Activists Aim to Melt Climate Change Denial in D.C.

Takepart.comJuly 6, 2012

There's always a lot of hot air in Washington DC, but this weekend promises to just be downright sweaty in the nation's capital. Temperatures are forecast to climb to 106 degrees yet again, as the stifling heat wave that began last month drags on.

So what do you do when it's unbearably hot and Republicans are focusing on the failure of federally backed renewable energy companies like Solyndra and Abound to undermine a shift away from a fossil fuel economy?

If you're the environmental advocacy group you build a giant ice sculpture of the word "hoax" on the National Mall and see how long it takes to melt. That's what the group has planned for Saturday morning anyway.

It's a call for action on climate change in a pre-election summer that has seen 2,284 daily maximum temperature records shattered in June alone and abnormally dry or drought conditions in 76 percent of the country, not to mention devastating wildfires in Colorado and catastrophic storms that knocked out power for millions in the Mid-Atlantic.

While climate scientists agree that you can't attribute any single unusual weather event to climate change, more frequent and intense heatwaves, wildfires and other extreme weather is expected as the planet heats up.

It's clear that the call for action on climate change is needed as a Washington Post-Standford University poll released this week showed that only 18 percent of those surveyed consider global warming to be the most significant environmental threat. That's down from 33 percent in April 2007.

Jamie Henn, the communications director at explained that for a long time environmentalists have focused on the economic benefits of renewable energy because climate change seemed like such a distant threat.

"We're hoping that by drawing people's attention to the weird weather this year, it will help them connect the dots and make climate change feel real," Henn said. "There's a moral imperative when talking about the need to save the planet that got lost in debates about market mechanisms."

"You never know what will be the beginning of something big, what it will take to really capture the public's attention," said Henn. "In the 1960s it was the Santa Barbara oil spill and the Cuyahoga River catching on fire and suddenly you have 20 million people marching on the streets demanding environmental reform.  We need a similar movement to jumpstart climate change legislation."

"It's also a way for us to have a little fun with climate deniers who try to confuse the public, like Senator James Inhofe who built an igloo on the mall after the 2010 snow storm to demonstrate that the earth wasn't warming, when clearly extreme weather like that is consistent with climate change predictions," Henn added.

Joanna Foster is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. Her background is in ecology and evolutionary biology, and having always lived near water—be it Lake Michigan, the Indian Ocean or the North Sea—she is passionate about the conservation and restoration of this most precious resource. She is a regular contributer at the Energy and Environment blog at The New York Times, and her work has also appeared in OnEarth Magazine and at the American Museum of Natural History.