On My Radar: Extreme weather eroding independence & lessons from engaging with climate deniers

This is the first in a series of regular round-ups of articles and resources that I will be posting. I’m an avid reader of regular ‘recommended reads’ made by bloggers or news sites (such as IRINnews and Refugees Deeply), so I thought it would be time to establish my own compilations of some of the links that I’ve found and pondered over. Do leave me a comment below to let me know if you also found these articles interesting!

Bayamon
Aerial view of Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Blue reinforced plastic sheeting cover some of the roofs damaged by Hurricane Maria. S. Nelson-Pollard: Jan 2018.
  • On new renewable energy perpetuating old power structures: I’m currently in Puerto Rico, which is five months into recovering from the mighty Hurricane Maria. While most of the capital, San Juan, is back to operating at most of its previous capacity, the street that I’m living on only just got electricity back this week. As the island’s old grid is gradually being repaired and power cables restored, people across the island have been dependant on the few neighbours on their streets running noisy generators, especially for keeping their fridges running. After the storm I was caught up in the internet buzz that the post-hurricane reconstruction could generate a massive boom for renewable energy on the island. However, this article from the Puerto Rican Centre for Investigative Journalism (CPIPR) was an interesting read, explaining how the majority of solar panels in Puerto Rico are leased from a Texan company and connected to the main electricity grid. To the surprise of many of those who thought they would achieve energy independence through investing in solar panels, when the grid doesn’t work (such as, for example, after a major hurricane), the panels shut off. As a researcher from the University of Puerto Rico puts it in the article “We went from fossil dependency to renewables dependency with a company that is not from here. We continue to send the money out of the island,”. As a response to customers complaining about not being able to depend on power despite having the panels, the company proposed supplying batteries, at an extra cost, $100 a month for 10 years…

  • On Hurricane Irma potentially ending collective land ownership in Barbuda: I was curious to know how reconstruction was going on other Caribbean islands, and came across this short video and this short documentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Barbuda. The land on Barbuda has been held in common ownership since the end of slavery, meaning that it cannot be bought or sold. Developers can lease land if their projects are accepted by a majority of Barbudans. However, to pay for post Irma reconstruction, the government of Antigua and Barbuda wants to end this common ownership system and allow for private investment. Foreign investors are eyeing up the pristine beaches, including Robert de Niro, who is looking to build a mega luxury resort. In an attempt to keep their unique political system (and I assume to prevent the island becoming a giant golf course), many Barbudans are fighting back against this move by the government. But as this documentary reminds us, it can be extremely difficult for displaced people to defend their land rights, especially when they are far from home, dispersed, and so much of their energy has to go into finding new schools for their children, securing new jobs, and protecting their belongings which are still sitting under an open roof. It’s the opportune time for land grabs.

  • On learning the lessons from engaging with climate deniers: Taking my reflections on the growing realities of climate change a step further, I started listening to the podcast ‘Warm Regards’ one afternoon last week, and found the latest episode on tips for engaging with climate deniers quite interesting. In a post-Brexit/Trump world, I think we are becoming increasingly aware that although our echo chambers are cosy, they must be dismantled if we are to see any real change. I’m always interested in the particular topic of engaging with people who are politically very different to me, especially as I’ve been really terrible at this in the past and have charged into conversations like a bull. One of the concepts from the podcast stuck with me: some people may choose to deny climate change because they see the solutions as taking away some of their fundamental freedoms, preferred comforts or parts of their identity, and we have to recognise how this can be scary or difficult, but in a sense, we also have to answer the question of ‘What part of me do I have to let go of?’. The guest on the show, a climate scientist called Katharine Hayhoe, mentioned for example when she was challenged by people who have no scientific background, nor respect for facts, she would feel as if it was a direct attack on her identity as a scientist. She raised that it’s important to leave these emotions, which are directly tied to our personal egos, aside, in order to engage in conversations outside ivory towers. If we expect climate deniers to have to lose a part of their identities (such as driving an SUV), we should be prepared to lose a part of our identities (such as being respected as scientists, for example). This was super interesting to me, as a pointer for my next conversation on migration and displacement, with people who may not agree with me or who believe false information. The aim is not to get people to agree with the facts or to be respected as an ‘expert’, but to find common ground in which to plant some seeds of increased tolerance and change.
That’s what’s been on my mind this week! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and any recommendations you may have.

4 thoughts on “On My Radar: Extreme weather eroding independence & lessons from engaging with climate deniers

  1. Suzanna, thoughtful question about engaging with those who have a different viewpoint on an issue, as most people only consider their own viewpoint. Aside from the echo chambers, left and right, which tend to be the sole source of information for many people, sometimes a “cause” does not help its case when it has been found to lie about or fabricate data. This gives opponents an opening for dismissing everything. It’s true whether it is NOAA altering climate data or Exxon Mobile funding bogus research studies. A rationale should be put forward supported by documented unbiased facts, ideally adapted to the audience’s personal frame of reference, but with as little emotion as possible.

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    • Thanks for your comment Rick! Indeed, it’s certainly not helpful when causes undercut themselves and undermine trust. Having said that, for the purpose of engaging with family or friends with different opinions, I don’t think the facts (unbiased, or not) actually help to find middle ground. One of the tips from the podcast was to forget about trying to agree on the science, but to focus on the benefits of the solutions. For example, when talking to a fiscal conservative, to highlight the savings made by renewable energy for tax payers – the end target is to get people to engage/support more green practices, not to convince them that we are ‘right’. I think that this has valuable lessons for other political issues – it’s a question of finding the common ground. Thanks again!

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