Amid The Summit Climate-Speak, Plain Talk Stood Out

Oct 3, 2014

Absorbing the material at the sixth annual Climate Leadership Summit was a lot like trying to drink from a fire hose. There was a lot of information, much of it technical, dense and very detailed.

The two-day event was a series of expert deep dives into hydrology and re-insurance and risk management.

Credit Southeast Florida Regional Compact

But if you waited patiently during the panel discussions (and didn’t think too much about the drinking game you could play with the words “sustainable" and “resilience”) you could occasionally hear a big climate change question being answered in plain, memorable language.

For instance, if sea-level rise is such a threat, why isn’t everybody frantically concerned? Invoking 2012’s destructive Hurricane Sandy, Dutch consultant Steven Slabbers said, it’s the time warp effect: “Sea level rise is a Sandy-like storm surge in slow motion that never creates a sense of immediate crisis.”

The people said, 'Why are you bothering to do that? You're just one little drop in this huge bucket.' Well, that's all there is in the bucket, everybody, drops. -- Harvey Ruvin

That absent sense of immediate crisis, Slabbers says, means the urge to respond develops only slowly, if at all, and that may be why so few are freaking out.

Another sound bite takeaway came from Miami-Dade court clerk Harvey Ruvin. He recalled when the county commission banned CFCs – chemicals that threaten the global ozone layer. The health of the ozone was a big preoccupation in the 1970s and 80s.

As Ruvin remembers, “The people said, 'Why are you bothering to do that? You’re just one little drop in this huge bucket.' Well, that’s all there is in the bucket, everybody, drops.”

Other large counties followed suit and the threat to the ozone layer eventually diminished, according to Ruvin, teaching us all that the solution to many complex problems is a series of small steps, none too little to skip.

A third sea-level epiphany came from the guy who runs the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor infrastructure, Bill Golden. It was about being responsible. He told summit attendees, “We’re the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and we’re the last to have anything fundamental to do something about it.”

And that raised the question of legacy. How will history regard the generation that first spotted the problem but was reluctant to act while it had a chance?

Good question for a climate change summit.