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Exactly four years ago, NUVO published my profile of Paul Douglas, a Minneapolis-based meteorologist who was slated to be keynote speaker at Hoosier Environmental Council's Greening the Statehouse event. Douglas is an evangelical Republican and has made it his life mission to convince the GOP to embrace science and reckon with the disturbing reality of climate change.
He does this through his work as a meteorologist and now in the form of a book, co-authored with Mitch Hescox, entitled Caring for Creation.
Four years ago, the environmental community was aching for President Obama to get moving on significant action, and the world was pining for a meaningful global agreement. Those four years turned out to be pivotal in the fight to preserve the planet for present and future generations with the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan. While both have been met with resistance, now, with President-elect Trump, we find ourselves with a new administration that threatens to dismantle any progress made.
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Just before Thanksgiving, Douglas spoke to me from his Minneapolis-based office of Aeris Weather. We started off with me asking him about his work.
PAUL DOUGLAS: We are not satisfied with the current state of accuracy of U.S. weather forecasts. In this era of climate volatility and weather disruption, new times call for new tools. We basically come up with a user-friendly and developer-friendly way to integrate weather into apps, websites and company supply chains and infrastructures to try and create new efficiencies.
NUVO: That sounds impressive!
DOUGLAS: As an entrepreneur you have to be open to data. You have to go where the data goes. You can't just see the things you want to see. If you screen out the things that make you uncomfortable, you go out of business.
NUVO: And it was data that got you paying attention to climate change?
DOUGLAS: It was the data that tipped me off — actually, the weather tipped me off. We've always had extremes, but by the late '90s, early 2000s, it became apparent that weather patterns had shifted so significantly, so far outside the realm of average, that we had entered a new regime, and I was seeing the symptoms of climate change.
I was and am a meteorologist. I am just trying to get the forecast right. Trying to keep my businesses afloat and successful. Speaking out about climate change was not something I aspired to. It just came about organically as I looked at the weather and tried to connect the dots.
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NUVO: There are so many books about climate change. Why yours, why now?
DOUGLAS: In my travels in the past twenty years, talking to evangelicals and conservatives about climate change, it dawned on me that the story has not been told in a way that resonates with core evangelical fundamental values and spirituality. Piling on science doesn't necessarily help and it may actually hurt the process. Accusing people of being stupid or knuckleheads becomes self-defeating.
This Methodist minister, Mitch Hescox, and I, decided to team up to write a book, framing the story uniquely for conservatives and evangelicals, under the guise of creation care and stewardship and following Christ's commandments.
Even if you don't believe the climate scientists, will you believe meteorologists or ministers? In the end, are you going to believe your own eyes? The symptoms will become, over time, harder and harder to dismiss and deny.
NUVO: Yet the United States has just elected an avowed climate denier.
DOUGLAS: It is going to be really hard to keep that whole hoax mentality going as the symptoms become more frequent and egregious. Climate change is a slow-motion transformation. The seas are rising slowly. Seasons are getting longer, and that's been a gradual process. But we're getting clubbed over the head with greater frequency. The United States has seen six separate 1000-year floods since October of 2015.
My first instinct is to give President-elect Trump a chance. Give him the space to adapt his worldview. He may decide the costs are too high to pulls out of the Paris Agreement, or the costs are too high to pull out of the Clean Power Plan.
On the same level, it doesn't matter who's in the White House or heading up the EPA. The clean energy economy ... that train has left the station and it is not going to be derailed. And the reason is pure economics. Decarbonization is not going to come about through a political kumbaya moment in Washington D.C. Decarbonization is going to come about because of economics and energy security.
NUVO: Every new administration person Trump's proposed thus far is a climate denier.
DOUGLAS: I don't believe that position is sustainable. A significant majority of Americans will see through that. Let's not forget it was Richard Nixon who launched the EPA. It was the first George Bush who brought the Clean Air Act to life. There are still a lot of Teddy Roosevelt conservatives out there who believe that conservation should in fact apply to the very thing that sustains us. Ronald Reagan in 1981 talked about the need to balance the economy with the environment.
If in fact this becomes a rabid, climate change-denying administration, it will go against the grain of much of what the GOP has done in previous incarnations. Will there be a critical mass of Democrats, Independents and environmentally conscious Republicans? I think so.
Climate change is a threat and an opportunity. An opportunity to reinvent this country. We should create new technologies we'll ultimately export to the rest of the world.
NUVO: Here's one of my most favorite quotes from the book: "We love our kids. We want to protect them. Keep them safe. Give them every opportunity to succeed. Life is tough enough. Why would we make it any harder on them?"
DOUGLAS: We are united in the fact that we love our kids and want to do what's best for them. We want to set them on the right foot. We don't want to live a life of regrets when it comes to our kids and their kids.
At some point your kids or grandkids are going to come to you and ask: What did you know when, and what did you do? I think they are going to be pissed that we didn't do more. That we were so stuck in our bubbles that we didn't take action.
We have been given an amazing gift from God. We don't own this. We lease everything. We are just passing through. If someone gives you a gift, chances are you aren't going to trash it. We find a new way to worship the Creator when we respect what He's built.
What would Jesus do? I can't pretend to know, but having read the New Testament, he might ask two questions: Did you defend my Father's home? Did you defend His children?
We have an obligation to our kids and to future generations to find the courage to do the right thing.