Denial of climate change is a hoax, a deception requiring a perpetrator and a victim. We and generations to come are the victims.
The perpetrators are the fossil fuel and related industries who have chosen profits over public interest. They’ve known the dangers of climate change for decades and known the strong consensus among climate scientists that climate change is human-driven and an existential threat.
Instead of taking action and warning us, they chose to sow doubt in the public’s mind about this consensus. This is the same strategy tobacco companies used to deny that cigarettes caused cancer. The goal is to create the illusion that there is still a meaningful debate going on.
The fossil fuel industry and friends have used PR firms, trade associations, advertising agencies, libertarian foundations and lobbyists to manage this message. They flooded social media with misleading and debunked talking points and used conservative media, online bots, pundits, Astroturf groups and blogs as an echo chamber.
They funded think tanks, which hired junk scientists and other science spokespeople with no expertise in the relevant fields. Deniers’ claims have not survived scientific peer review and yet these zombie arguments still flood the media today.
All of this is documented in The Heat is On and Boiling Point, by Ross Gelbspan, Climate Cover-up by James Hoggan, Merchants of Doubt by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes, and The Climate Deception Dossiers by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Is it any surprise that six states have sued oil companies for misleading the public? Meanwhile their disinformation campaign has given cover to well-funded politicians.
So what’s the science they fear?
Warming of the Arctic has led to significant melting of the permafrost, releasing vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas far worse than carbon dioxide. This sets up a nasty feedback loop — the methane traps even more heat, which further warms the permafrost, which releases even more methane. Will there be an irreversible tipping point? Have we already passed it?
Carbon dioxide hangs around the atmosphere for a hundred years, trapping heat and continuing to warm the planet. We add much more each day.
Tropical rain forests are the “lungs of the world,” absorbing huge amounts of CO2. The biggest rain forests in the world (Amazon, Congo) are being deforested by illegal logging and by farming interests wanting to grow beef, soybeans, palm oil and rubber. The Amazon recently became a net carbon emitter, now releasing more CO2 than it absorbs.
Expect drought, heat waves and flooding to produce food insecurity. Climate refugees will destabilize countries and species will be pushed to extinction (Read The Sixth Extinction, a Pulitzer-prize winning book). Island nations are already dealing with the effects of sea level rise. Treasury Secretary Yellen has declared that climate change is an existential threat to our financial system.
The earth is worth saving, but it will take an extraordinary act of will. After all, we are on a runaway train, governed by an economy which fetishizes unrestrained growth, consumption and self-interest over the common good. Powerful interests want to continue “business as usual.”
We can start by acknowledging that what the climate scientists have been predicting for decades is happening: the earth is rapidly warming and there is a deadly increase in the frequency and severity of droughts, wildfires, heat waves, storms, flooding, and hurricanes.
There is an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has put us on red alert. Climate change is truly an existential threat.
In 2018, the IPCC called for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” You’ll hear deniers say that this will cost too much and undermine the economy. Tell that to the Greatest Generation, who re-tooled factories within months of Pearl Harbor to produce airplanes, tanks and military equipment. By the end of the war, America emerged as the economic powerhouse that drove the world’s recovery. Why can’t we emerge from the war on climate change with a far more sustainable and resilient economy?
Are you willing to make climate change central to your thinking by changing your habits of consumption and embracing renewable technologies?
Again, look to the Greatest Generation, who made the war effort central to their lives with ration cards, scrap metal and rubber drives, victory gardens, buying war bonds and just plain doing without.
In the public domain, will you hold our leaders accountable? Will you support market-based carbon pricing with dividends to citizens? Will you demand a congressional investigation of the fossil fuel industry similar to the one that exposed Big Tobacco?
The costs of inaction are mounting. The world climate summit is this November in Glasgow. Will our delegates be speaking for the fossil fuel industry or us?
Albert Einstein once wrote, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
(Allan MacDonald lives in New London.)