Colloquy Downeast Blue Hill Maine

Colloquy Downeast

Spirited Conversations in Great Company

FacilitatorNorm Olsen & Larry Benoit
Date & TimeWednesdays, March 24, 31, April 7, 14, 2021
2:00 – 4:00 pm
LocationVia Zoom - Register for a Link

Larry Benoit, of Cape Elizabeth, served as a senior staff officer for, successively, U.S. Rep Peter Kyros, Senator Edmund Muskie, Senator George Mitchell, and U.S. Rep John Baldacci, for whom he served as chief of staff.  He also served as Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. Senate, Chairman of Governor-Elect John Baldacci’s transition team, and Managing Director, Government Solutions Division, Bernstein Shur (Portland, Maine).  He has organized and run multiple successful campaigns.

Norm Olsen, returned to his home state of Maine in 2008 after 26 years in the United States Foreign Service, serving in Jamaica, Norway, the Marshall Islands, Geneva, Moldova, Kosovo, the State Department Counterrorism Office, and, for nine years, in Israel and the Gaza Strip.  Earlier in his career, he was a commercial fisherman, a federal fisheries regulator, and a reporter for  the Portland Press Herald.  He currently serves as a subject matter expert training U.S. Special Operations Forces.


While the pandemic is different in form and origin from climate change, many of its social, economic, political and international consequences — and the fact of significant science denial –are similar to those projected for climate change:

— global impact.

— vast unemployment and social need.

— disruption of food supply chains in both the developed and underdeveloped world, and possibility of huge refugee migrations, including across national borders.

— interruption and rearrangement of global supply chains for millions of non-food products.

— exacerbation of income inequality, sectarian persecution, nationalistic fervor.

— challenges to national and international interests… everywhere.

And, perhaps most importantly, an American population half of which denies the existence of both the coronavirus and climate change, or at least of humankind’s impact on climate change. Can that half of the population be brought to accept scientific consensus and support climate action?

Does the election of a new, entirely reoriented U.S. administration, and a more modestly reoriented Congress, signal a national and popular reorientation and mobilization sufficient to fundamentally address climate change?  If not, what will it take?

A sampling of topics for possible discussion:

What is the net difference in impact between a world awash in oil too cheap to cover production costs and transportation, and a world that must cease using oil in order to save humanity?

Closer to home, what is the net difference in impact between a lobster industry with no lobsters to catch and a lobster industry with plenty of lobsters but with no customers?  What is the net difference in impact between a Grand Lake Stream village with water too warm for trout and a Grand Lake Stream with plenty of fish but no visiting “sports” for local businesses to serve?

As discussed in the attached article, and in light of the Administration’s overturn of nearly 100 environmental protections, will the pandemic generate a new recognition of the climate threat and a call to action, or reduce it to a remote, seemingly far-in-the-future possibility?

  • Do our current clear skies strengthen environmentalists, or convince opponents that Mother Earth can easily regenerate itself without our help?
  • Put another way, just how much cataclysm does it take to convince people of the need for climate change action?
  • And does history provide any examples of lasting positive societal change following catastrophes?
  • In parallel, we will devote part of one session to the national security implications of both the cononavirus and climate change.  As the experience of the past three administrations shows, leaders have initially been unwilling to recognize the national security implications of international health issues, only to be brought up short by, respectively, HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola, and now the coronavirus.

One exemplar of these implications is the refugee situation, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, broadly writ.  The global community and teetering regional governments are already stressed by sustaining a few million refugees  including a million refugees on the volatile Syria-Jordan border.  Add to that a deadly pandemic.  How then will we handle the recently forecast multiple Billions of refugees resulting from climate change?  (Note: A single billion refugees equals a million new refugees … each week … for 20 years….)

This colloquy is a follow-on to a successful winter 2020 colloquy hosted by Hans Carlson, and ongoing weekly discussions among several participants via Zoom.

As this is a dynamic, current and rapidly developing topic, fast outpacing publishers’ calendars, and with a new Administration, we will rely primarily on contemporaneous materials, primarily articles, and look to our traditionally well read colloquy participants to bring to the discussion, both in advance of the colloquy and between sessions, materials from their wide range of readings.

In addition, we will use as base resources two succinct works on social, political and environmental action: The Future We Choose, by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, both key players in the Paris Climate Accord; and Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century.

From The New York Times – Published May 9, 2020 and Updated Dec. 11, 2020:

Will the Coronavirus Crisis Trump the Climate Crisis

The battle over how to spend recovery funds — to quickly restore the old economy or invest in a greener one — will define the post-pandemic world.


  ▼ Syllabus/Reading



The Future We Choose – by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, both key players in the Paris Climate Accord

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century – by Timothy Snyder.

Please read these two prior to the third session.

Reading for Each Session:

For those participants who do not have access to the NYTimes and Washington Post, Norm will provide those articles as PDFs.

Sessions 1 & 2 :Covid and Climate: Dissimilar Causes, Similarly Grave Consequences. Exploring the Breadth of the Two Crises.

September 15, 2020 NYTimes How Climate Migration Will Reshape America

November 18, 2020 NYTimes: America’s 250,000 covid deaths: People die, but little changes

December 12, 2020 NYTimes: Watching Earth Burn

January 7, 2021 NYTimes: U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change

January 25, 2021   The Guardian:  Global Ice Loss Accelerating at Record Rate, Study Finds

Session 3: Can We Generate Common Cause for Action? What Does History Tell Us About Learning — or not — From Catastrophe?

August 9, 2020 NYTimes: Beirut’s Blast Is A Warning For America

September 8, 2020 WashPost: Pandemics, International Relations, And Covid-19

October 6, 2020 Paul Krugman, NYTimes: Lessons From A Super-Spreading White House

Oct 26, 2020 Paul Krugman – Trump Tells Coronavirus, ‘I Surrender’ – The New York Times .

November 22, 2020 NYTimes: Along Russia’s Road Of Bones

November 30, 2020 NYTimes: 1918 Germany Has A Warning For America

Dec 13, 2020  Kathleen Sullivan — Saying Goodbye

Session 4: National Security Implications and a Search for Hope

August 24, 2020 NYTimes: Climate Is Taking On A Growing Role For Voters

November 6, 2020 NYTimes: World Reacts With Concern To U.S. Election

November 19, 2020 NYTimes: An Economist Looks Beyond GDP

January 21, 2021 NYTimes: What Will Happen to Your Next Home If Builders Get Their Way

December 20, 2020 Kathleen Sullivan – Out of Darkness

Excerpt from Lucretius – On the Nature of Things


Others On Original List —

September 8, 2020 WashPost: Pandemics, International Relations, And Covid-19

November 3, 2020 Politico: America Is Eerily Retracing Rome’s Steps to a Fall. Will It Turn Around Before It’s Too Late?

December 16, 2020 ProPublica and NYTimes: How Russia Wins the Climate Crisis

December 19, 2020 NYTimes: When Will We Throw Our Masks Away?

January 28, 2021   The New Yorker:  The Biden Administration’s Landmark Day in the Fight for the Climate.

The following books are not essential to the course and we will not be discussing them separately, but if you have already read them, they may bear a quick review of such topics as “bias confirmation,” “herd mentality,” “risk analysis,” and, of course, Kahnemann’s “fast thinking” versus “slow thinking,” among many others.
Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahnemann
The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb


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