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April 2010
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Climate Change Focus

Together, Let’s Understand This Better

Welcome to an experiment. It’s an experiment of interaction with the purpose of actually getting somewhere—achieving a deeper understanding of deeper current issues and of ourselves. It’s about discussing issues in a different way that is more satisfying, thought provoking and interesting.

It’s partly online, partly in print—we’ll pose subjects in the magazine (perhaps taken from suggestions received online).

During the month, we’ll collect facts and understandings and form a new understanding. That new understanding will shed light on where we are and how we got here. That’s always allowed me to see the issue from a deeper place and is the first step to making a lasting change.

In honor of Earth Day, let’s look at climate change and how we can get an understanding of what the fundamental issues are. We’re not trying to solve the issue, but to educate ourselves, understand the basic terms and concepts, learn what the issues are, and to be able to discuss it somewhat intelligently so we can learn more about it.

I think the main concept is that we are putting so much CO2 in the air that it is reflecting the heat we are producing. It is being reflected back, which will warm up the planet. That makes some sense, but at the same time, if CO2 reflects heat, wouldn’t it also reflect heat from the sun from getting in, and therefore also have a cooling effect?

Another question is if we are combining carbon and oxygen to make CO2, for every carbon atom that combines, there are two oxygen atoms. If we are putting so many carbon atoms in the air that we are concerned about it, should we also be concerned about all the oxygen we are taking out of circulation?

Do you think it is strange that the mechanisms are never discussed? What I seem to hear the most is a counting of how many scientists “believe,” and how many “don’t believe,” which is meant to sway people while keeping us ignorant of the actual science of it.

Is the actual science not discusses because it is hopelessly complicated? Perhaps it is, but at least we can learn what the arguments are, instead of having only “Yes, it is!”/“No it isn’t!” discussions.

With this issue, and many others, I suspect that stating what the arguments is not easy to do. And that’s before we even attempt to understand the validity of the arguments. No wonder we always seem to be going around and around with the same issues without ever getting to the bottom of any of them. It seems silly when said that way, but the satisfaction I get from discussing an interesting issue is like eating a great meal with good friends. Somehow public discussion now leaves us feeling hurt and defensive. It doesn’t have to be this way. Making an effort to uncover the fundamental arguments can lead to a deeper understanding of the issue, ourselves, strengthen our relationships and help us grow as people, resulting in a more satisfying life.

This is an experiment of interaction with a focus on putting together a body of knowledge that we can all understand, so that we can have a sense of the situation, without getting into calculations.

So how can we do that? The most basic level of public discourse is to discuss what the facts are, and to establish a body of facts. This collection of facts can serve as the basis for a higher level of discussion—a discussion about what the facts mean, which ones are important, and which ones might be the driving factors. Often all sides are correct on their facts. We can get an accurate picture of what is happening only when each factor is put in its proper scale.

These days we can’t even agree on what the facts are, never even getting to the point where we can explore what they mean or which ones are the most important. People make statements to “prove” their points, but without referring to other information that seems true to us as well, so it becomes confusing and we can get turned off from wanting to understand or even hear about it. They rarely add to our understanding, and become “good” or “bad” without as explanation of why.

We all have facts, opinions, gut feelings and fears. For this to work, we have to learn to distinguish between them, and to openly state what kind of statement we are making. Opinions and gut feelings are OK, as long as you understand that they are opinions or feelings, and that another person is not obligated to accept them as facts.

Here’s how to participate:

When an issue is proposed, if you’d like to participate, read about it and learn what you can. Write down your current assumptions or position.

List any questions you still have. Questions are great for generating conversations and encouraging insight. Questions can stop us in our tracks when we are on the wrong track or when we haven’t thought something through. It’s also how we learn and the ability to questions is a power that can help us for the rest of our lives in many ways.

Each of us will be able to add to some discussions, and sometimes we’ll be the beneficiary of someone else’s knowledge and understanding. Sometimes the difference between being genius and foolish is knowing when we know something and when we don’t, and sharing accordingly. Being ignorant of something can be a temporary situation, and is resolvable by paying attention and learning.

Discussions will start online by email, and the best online nuggets of wisdom and a summary of the points made will be shared in print. You can email your general thoughts, comments and topic suggestions for this column to and we will send you a link.

Joe Prizzi is a design engineer and physicist who enjoys getting involved with social issues, green power projects and vehicle design. In his free time he enjoys motorcycling and hanging out with his wonderful wife.