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Believing in change: People can make a difference, Eric Hansen says

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The spiritual aspects of climate change, rather than the technical ones, are the essence of our task as we face this complex conservation challenge, says Eric Hansen, a Milwaukee-based writer, conservationist and public radio essayist. And, conservation work — forging wide agreements on vital landscape issues, is work Wisconsinites know well and excel at, Hansen said in his public radio essay, “Copenhagen, Climate Change and Common Sense Conservation in Wisconsin,” which won him a first place commentary/editorial award from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association last year.  “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.” 

Hansen will share his thoughts on climate change — and our role in facing it — in a free program at Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church, 625 College Ave., during the July 24 morning service. His talk, titled “Our Ferocious Love of Life vs. Catastrophic Climate Change,” is open to the public.

As part of his conservation work, Hansen has authored books about his treks through the Upper Great Lakes, including “Hiking Wisconsin” and “Hiking Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”  His name may be familiar to Racinians from his visit to the Racine Public Library in 2009, where he gave a presentation about the beauty and magnetism of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Here’s what Hansen had to say when we asked him a few questions in advance of his upcoming presentation. 

The subject of catastrophic climate change can seem overwhelming. How can we, as individuals, make sense of such a complex, global issue and our role in dealing with it?

First, all conservation, whether we are discussing the relatively complex notion of catastrophic global climate change or the familiar concepts of contour plowing and catch-and-release fishing boils down to the common sense goodness of one simple concept: what we have today we also want to be here for tomorrow. 

Second, 350 is the most important number in the world. 350 is the carbon dioxide parts per million in the atmosphere that we have to get back to — to maintain the good life on earth, as we know it. We are at 390 now. Isn’t the concept of 350 the same thing as when we list five bass as the daily bag limit? Didn’t we adapt, and fine tune, fish and game regulations because they were necessary to protect a threatened resource? Now, we see the urgent wisdom of a planetwide agreement to protect an even greater resource. 350 is what we need, the level for sustainability, what we must push for.

You talk about focusing on the spiritual aspects of the issue, rather than the technical aspects of climate change. How does climate change fit into one’s spirituality?

Human response to crisis often clarifies the sheer strength of our deepest beliefs and affections, our spirituality. Our real challenge here is motivating and sustaining the will power to meet the immense challenge of climate change, and articulating a credible belief that humans are up to the task. Review the notable record of Wisconsin’s conservation consciousness and we find considerable evidence that Wisconsinites have found bedrock strength amid conservation crises — and our accomplishments here have direct relevance to the planetwide issues we face today. 

What do you think it will take to convince the non-believers that catastrophic climate change truly is a problem we need to confront now?

Authentic, respectful conversation will always do better than patronizing pronouncements. Begin with citizen science, nearby things in our lives that we can observe and verify. For example, ice fishermen know about shortened lake ice seasons as well as the immense potential of pollution to damage our lakes and streams. When we connect the dots between the consequences of pollution of a local lake with the widespread extreme weather events we have seen in the last year, the urgency of strong action to counteract climate change becomes clear.

If you had to pick just four steps each individual should take that would be effective in facing this conservation challenge, what would they be?

1. Believe, with every ounce of strength that you have, that our planet and the future of humanity is well worth going through changes for. There is no planet B.

2. Consider all people, both near and far, as key potential partners in the most momentous human discussion ever.

3. Believe in the cumulative power of what may momentarily appear to be small acts.

4. Keep on pushing. Demand that government, industry and utilities work for real solutions, not mere talk. 350 is what we need for a livable future. Settle for nothing less.


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