Alarms for those who can still hear

Why are so many folks unalarmed by climate change/global warming? Why would 97 percent of the world’s qualified climate scientists perpetrate what ideologically motivated, non-scientist skeptics consider to be a conspiracy?

Economist Anthony Giddens suggests “Gidden’s paradox”: the dangers of global warming aren’t tangible, immediate, or an observable enough threat in daily life. Thus, they are ignored, denied, or go to the back of the mind. When the consequences become acute and irrefutably the result of climate change, it will be too late. “Decade zero” requires change this decade while we can still cope effectively. This is especially alarming since today’s children and grandchildren and their children will certainly be affected, probably dramatically!

There’s absolutely no assurance that the negative effects of climate change-whether human caused or not-will be reduced without human intervention! Investment in renewable energy is fundamental. (Locally, see CleanChoice But ‘the market’ alone cannot be expected to counter reliance on, and the negative effects of fossil fuels. Governments (at all levels) must help! Otherwise “future discounting” — ignoring it — will create an increasingly unsustainable world.

Giddens stresses “it is at least as likely that the dangers of climate change are actually ‘greater’ than the majority of scientists think.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a “90 percent probability” that observed warming results from the consumption of fossil fuels by industry, travel, and agriculture. It recommends limiting global warming to the present average level of 2 degrees C. However, if we continue to run the world on oil, gas, and coal, temperatures could increase by more than 6 C (42.8F) by 2100, with oceans rising by between 10 to 20 inches (Florida needs to raise 30 inches to stay above water!). Environmental costs to the economy of current habits are called “externalities,” meaning that they are not paid for by the sources that create them: costs are passed on to consumers.

British scientists from 121 universities signed a statement “from the UK science community” affirming that they “have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities.” Given increasing personal threats to the lives of climate science spokespersons, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences declared: “We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and climate scientists in particular. … There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.”

Skeptical opposition from power, oil and gas companies, other corporations, and right-wing politics is “huge, well-funded and well-organized.” One report lists six tactics for climate change denial (a troll’s treasure chest): (1) Portray scientific consensus as a conspiracy; (2) Rely on pseudo experts who have no real credentials; (3) Use evidence selectively to support denial, and rely on scientifically discredited evidence; (4) Set unreasonable standards for consensus the deniers do not themselves meet; (5) Deliberately misrepresent scientific consensus, then attack the false representation (“Straw dog fallacy”); (6) Repackage any scientific uncertainty as disproof. Science depends on skepticism (especially persistent anomalies); but that should not deny consensus findings that are the starting points for ever-new research.

Worldwide, citizens are taking action. In Hamburg Germany, 2013, residents voted to put their electricity, gas, and heating grids back under city control. Such local control is concerned with public responsibilities, not private profits. Across Germany, 25 percent of electricity comes from renewables — mainly wind and solar. (In the US, 4 percent). Governmental policies aim for 55 to 60 percent renewables by 2035, one of the quickest shifts to wind and solar in the world. In 2011 a pro-renewable political coalition in Boulder, Colo., influenced city policy — the first time an American city took action “for the sole purpose of reducing its impact on the planet.” Similar developments have transpired in Austin, Texas, and Sacramento, Calif.

Two conclusions are unavoidable. First, private sector corporations cannot — or will not — invest in renewable resources on the scale required. Secondly, it is demonstrably false that private utilities benefitting stockholders are superior to public ones benefitting the community (e.g., social democracies).

Current scientific projections for increased global warming and its negative effects should be taken seriously. “These various projections are the equivalent of every alarm in your house going off simultaneously. And then every alarm on your street going off as well, one by one. They mean simply, that climate change has become an existential crisis for the human species.”

*Ignore them: Sarah Palin, “I love that smell of emissions”; and former GOP congressman Steve Stockman, “The best thing about the Earth is if you poke holes in it oil and gas comes out.” Ideological perfidy.

Sources: Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, 2015. Anthony Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change, 2nd/rev. ed., 2016.

Thomas Regelski is a emeritus distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia.