The Earth is not Partisan: Taking Climate Change on the Road
by Darren Fraser
Two educators from California have embarked on a 35-state tour to discuss the realities of climate change, debunk myths and instill hope it is not too late to save the planet.
Dr. Shahir Masri holds a PhD from Havard in environmental science. He is an air pollution scientist at the University of California Irvine. Together with fellow educator, Athina Simolaris, the two have put their careers on hold for the summer as they travel the country expounding on the dangers that face the climate and on the simple steps individuals can take in their lives to reduce humanity’s collective carbon footprint.
Masri says the public’s reaction to the message has been mixed. The couple distribute surveys to those interested in the subject. “I walked into a hunting shop in Utah,” says Masri. “Deer heads on the wall; a bunch of antlers stacked in the corner. I was surprised. These people were very interested in climate change.”
Conversely, Masri was surprised by the lack of interest in Boulder, Colorado. “We did not get a lot of engagement from people, which was surprising because Boulder is a progressive town.”
Not surprisingly, when Masri and Simolaris surveyed people in Las Vegas, the results indicated Vegas residents are concerned about temperature. They’ve had 86 triple-digit temperature days this year, which is 16 more than the average,” Masri says. He added that he spoke to a number of people who keep chickens and who are very concerned. “One lady says she had to leave work in the middle of the day quite frequently to try to keep the chickens cool.”
Agriculture is affected in a myriad of ways by rising temperatures. Cows do not eat as much, which directly impacts meat and dairy productivity. To cut down on the recurrence of wild fires, Nevada has replaced grasslands with shrubs, which directly impacts the grazing habits of cattle and the livelihood of ranchers.
Masri acknowledges the existence of climate change. The climate is always changing; it is natural. What he and Simolaris show in their presentations is whereas before, cyclical climate changes comparable to what we have seen over the past two centuries and, notably, over the past two decades unfolded over thousands or even tens of thousands of years. “What we are seeing now is something very different from what we have seen in the past,” Masri says.
The melting of the polar icecaps; the slow death of the Great Barrier Reef; the virulent red tides anomalies climate-change deniers attribute to natural occurrence. Masri notes this contingent constitutes only 10 percent of the population. “There is a misperception a back-and-forth debate is raging between the two camps,” he says. “Thankfully, research and phone and data survey suggest that is just not true. A recent Gallup poll shows that 40 to 45 percent of the American public is very concerned about climate change.”
Ambivalence is a problem. Concern is one thing; action is another. “That is why we are doing the tour,” Masri says. “That’s why we are calling the tour the ‘Road for Climate Action’ because we want to mobilize and inspire action as opposed to just being aware of it.”
Masri and Simolaris’ desire is, first, to educate individuals on the dangers of climate change. When that belief germinates, then, second, they want these individuals to take small and eminently doable things in their lives to retard the effects. “What we’re doing is obviously extreme,” Masri says. “It’s all about taking small actions to start on a sustainable path”
Climate change is a political topic. Masri notes Al Gore has done a lot to promote awareness. “But he also has done a lot, I think, to polarize people on the issue.” He adds because of Gore’s political persona, the backlash has forced some people to “dig their heels into the ground.”
“We need to leave our political hats at the door,” says Masri. “I’m not a politician; I’m a scientist. I always say the earth is not partisan.”
Washington is coming around albeit slowly. “We have now the House Climate Solutions Caucus. This is the first time we’ve seen Democrats and Republicans come together on the issue of climate change,” Masri says. He adds the caucus was founded by a Democrat and a Republican.
One technique Masri and Simolaris use to get people talking about climate change is small discussion groups. Participants are encouraged to look at a topic dispassionately and discuss, analyze and reflect.
In their talk tonight at 5:30 at the Emmetsburg Public Library, Masri and Simolaris’ message is the situation is not irreparable. “It’s important for people to mobilize and just not think about the issue,” says Masri.