In All Honesty

An interesting theory as to why so many people reject climate change is that they don’t want to take action. Whether they work in the fossil fuel industry or are vehemently opposed to government regulation, they feel that the consequences of taking action will be worse than not taking action.

This is a legitimate opinion, even though I disagree with it. It involves policy (what we should do about the problem) instead of science (deciding if there even is a problem). Stating that we shouldn’t take action at all is, in a way, deciding what action we should take. It’s a personal opinion. You don’t need a PhD for it to be respected.

However, it’s fairly obvious that accepting the problem of climate change but refusing to take any action would make the public very angry. Here in Canada, many environmental advocates aren’t too happy with Stephen Harper (our prime minister) as he’s scrapped yet another emissions legislation plan – the third one, I believe. He’s now decided to not take any action against climate change until the American legislation is completely implemented. If Harper gets his way, it’ll be about 2016 before Canada starts regulating emissions. I’ve never seen David Suzuki so mad.

The aforementioned theory goes on to say that, instead of accepting the problem but refusing action, the regulation-wary people deliberately create confusion around the science supporting the idea of climate change. Their purpose is not to win the debate, but to prolong the debate. The longer they can keep the public wondering if climate change is a problem or not, the longer it will take for action to begin. This goal is mainly achieved by opinion editorials, credible-looking websites, and interviews with the media, all of which contradict as much of the prevailing scientific opinion as possible.

This strategy is not new, or exclusive to climate change. Suspicion has arised that it has been used before when products such as tobacco or CFCs began to be regulated. Some great sources dealing with this theory are this lecture by scientific historian Naomi Oreskes and this documentary by a Canadian televison network (sorry if it’s not available to American viewers). I say “suspicion” because there is no solid way to prove this theory, it is only speculation.

If there is anyone reading this who is using the strategy of confusing the public on the science in effort to delay action, please reconsider your actions. If you’re worried about the potential costs of action against climate change, tell us your worries. We may be able to find a way around them. We’ll work as hard as necessary to avoid excessive regulation and counteract economic harm. The economy is a human-created system; we can manipulate it to fit our needs. The sooner we start working to fix this problem, the easier it will be.

Please don’t try to delay action by debating the science. If you’re open and honest about your worries, we may be able to solve them – no deception, confusion, or aggression necessary.

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12 thoughts on “In All Honesty

  1. I don’t regard the notion that people have willfully sought to delay action on the issue of AGW as unproven. Frank Luntz’s memo to american republican polititians and campaigners is as clear as the summer sun. If you have not read it you can see excerpts in Joe Romm’s book “Hell and High Water”. The chapter entitled “How Climate Rhetoric Trumps Climate Reality” is illuminating. If time allowed I would go into more detail. It can’t be proven in all cases but it can be shown that certain individuals such as Mr Luntz have acted in a breath-takingly cynical manner.

    Naomie Oreskes is an entertaining and intelligent woman.

    • I completely agree with you – there are a number of extremely suspicious, or even downright obvious, events of this nature. The Luntz memo was absolutely disgusting; it gave their whole game plan away. Did you see him in the Canadian documentary I linked to, though? Apparently he’s changed his message and now thinks climate change is too dire to justify delaying action.

      However, this notion cannot be proven in all cases, as you said, and I don’t want to be accused of straw-man arguments.

      I’d love to read Joe Romm’s book, is it easy to find in bookstores/libraries or would I have to special order it?

      • Joe Romm’s book should be easy to find. I bought a copy at my local book store. I imagine that if it is available in the United States it aught to be available in Canada. Romm (formerly of the Clinton era Department of Energy) wrote his book during the Bush administration and as such his political critic is aimed at the Bush white house. Nonetheless it remains relevent, unfortunately.

        I’ll have a look at the Canadian documentary.

        Hell and High Water ISBN 978-0-06-117213-7

        If your libary doesn’t have it they may be able to do an inter-libary loan for you.

  2. This is a legitimate opinion, even though I disagree with it.

    It’s not at all a legitimate opinion, it’s a selfish and dangerous disregard for the lives and welfare of others to preserve our own short term self interest.

    p.s.
    I found Joe Romm’s book somewhat hard to find, but amazon and barnes noble both have in stock.

    • By “legitimate opinion” I meant, “deals with policy, not science, so at least the person isn’t making up their own science,” but I couldn’t agree with you more – it’s a disrespectful and risky opinion to hold. Before too long I plan to write a post in response to the “mitigating climate change will cost more than the consequences themselves” claim. Keep your eyes open for it. Thanks for reading, hope you’ll keep coming back.

  3. Hi, I found your blog from reading a comment from this blogger http://madrad2002.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/poor-post-op-ed/
    over at climateprogress.org, which is Joe Romm’s “indispensable” blog. You can order his book there or at Amazon. Another great book if you haven’t read it is Fred Pearce’s “With Speed and Violence”. Joe has more of a political analysis, whereas Pearce (who writes regularly for either the Guardian or the Independent, I forget which) goes deeply into past extinction events and what we can learn from how they played out.

