We appreciate Paul Olson’s and Tim Rinne’s raising issues of climate change, but we disagree with their dystopian view of our future (“Austerity awaits with no climate action,” July 16).

They say that we must institute “draconian alterations in our consumer lifestyles” and “do with less, from energy to transportation to food.” Travel will be out, and we’ll have to “learn to stay put” in our own communities. We’ll either “curtail our [energy] consumption voluntarily” or have reductions forced on us. “Meat is going to pretty much disappear from the menu.” We must adopt the “reduced expectations, austerity, and personal sacrifice” imposed on Americans by government rationing during World War II.

Nonsense. It is incorrect and frankly unhelpful to hold out such prophecies of impoverishment and depleted life as though they are necessary to avert disastrous global warming. Neither science nor good rhetorical strategy supports their approach. Good governance must be based on science and sound policy approaches.

Let’s start with where we agree: Global warming is for sure an existential threat to humanity. We must take action, and soon, to avert its worst effects. Some deleterious effects are already unfortunately “baked into” the climate system.

To avert the worst damage, we must rapidly move to low- and then non-CO2-emitting energy sources. And certainly these actions will be both expensive, requiring big public and private investments, and in some cases uncomfortable, because change is often unsettling.

But let’s keep our eyes on the prize: reducing CO2 emissions and stabilizing the global climate. We have many, many opportunities to do so before we accept a permanently lowered standard of living. It’s our political stalemate that prevents us from acting on this low-hanging fruit.

On energy, for example, even using current technologies, we have enormous untapped non-emitting energy sources: wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, tidal and more.

These all require big infrastructure investments, both directly and in transmission lines, and they carry other consequences, as we see in the pushback against wind turbines in some localities, including Lancaster County. Add to them a more unsettling choice, nuclear, which aside from several well-publicized accidents, has operated safely for a half-century. Again, the blockage is political; we can’t agree to use Yucca Mountain as storage because each party wants to win Nevada.

And, if new technologies come aboard in the next two decades as rapidly as in the last two, they will bring many new energy opportunities. So our problem is not, as Olson and Rinne would have it, an inescapable clash between nature and people, but rather a political failure to act on the opportunities available or soon-to-be available to us.

All this will require changes, and some we may not like: We’ll need an effective carbon tax; we’ll need to encourage energy-efficient housing construction and factories; we need to reimpose and toughen Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards; we need to close down coal-fueled power plants; and much more. But none of it suggests we must retreat to a more humble lifestyle.

This approach is also politically unhelpful. Grossly exaggerating the loss in living standards hands climate-change deniers great ammunition for ridicule and makes it easier to persuade the public to do nothing. Just as the egg-frying ads (“your brain on drugs”) failed, over-the-top jeremiads are unlikely to win public support or guide policymakers to solutions.

There are other reasons to seek a simpler life. Many, we among them and we suspect Olson and Rinne as well, believe that we create more fulfilling lives for ourselves when we are less materialistic, more giving and more connected to our nearby communities.

These are all good reasons to recommend “reduced expectations, austerity, and personal sacrifice.” But to advance that agenda, don’t hijack the struggle to curb global warming with apocalyptic gloom prophesies. Let the conversations lead us to solutions.

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Richard Edwards is director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Peter Longo is professor of political science at University of Nebraska at Kearney. The views expressed here are those of the authors alone.



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