Paul Andersen: Fair Game | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

The headlines are daunting – “Losing ground on climate change” … “Crisis pending in food supplies” … “Polar ice melting faster than projections.” Foreboding is rampant. Solutions are elusive. Antipathy is growing.

A climate-change expert at last week’s Aspen Environment Forum at the Aspen Institute cited a survey revealing that many Americans distrust environmentalists. “They consider the Green movement as a devious plot by granola-crunching hippie elitists.”

During the opening reception of the Forum, a representative from DuPont (one of the sponsors of the Forum along with Chevrolet, Duke Power, Shell Oil, Vale, National Geographic) was chastised over cocktails by several Forum participants for her company’s role in genetically modified food.

Can eco-warriors drop their shields to engage meaningfully with corporate types who sponsor environment forums? Can conservatives convene for lattes with hippie elitists? Not while deep divisions put up ideological barriers that stretch from Aspen’s Doerr-Hosier Center to the halls of Congress. Why, then, do I feel hopeful?

If there’s one thing I learned at the Forum, it is that hope is more powerful than despair. Hopeful sessions made me feel empowered. Despairing sessions left me glum. Rather than flat-lining the entire program, I found buoyancy in hope generated by positive people doing positive things. Here are a few examples.

One presenter outlined, in pure Machiavellian terms, how raising money to influence elections for state governors is the most proactive environmental measure Greens can take. He identified “political acupuncture points” as the small but important public boards and commissions who make key policy decisions for entire states. In Colorado, this presenter said his organization was instrumental in electing Governor Hickenlooper, stacking the Public Utilities Commission, and leveraging Xcel Energy to use smart grids and renewable energy.

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Another presenter strategized that if the public is going to be convinced on climate change, it must be done with facts and anecdotes. Most Americans have difficulty grasping science, he said, so anecdotal approaches reach them more effectively. Try explaining mean, standard and average global temperature fluctuations and you’ll get a blank stare. Show pictures of retreating glaciers, melting ice caps, and stranded polar bears and you’ll get a reaction.

One panel described how redefining progress – not as GDP growth, but by nurturing happy, healthy, fulfilled lives – could shift societal values away from material status-seeking to what one speaker termed human “flourishing.” Another panel looked at cities as models of efficiency where innovation comes fastest and where waste can become a resource rather than an expense. A panel on population growth agreed that providing educational and business opportunities for women in developing countries slows population growth, curtails war, and improves the environment.

The final discussion of the Forum focused on “Dominion vs. Stewardship.” This philosophical question revealed what the Aspen Institute does best in pushing the boundaries of dialogue.

Dominion, from Genesis, is often interpreted as a divine entitlement that places man above and separate from nature. Stewardship is a humbling, empowering notion that assigns man a caring, frugal, partnership with nature. Dominion is often the rationale for an extractive economy, whereas stewardship fosters conservation and preservation.

The divide between these concepts can only be bridged through an ongoing debate over the values of reverence and piety for nature and the utilitarian, economic development of natural resources for man. Future Environment Forums would be enriched by conjoining opposing viewpoints on this apparent dichotomy, with the recognition that in places the two approaches intersect.

Even within the somewhat homogenous Environment Forum, individual relationships at the nexus of man and nature were many. Multiply that by variant ideologies, diverse ethnic backgrounds, and contrasting cultural traditions, and the ultimate challenge emerges: How do humans act with unity upon crucial environmental challenges when there is little agreement on an ethical grounding with nature?

This year’s Forum revealed that there is powerful forward motion on the environmental front, though the road is twisting, bumpy and often obscure. New technologies and innovations are inspiring, but the race against climate change, population growth, and biodiversity loss has become an all-out sprint.

The Forum revealed that overhauling entrenched and outmoded energy and motive systems and contesting the vested interests that defend them is one of the most pressing political challenges our democracy and our economy have ever faced.

Change is coming, whether it’s willful or accidental, proactive or reactive, progressive or regressive. This change will be defined within our civil institutions by a contest in values linked to dominion vs. stewardship, a debate on which hinges the health of the environment and the future of man.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on the Aspen Environment Forum by columnist Paul Andersen. The first part appeared Monday, June 6, in The Aspen Times.

