Post #1-Climate Change

Climate change should be everyone’s #1 national security issue.  John Kerry evidently agrees, saying in Indonesia on February 17: “In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”  It literally impacts everything: energy resources; water availability; oceans, lakes, and fisheries; agriculture and food production, war and peace within and between nations. And the reality of climate change stares us in the face: the unusual, sometimes unprecedented weather patterns; the extremes of floods, cold, and draught. As President Obama said in his State of the Union message, climate change is a scientific certainty; there should be no disputing the reality and the threat it poses to all living things.  Yet we look in vain for leadership on this issue from the United States, the supposedly “indispensable nation.”

Life and politics go on as though we are not in crisis.  Here, even baby steps to improve the environment and reduce reliance on fossil fuels bring on intense lobbying by opponents, helped by huge infusions of money from Exxon/Mobil and the like. Kerry is right: These groups are trying to “hijack” the climate change debate, and if public opinion is any barometer, they’re doing a pretty good job of it.  A Pew Charitable Trust poll in February 2013 found that only 34% of the US public considered climate change a top priority for the government, well below budget, immigration, and gun legislation (www.pewresearch.org/key-data-points/climate-change-key-data-points-from-pew-research).  Even Democrats (42%) and independents (27%) were not very enthusiastic about the importance of climate change.  Comparing attitudes on climate change worldwide, the Pew poll found that the percentage of Americans who consider climate change a threat to their country (40%) is far lower than anywhere else in the world!

The hostility to scientific findings clearly is due in good part to the threat they present to corporate interests.  But it also stems from an anti-intellectualism on the far right, an element of The Paranoid Style in American Politics that Richard Hofstadter first wrote about in the 1950s.  Corporate hostility, it need hardly be said, is based on profits; the ideological right’s hostility is based on fear.  Together, these forces preach conspiracy in defiance of facts and logic.  And as Hofstadter warned, paranoid politics will never go away.

James Lawrence Powell, a geochemist who served on the National Science Board under Presidents Reagan and G.H.W. Bush, quotes a number of dire warnings in an article for The Nation (February 17, 2014).  Here are three:

 

  • Coal “is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet. . . . Rising sea levels hang “like the sword of Damocles over our children and grandchildren.”  (James Hansen, the retired NASA scientist who first drew our attention to the human sources of global warming.)
  • The effects of climate change will not end “for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide emissions are completely stopped.”  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • The scale of damage from climate change could equal that of “the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century.”  (Stern Report, 2006)

 

Thus, probably like you, I’m led to ask: Will it take a climate catastrophe to mobilize legislators to action?   Will John Kerry, having denounced the “tiny minority of shoddy scientists … and extreme ideologues” who question global warming, now do the right thing and reject the Keystone XL fracking plan?  Will the Obama administration finally display leadership at the next international conference on global warming?  Stay tuned.

 

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11 Comments

  1. The politic sees environmental assessment as being politically subversive. This is the opposite of the scientific method. If there are gods and godesses, they had better awaken soon.

  2. Sadly, I think that the reason Americans aren’t as concerned as they should be regarding global warming is because there is a firm faith that technology will overcome the danger. Not that technology will reverse or even stop the damage… but that it will give us a way to survive even after catastrophe strikes.

    Congrats on your new blog!

  3. ‘…The hostility to scientific findings clearly is due in good part to the threat they present to corporate interests. But it also stems from an anti-intellectualism on the far right…’ Agreed. Another profoundly important factor, arguably CREATED by corporate interests, if one will allow huge superstitious organizations to be recognized as the corporate interests they truly are, is the influence of organized superstition on our schools, their curriculum, and in the creation of a generalized American tendency to prefer bullshit to demonstrable facts. Faith based thinking, the assertion of the truth of a proposition absent supporting demonstrable facts, even in the face of conflicting demonstrable facts, is as American as apple pie. Once one has been taught to think not thinking is a virtue (‘He has a strong faith.’ Translation, ‘He actually thinks the wafer transubstantiates into the actual flesh of Jesus in his mouth.’) it is no great trick to transfer the habit over to Politics, Economics, History, and, for sure, Climate Change.

  4. Remember at our ballot box who did not support rational measures for reducing carbon emissions, dealing with N.Korea, and other existential threats to the species..

  5. Looming within the term ‘climate change’ is the spector of ocean acidification, that shows every sign of being an agent of drastic change
    in species assemblages. Food sourcing could be very different quality and quantity than exists today.

  6. Agreed. And I think we can safely add that we really don’t know — and won’t, until too late — the full extent of the damage that climate change will cause. That’s why operating under the precautionary principle is so important.

  7. With corporate ‘personhood’ you might expect existential corporate death by terminal internal conflict between profit-taking and ultimate responsibility, no? Maybe they will implode?

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