Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A worthy contest
Karmen at A Chaotic Utopia wants to enter an essay contest. The prize is small, limited to students in the Colorado University system, and really should go to her so she can finish her degree, but it will bring unlimited glory and honor to all who contribute, so we should all contribute to her effort. The essay question is this:
What would you ask the next President of the United States to do in the first 100 days of the Administration to address climate change?

Karmen adds the following context to that question from the group sponsoring the contest:
Leading scientists estimate that the international community has approximately 10 years to make serious changes in its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if we wish to avoid the worst consequences of global climate change. By the time the next President assumes office in January 2009, one-third of that decade will be gone.

Notice the underlying assumptions of the question and of the group asking the question.* They assume that President Bush is only blowing smoke about energy and climate in his latest State of the Union Address and that by 2009 the new president will not only be concerned about working on the climate problem; they will be concerned about reversing a decade of neglect. To a lesser degree, the judges of this contest seem to be assuming that the answer lies in reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and not in addressing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by that date.

Karmen has a good shot at the prize, as she is already working on a book on the topic, but the topic of her book approaches the topic from an oblique angle to that of the contest. As she admits:
[I]f the book turns out according to the outline, it would only partly address the question at hand. See this stipulation in the rules:
Responses are encouraged that outline the most effective, innovative, and realistic actions that will provide credible and substantive approaches to addressing climate change. Focus is encouraged on solutions rather than the imperative or rationale for action.

I'll be the first one to admit... a good chunk of my book will be "the imperative or rational", mostly discussing the origins of complex global problems and their solutions. The solutions themselves should be there, as well... but probably crammed into one of the final chapters, and then be fairly ambiguous.

Karmen is not asking us to write her essay for her, she knows the correct answer--"Launch a massive PR campaign to dispel myths about humanity's relationship with nature."-- and I agree with her on this answer, but she needs our help putting this into terms that meet the requirements of the contest. As I see it, those requirements are that we present a 100 days policy blitz. That is, they want a policy campaign and she believes we need a propaganda campaign to pave the way for the meaningful policy campaign. What sort of simple policies can we offer that will be steps in the right direction, but that will also be educational tools for moving people to adopt attitudes that will lead them to accept the next policy steps.

Let's avoid utopianism behind us and think of the real objects of such a campaign. What policies could we adopt that would really make a difference, while at the same time convincing our most libertarian high school friends to support even more meaningful steps in a few months? Karmen doesn't want to dictate; she wants to convince. After all, a populace that believes in a policy won't vote to reverse that policy in the next election.

* Has anyone noticed a pattern of me analyzing questions in this manner? Yes, I not only try to answer the question that has been asked, but I always try to determine the question that the questioner really is interested in understanding before I write an essay. If you are in the Puget Sound area and desire an employee who asks the right questions, contact the e-mail address on the left and see if I'm the person you need. I probably am.

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