Griffin Thompson wants to turn down the heat on the debate over climate change.
The Spokane native and graduate of Gonzaga University is in Spokane this week representing the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration on global climate change.
“Climate change is really a hot-button issue,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
“People are yelling at each other and not talking to each other,” he said. “That is not helpful.”
Americans can put their heads in the sand and believe that the climate is not warming or they can face reality and try to do something about it, perhaps creating new economic activity, Thompson said.
He is a senior climate-change program manager and branch chief within the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
Thompson said the Obama administration accepts the preponderance of scientific evidence showing that the climate is warming and that much of it is caused by humans.
“The administration is convinced of the science and believes that climate change is a threat,” he said.
Economic disruption, drought, severe weather and political unrest are likely consequences, he said.
The U.S. military agrees that global warming could become a destabilizing factor and “force multiplier,” Thompson said.
In response, the State Department has developed a series of programs aimed at mitigating environmental consequences, including deforestation, and promoting clean energy.
His branch of the agency is working closely with local and state governments as well as utilities and businesses to encourage global exchanges of information and technology. They are also working on development of policies and incentives for private investment, all under the umbrella of Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative.
Thompson is encouraging leaders in Spokane to apply for entry into a U.S.-China EcoPartnership program that will provide assistance in opening new markets and opportunities in energy and the environment.
Change is already occurring in the U.S., where the 1.4 percent growth in gross domestic product last year was accompanied by a 2 percent reduction in carbon emissions, he said. It was the first time emissions shrank while the economy grew.
Coal use in the U.S. has declined by 6 percent while the use of natural gas and alternative energy sources has increased.
Clean energy offers a range of economic opportunity, he said.
His trip here is part of a “hometown diplomacy” effort that recognizes that change often starts on a local level.
“We can engage in honest dialogue and do it in a way that helps the economy,” Thompson said.
Thompson, a graduate of Shadle Park High School, returns to the area frequently to visit family members. After graduating from Gonzaga with a bachelor’s degree in English, he moved away from Spokane in 1977. He earned his master’s degree at Arizona State University and a doctorate at Georgetown University, both in political philosophy.