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The War on the Climate

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A particularly troublesome and frustrating development in the contemporary political arena is the increasing acceptance of those questioning and denying either that climate change is occurring or the indisputable fact that it carries dramatic adverse consequences for the human species. This of course is compounded with the takeover of key congressional committees by individuals who simply ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence that rightly should guide our policy-making bodies in their roles and responsibilities as guardians of the public trust. And now that the GOP is mounting a war against the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory approach to the principal culprit in the climate change battle, namely the insatiable appetite of humans for the creation of greenhouse gasses, the need to combat the deniers becomes that much more critical. These foot soldiers of fortune have declared war on our children and we must redouble our efforts to protect future generations from the genocide of anti-intellectualism and anti-science.

Several years ago former Vice-President Al Gore embarked on mission to educate citizens of the world on what had been fairly technical and complex scientific information by distilling what few were familiar with into a comprehensive presentation through the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. His valiant efforts on this front eventually earned him a Nobel Peace Prize.

But he took it further. In the fall of 2006 he started assembling a cadre of conscientious citizens from all walks of life to trek to Nashville and spend a weekend being trained to present the science and theory along with the practical potential consequences of a rapidly warming planet. Eventually he would train over 3,000 individuals worldwide to take the message, via PowerPoint presentations, to classrooms, boardrooms, living rooms, and anywhere else where those willing to listen and learn could share with their families and friends in an effort to better educate ourselves on this unfolding phenomena.

Through the intervening years individuals were free to augment their presentations with the most recent data and were encouraged to taper their presentations to the audiences. As a member of one of the initial sessions held in Nashville in December, 2006 I have since delivered 94 presentations and much like a Grateful Dead concert no two have been the same. But the enthusiasm and willingness to entertain an education on these issues has definitely waned. We must not let this flame die out.

Whether it is the more pressing immediate struggles with a plunging economy, the loss of jobs, and the uncertainty of our individual and collective financial futures or the ascendency of an audacious denier movement armed with a well-publicized but fabricated scandal over East Anglican emails is immaterial. As is usually the case it may be a blend of both, or maybe the people are just too overwhelmed by what they know will require a major transformation in how we live.

Although those emails demonstrated a lack of professional and political judgment but had no effect upon the validity of the scientific research that continues to substantiate serious concerns over our ability to mitigate and adapt to the changes that are occurring all around us, there continues to be a relentless campaign fueled by the oil and gas industry to exploit what is a public relations nightmare. Obfuscation, distraction, distortions and confusion are well established tactics in the art of warfare, and make no mistake about it the powerful interests that profit handsomely from our addiction to an economic paradigm sustained by fossil fuels will invest heavily in such tactics to maintain their power.

But like Nero, we proverbially continue to fiddle while the Earth burns. There seems to be two salient tactics in the deniers arsenal of talking points: first, since not every scientist in the world agrees on the issue the deniers contend that we must wait until there is 100 percent consensus before we act; second, those predicting gloom and doom are merely doing so for political purposes, since by nearly every measure the issue nearly splits down the middle with conservatives denying and liberals decrying hence it has taken on a political dimension.
On the first point, there will never be 100 percent acceptance, ever, so we most certainly should not be held to that standard. The only thing we know for certain is that we need to replace the certainty of inaction with the uncertainty of action.

We would do well to follow something called the precautionary principle. This principle was outlined in the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and offers that "where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation." There is little or no debate that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing and at an exponentially dangerous rate and we are entering a period where humans have never been before. That in itself is indisputable scientifically and should command action on our behalf.

On the second point I have never quite understood the political agenda of those demanding action to wean us off the fossil fuels teat, other than to actually benefit the species. The only rationale for the deniers would be that it is an international scientific conspiracy to destroy free-market economies. In a politically polarized environment such as the contemporary one the easiest way to drive a wedge into an issue is to tout its politicization. And to those who worship at the altar of the free market any challenge to its infallibility is enough to squelch reasoned debate. But to those zealots I would offer the following from Henry Ford, whose wealth was certainly premised and dependent upon fossil fuels and who intoned that "if I had asked the customer what they wanted they would have said a faster horse". The clarion call for vision and wisdom in how we progress in the Twenty-First century is palpable.

No, climate change is neither a conspiracy of mad scientists who wish to take over the world nor a bunch of silly boys crying wolf, it is a sensible and rational reaction to an accumulation of knowledge that our God-given brains have yielded (this should be particularly appealing to those deniers who also question evolution, but that is another story). We have the ability to build a new economic paradigm, one that will yield profits and protection from the ravages of excessive carbon buildup.

Somehow we need to recapture the momentum that was building just a short while ago and refocus our efforts on the sustainable development of our world. We have proven that we can explain it in a way in which the public can grasp what is behind the theoretical concepts and scientific research. It is as vital to our economic future as it is to our environmental future. So we must deny the deniers a free pass on what poses as a political strategy to confuse an already apprehensive and angry electorate.

John Adams said that "facts are stubborn things" and the facts are on our side, and the fiddler's bow is fraying. Can we reengage the public in a national discourse on this issue? I, like others, had thought that with the election of Obama and a Democratic Congress we would make substantial progress at the national level on this issue, but with divided government it appears as though we may need to rely on the states, those laboratories of experimentation, to lead the way. California will continue to lead the way, let's just hope that others will follow.