The headlines are daunting – “Losing ground on climate change” … “Crisis pending in food supplies” … “Polar ice melting faster than projections.” Foreboding is rampant. Solutions are elusive. Antipathy is growing.

A climate-change expert at last week’s Aspen Environment Forum at the Aspen Institute cited a survey revealing that many Americans distrust environmentalists. “They consider the Green movement as a devious plot by granola-crunching hippie elitists.”

During the opening reception of the Forum, a representative from DuPont (one of the sponsors of the Forum along with Chevrolet, Duke Power, Shell Oil, Vale, National Geographic) was chastised over cocktails by several Forum participants for her company’s role in genetically modified food.

Can eco-warriors drop their shields to engage meaningfully with corporate types who sponsor environment forums? Can conservatives convene for lattes with hippie elitists? Not while deep divisions put up ideological barriers that stretch from Aspen’s Doerr-Hosier Center to the halls of Congress. Why, then, do I feel hopeful?

If there’s one thing I learned at the Forum, it is that hope is more powerful than despair. Hopeful sessions made me feel empowered. Despairing sessions left me glum. Rather than flat-lining the entire program, I found buoyancy in hope generated by positive people doing positive things. Here are a few examples.

One presenter outlined, in pure Machiavellian terms, how raising money to influence elections for state governors is the most proactive environmental measure Greens can take. He identified “political acupuncture points” as the small but important public boards and commissions who make key policy decisions for entire states. In Colorado, this presenter said his organization was instrumental in electing Governor Hickenlooper, stacking the Public Utilities Commission, and leveraging Xcel Energy to use smart grids and renewable energy.

Another presenter strategized that if the public is going to be convinced on climate change, it must be done with facts and anecdotes. Most Americans have difficulty grasping science, he said, so anecdotal approaches reach them more effectively. Try explaining mean, standard and average global temperature fluctuations and you’ll get a blank stare. Show pictures of retreating glaciers, melting ice caps, and stranded polar bears and you’ll get a reaction.

One panel described how redefining progress – not as GDP growth, but by nurturing happy, healthy, fulfilled lives – could shift societal values away from material status-seeking to what one speaker termed human “flourishing.” Another panel looked at cities as models of efficiency where innovation comes fastest and where waste can become a resource rather than an expense. A panel on population growth agreed that providing educational and business opportunities for women in developing countries slows population growth, curtails war, and improves the environment.

The final discussion of the Forum focused on “Dominion vs. Stewardship.” This philosophical question revealed what the Aspen Institute does best in pushing the boundaries of dialogue.

Dominion, from Genesis, is often interpreted as a divine entitlement that places man above and separate from nature. Stewardship is a humbling, empowering notion that assigns man a caring, frugal, partnership with nature. Dominion is often the rationale for an extractive economy, whereas stewardship fosters conservation and preservation.

The divide between these concepts can only be bridged through an ongoing debate over the values of reverence and piety for nature and the utilitarian, economic development of natural resources for man. Future Environment Forums would be enriched by conjoining opposing viewpoints on this apparent dichotomy, with the recognition that in places the two approaches intersect.

Even within the somewhat homogenous Environment Forum, individual relationships at the nexus of man and nature were many. Multiply that by variant ideologies, diverse ethnic backgrounds, and contrasting cultural traditions, and the ultimate challenge emerges: How do humans act with unity upon crucial environmental challenges when there is little agreement on an ethical grounding with nature?

This year’s Forum revealed that there is powerful forward motion on the environmental front, though the road is twisting, bumpy and often obscure. New technologies and innovations are inspiring, but the race against climate change, population growth, and biodiversity loss has become an all-out sprint.

The Forum revealed that overhauling entrenched and outmoded energy and motive systems and contesting the vested interests that defend them is one of the most pressing political challenges our democracy and our economy have ever faced.

Change is coming, whether it’s willful or accidental, proactive or reactive, progressive or regressive. This change will be defined within our civil institutions by a contest in values linked to dominion vs. stewardship, a debate on which hinges the health of the environment and the future of man.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.

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