(Friend, fellow congregant, and committee chair Will Rico of First Parish in Needham sent me this highly appropriate link.)
Those who deny that climate change is real are engaging in what psychologists call “simple denial.” But those on the left aren’t much better. Liberals who think global warming is real often resort to “transference denial”: they blame the right and corporate polluters even though we’re all responsible. The scale of the climate crisis and the level of sacrifice and disruption that would be necessary to mitigate it feels overwhelming.
Here’s where we are. I’m not focussing upon Republicans, who have, as Mr Rall points out, 44% of their polled cohort denying human caused climate disruption is a real thing. While 92% of Democrats say they consider climate disruption both actual and human caused, this is where their priorities lie:
That’s a summary of a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll from early September 2019 rating the importance of issues to them. Overall, when the Yale Program on Climate Communication and George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication joined to survey American’s views on climate change and its risk, reporting in December 2018, only 70% have any worries about climate change, and just 30% are “very worried”:
Mr Rall quotes and somewhat agrees with Dr Mayer Hillman, a senior fellow emeritus at University of Westminster’s Policy Studies Institute who said:
The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.
I strongly disagree, along with Andrew Gottlieb of APCC and consider it a bit arrogant, reminiscent of “After me, the Deluge“. The biosphere will be just fine. There may be appreciable species rotation, meaning, that, no doubt, a bunch of species will go extinct. But that’s how Life responds to a significant environmental challenge. We seem to have difficulty accepting that all species eventually go extinct and how, the proper response, say, for landscaping is to embrace the hardiest of botanical species, even if it violates canons of landscape management taught, pursued, and implemented over years, even enshrined in law. Wake up: Things have changed. Life will be here, but we shouldn’t be sure of human civilization’s part in it. Pursuit of “sustainability” has failed, and it’s time to make some uncomfortable tradeoffs.
Still, Mr Rall sets out the current problem. We meet in committees, doing cleanups of brooks and streams, hearing lectures about migrating birds, lamenting roaming cats and what they do to wildlife. We rail against fossil fuel companies, and champion measures to defend the vulnerable far away. But we drive CO2-spewing cars, nod in approval of housing developments which keep our taxes low, oppose gasoline taxes, put in that third bathroom, and go crazy buying things for the holidays. Business as usual. We sure aren’t acting like this is urgent. All the Democrats schemes as pretty anemic, for no one wants to utter the essential word: Degrowth (see also).
Mr Rall ends with a flourish:
None of this should come as a surprise. We were warned. “The oceans are in danger of dying,” Jacques Cousteau said in 1970. Life in the oceans had diminished by 40 percent in the previous 20 years.
If you really believe that the planet is becoming uninhabitable, if you think you are about to die, you don’t march peacefully through the streets holding signs and chanting slogans begging the corrupt scoundrels who haven’t done a damn thing for decades to wake up and do something. You identify the politicians and corporate leaders who are killing us, you track them down and you use whatever force is necessary to make them stop. Nothing less than regime change stands a chance of doing the job.
Nothing else—the struggle for income equality, gun control, abortion—matters as much as attacking pollution and climate change.
Anything short of revolution and the abolition of consumer capitalism is “minimizational denial“: admitting the problem while downplaying its severity. Anything short of a radical retooling of the global political system that establishes state control of the economy with environmental impact as our first, second and third priorities is a waste of time that dooms the human race to extinction.
There is no middle ground, no splitting the difference, no compromise. “Good enough” isn’t good enough. Mere progress won’t cut it. Human survival is a pass-fail class. The final exam is tomorrow morning—early tomorrow morning.
Time to get serious, godammit.
It’s come to my attention that Kirkpatrick Sale has written a follow-up to Mr Rall’s piece described above, with Mr Sale’s piece titled “The illusion of saving the world“. Whether or not you agree with Mr Sale or, for that matter, Mr Rall, there are a few things about climate disruption Mr Sale gets wrong. I fear many people misunderstand these, too, including many climate progressives and environmentalists who agree upon the urgency of acting on zeroing greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are some basic facts most people do not know, even those concerned about climate disruption:
- Carbon dioxide (and its precursors, e.g., methane) is not like other pollutants. The natural mechanisms for scrubbing it work, but half of it remains in atmosphere for 1000 years or more, and the rest takes centuries to remove. This means what matters is cumulative emissions, not emissions intensity. Also, the United States and Europe own most of the CO2 in atmosphere, because of our tremendous growth and success since the beginning of the industrial age.
- We know the overwhelming amount of excess CO2 in atmosphere is from human sources. This is because our fossil fuel fingerprints are in the isotopic signatures of the Carbon and Oxygen atoms in the excess CO2.
- We have known about the dangers of climate change for a long time: The first U.S. President briefed on the seriousness of the matter was LBJ in 1965. Svante Arrhenius essentially had all the science right in 1896. He even made estimates of warming, but did not foresee the amount of CO2 we’d emit. He was followed by Callendar in 1938, among others, and Revelle in 1958. Each succeeding U.S. President was also briefed.
- Because 90+% of the excess warming from greenhouse gases goes into the oceans, and oceans have a huge thermal capacity, even if CO2 emissions were zeroed, we will not see an improvement in climate conditions. Deterioration at that point will stabilize, but it won’t get better on any timescale of typical meaning to people: Thousands if not tens of thousands of years. This is why the expectation, which Sale raises, that things might eventually “cool down” is exactly the straw man it seems. They won’t cool down, essentially ever. We can keep them from getting warming, but that’s about it.
These are all the reasons we need to stop now: It should have happened in 1990, but it didn’t. We need to come down as quickly as possible. And it is so late that to do it fast enough will mean economic hurt. This will, eventually, result in less economic hurt from climate disruption, for everyone, including us.