effectively with people who disagree with you?