Thursday, January 31, 2008

Chance Climate Change Conversations

I was traveling in New Jersey earlier this week. Instead of logging another isolated and dispirited evening in the hotel room, I decided to venture forth for dinner. I decided to backtrack to a pub I passed earlier in the day called Molly Malones; it had the look of a "local" place, a nice alternative to the chain restaurants down Route 10 in Whippany. (image from gravybread)

I walked in expecting to see a half empty place with plenty of room for a thirsty scholar to plop down, have a beer and some dinner, and dig into some reading; "Difficult Conversations" was on the agenda. The place was hopping for a Tuesday evening, with a group of office folks from Novartis carrying on in the corner celebrating some sort of occasion, along with full barstools. I crammed myself on the corner between a pair of gents chatting about work and a pair of women chatting about work; interesting background noise for reading.

The important part of this little adventure is that I ended up having a great conversation with the two gentlemen to my left about energy, climate change, oil, the Middle East, and other various "big" topics. It was an innocuous comment about being in graduate school at BGI to learn how to do business without destroying the planet that started the conversation.

We ended up talking about issues that never seem to come up in everyday conversations, and in some cases we became quite animated about it. What I found quite interesting was that the issue of climate change, while something they had both heard and knew of, was perceived in a way vastly different than mine...and I assume they represent more of what people thank than I do. While one of the gentlemen doubted the science behind the assertion that climate change has been hastened by anthropogenic activities, the other was more sanguine; he felt that people were aware of the issue, but did not see how they could possibly have any impact on it. It is simply "too big" for the average person to take hold of as something to be concerned with. That certainly seems to be the case. We did agree that traffic is one of the major scourges of our society, and that we are all part of the problem (I drove 1500+ miles last month...just for business!)

I respected their opinions, and realize that we all have filters defined by past experiences that define our views. There was something in my perception, something that told me they lacked a certain acceptance of a collective responsibility for the world we inhabit. What does that mean? Who am I to make such a statement? Aren't we all just Homo Economicus, working for our own self-interest?
  • Why is it that we have become a species so unconcerned with the welfare and stewardship of the world we inhabit and the world that supports our existence?
  • What has caused us to become disconnected from the natural world?
  • What will it take for us to remember our responsibility for nurturing the world for our benefit and the benefit of future generations?
These are not easy questions, and I am certain that most answers are ones that I will not like to hear.

The fact that I had a meaningful conversation with two complete strangers about issues that are global, massive, confusing, and intractable refreshed and surprised me. Willingness to talk about these things in an open-minded and curious way is one step in the right direction; one conversation at a time.

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