Current Events attendees listen thoughtfully to Gustafson’s commentary and questions. SC photo by Jan Holly
Current Events attendees listen thoughtfully to Gustafson’s commentary and questions. SC photo by Jan Holly

Moderator Jon Gustafson opened the Current Events discussion, Oct. 15 at the Phillips Gallery, with some provocative takes on climate change. One was from conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who decried it as “one of the most preposterous hoaxes in the history of the planet.”

Another was the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting’s contention that Governor Rick Scott’s administration had barred some agencies from using the term. [Scott has denied this allegation.] Gustafson then posed the question: “Is there a tipping point for public opinion on climate change?”

Frequent Current Events contributor Tico Moreno responded skeptically with the comment that the tipping point will come “when it begins to get very cold again—and it will. In the 1970s, the big concern was global cooling. The issue then was starvation. Climate change is a hoax, because it has been happening forever,” he said.

Another attendee validated the phenomenon, but questioned whether “man is influencing it, and can man do anything about it? Until we have definitive answers, you can take a position on either side,” he said.

Following up with some sarcasm, a third participant issued a rejoinder: “Since the President never lies, and he says there is no climate change, I believe it.”

Corky Boyd acknowledged that the earth is warming. “There have been four distinct ice ages,” he said. “We are at the top of a warming stage, and it may drop off. Carbon dioxide represents only three percent of all of the gases in the atmosphere.”

Questioning the notion of a tipping point, another attendee argued that a majority of Americans already acknowledge climate change to be real. “The real tipping point will come when there is so much pressure, that even the politicians will have to believe what a large proportion of Americans believe now,” he said.

Hyde Tucker questioned the question’s relevance. “So what?” He said. “We shouldn’t have a place as weak and susceptible as Mexico Beach. We should do better. We must be more resilient.”

Mike Derechin argued that fossil fuel lobbyists “are putting gobs of money into making people believe it is a hoax. The Koch brothers are benefiting,” he said. “Ninety percent of scientists believe climate change is a problem. From a medical standpoint, changes in climate are affecting a lot of people.”

Gustafson brought up the politics and morality behind the climate change debate. “[Former Vice President Al] Gore made climate change a Democratic issue. The Koch brothers made climate change denial a litmus test for Republicans. With America being the leading contributor to greenhouse gases, is the position of our leaders moral and ethical? Or does our leadership dismiss climate change at its own peril?”

Doug Mitchell called out China and India as “two leading contributors to climate change. The U.S. has not produced new coal burning plants in years. If we believed Gore, the North Pole would be melted. Gore is the boy who cried wolf,” Mitchell said. “If they got rid of all coal-fired plants tomorrow, India and China would have no power at all. No one wants that as a solution.”

Turning the conversation to the Dow Jones Industrial average, Gustafson reminded the group that “despite a Friday bounce-back, the stock market had its worst week since March, losing more than 1300 points in two days. Is this a bull-market correction, or will there be further declines?” he queried.

Boyd was sanguine about the market disruption. “Other forces will keep things solid,” he said. “The economy is doing well. If it had happened in a bad economy, we would have problems, but it will level off.”

Derechin made the point that interest rate hikes “produced fear in the market. Unemployment is down,” he said. “I don’t see a big problem. The market is over-priced, but this isn’t the correction that people are fearful about.”

Rick Paulsen echoed Derechin’s comment about interest rates. “It is a reaction to the rising interest rates. But interest rates must keep rising for the good of economy,” he said. “Higher rates will give us resilience.”

Last on the Current Events agenda was the news that Sears will close 150 stores and restructure under U.S. bankruptcy protection. “What is the cause and effect of Sears’s financial failure?” Gustafson asked.

Albert Hann noted that Sears is “not keeping up with the times. It tried to be all things to all people,” he said. “People who specialize do better. Businesses fail. It’s a fact of life.”

The final response was concise and unconcerned. “We don’t need department stores anymore,” the attendee said. “Good-bye, good luck, so long.”

Current Events meets 10 a.m. Mondays in BIG ARTS’s Phillips Gallery. Doug Mitchell moderates the next session, on Oct. 22. Islanders are invited to join the discussion. Admission is $3.