The Climate Crisis: Two Perspectives, United in Rationality
On Thurs., Feb. 7, Skidmore students filed into Gannet Auditorium for the annual policy debate hosted by Skidmore’s Honors Forum. This year, the Honors Forum chose a topic that is more than a little controversial – climate change. Specifically, the two speakers were to debate if the issue of climate change constitutes a true crisis.
To debate this controversial issue, the forum invited Oren Cass and Andrew Revkin. Cass. Cass is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute — a conservative think tank based out of New York City. He writes frequently about economic policy, and his book The Once and Future Worker has received critical acclaim as a piece of conservative cultural and political criticism.
Andrew Revkin is a science and environmental journalist. His work has appeared in Discover, Science Digest, and The New York Times, where he was the creator of their popular environmental science blog Dot Earth. He is currently the National Geographic Society’s strategic advisor for science journalism.
Moderating the debate was Environmental Studies and Science Professor Kris Covey with Honors Forum student Erin Mah ’19. Mah began the night by asking the debate’s central question: Do we currently have a climate crisis?
Cass asserted his opinion that climate change does not constitute a global crisis. He emphasized, however, that he does not deny the reality of climate change, citing the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report as the current scientific consensus. Cass stated that although he believes that climate change poses significant environmental and political challenges, he considers it to be one of many problems that should be gradually dealt with in the coming decades. Cass spoke of adaptive measures in relation to climate change, including the overall decrease in effects of natural disasters on the developing world as an example.
Revkin spoke next, saying that although he believes we are facing a climate crisis, he does not overtly disagree with anything that Cass brought up. Revkin spoke of an article about climate change that he wrote in 1988, pointing out that the way in which the world regards climate change has undergone little change since then. This is because climate change poses a problem that is so long-term that our society does not know how to address it. Therefore, Revkin argued that climate change is a crisis of public policy itself. As he put it, “We don’t know how to get out of our own way.”
Next, Professor Covey asked what each presenter would suggest we do to deal with the issue of climate change. Cass emphasized research into new renewable technologies, arguing for private investing in global climate research. He also explained how developing nations are some of the worst offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, often relying heavily on high-carbon fuels like coal and wood. Therefore, part of our effort to reduce global greenhouse emissions must focus on affecting the policy of developing nations, as well as inventing inexpensive options that allow these countries to reduce their emissions.
Again, Revkin seemed to agree with much of Cass’s basic sentiment, but came to a different conclusion. Revkin agreed that public policy must be a significant part of our efforts, but reasoned that the US needs to change its own public policy just as must as it needs to look into efforts to influence developing countries. For instance, many current environmental regulations reward companies for risky practices — such as building their headquarters in an area that has a high coastal flood risk — which provides a financial incentive to the risks climate change poses.
In the end, both parties encouraged exposing oneself to new viewpoints. Cass in particular told students to find an ideological “arch-enemy” — someone of the opposing viewpoint who is rational, intelligent, and can make you truly understand another point-of-view. For their part, these two men fit this description well – both had looked and thought about the data, ultimately coming up with two different, but interrelated, perspectives.