    It’s refreshing to find clear-minded individuals who are writing, thinking, and talking about climate change.

    If you get a chance to visit my blog (witsendnj.blogspot.com), the best summary of my perspective is in the archives titled “Effects of Climate Chaos”.

    I”ve bookmarked your site and I’m looking forward to reading past and future posts!

    Best,
    Gail

    • Thanks Gail – I enjoyed your climate chaos letter. I am a tree person as well as a climate change person, and find the connection between the two both fascinating and tragic. The BOREAS project, by NASA, is an example of such a connection. The boreal forest, one of my favourite ecosystems in the world, is hugely at risk due to rising temperatures – the southern part is expected to disappear, but it can’t extend northward because the tundra soil is too poor.

      I’ll check out the Pearce book when I’ve read the Romm book – long list building up here!

      Thanks for visiting, hope you’ll keep coming back.

  4. Good post. This reminded me quite a bit of this article that I saw a while back: http://www.ibdeditorials.com/IBDArticles.aspx?id=319849127145558

    …not because it agrees with you, but it seems like exactly the sort of thing you’re talking about. The author, whose credentials say he’s a renowned scientist from the prestigious “Science and Environmental Policy Project,” (basically an organization created to lobby against global warming legislation) goes round and round, shifting blame from one thing to another.

    At one point, he implies that global warming is a problem by saying that we can’t solve the problem without China’s help.

    Then he changes the subject and makes the case that the Senate would never pass legislation anywhere close to what environmentalists want, because the Senate didn’t pass Kyoto back in the day. (What the Republican-controlled Senate in the Clinton Administration has to do with the modern Senate, I have no idea.)

    Later he levies another undeveloped argument, says that global warming will actually help our agriculture.

    And then he concludes with this gem:

    “Finally, be aware that carbon dioxide may not have as much of an impact on temperatures as projected by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While their 2007 Report asserts a better-than-90% certainty that the average temperature increase over the last 50 years is human-caused, they have produced no credible evidence to back this up. None!”

    How people like this get paid to write columns is beyond me.

    • Hi Brian, thanks for dropping in.

      It drives me crazy when people say “there is no credible evidence to back this up” – dissect the measurement methods of NASA and the geological chemistry and the physics calculations and show how they’re doing it all wrong and then you can say there’s no credible evidence. Or else say “insufficient” evidence. But saying “no evidence” just decreases your own credibility. Bleh.

      My favourite is the NIPCC (Not the IPCC) “organization” set up by the Heartland Institute. Most of me is very mad at these sorts of attempts, but there is a part of me that just laughs and laughs. Does anyone actually listen to them? I hope not, as that would make the burden of changing public opinion much lighter on all of our shoulders.

      Thanks for reading
      Kate

  5. Their purpose is not to win the debate, but to prolong the debate. The longer they can keep the public wondering if climate change is a problem or not, the longer it will take for action to begin.

    Hence the very definition of information warfare. Who ever can best control public opinion wins the information war, thus promoting the legislation they want to pass. Information warfare really should be called “misinformation warfare” because it rarely substantiates its claims with fact or even logic.

    If you’re worried about the potential costs of action against climate change, tell us your worries. We may be able to find a way around them.

    Noble, but again this requires facts, and a willingness to debate. At least in America, our government is not in a debating mood. And if your Prime Minister is waiting for America to take the first step, he might was well be wating for Godot… lol

    Thus I think the fastest way to success is for people like you in the science community to make A LOT of noise in the poltical sphere. You guys need to raise money, put on advertisements and put the facts out there. I feel t oo often the scientific communty is intimiadated by the poltical process, and fails to adequately correct erroneous statements. You have great ideas, and if they were part of the national/international conversation, we may see more progress,

  6. Hey Climatesight, just a thought… I was thinking today, cars exhaust carbon monoxide right? If they were able to exhaust carbon dioxide instead, wouldn’t that be good for the environment?

    I’m thinkign of a place like Los Angeles. I think most of the pollution their is caused by the sheer number of cars on the road. If these cars were outputting CO2, the tress would suck it up and output oxygen. And perhaps that oxygen would help clean up the air and increase air quality?

    Have no idea if it were true, but if the idea was plausible, I would think it would be easier to make a car that emits CO2 than it is to emit hydrogen, or making fully electric cars.

    • Cars emit carbon dioxide (the general formula for a combustion reaction is hydrocarbon (like gasoline) + oxygen = carbon dioxide + water + energy). If there is an inadequate supply of oxygen, they’ll emit a little carbon monoxide as well. Carbon monoxide is incredibly poisionous – that’s why you never run a car in a closed garage.

      Trees and forests are a carbon sink, but they’ve been unable to keep up with the current rate of atmospheric CO2 increase. Check out the latest Climate Denial Crock of the Week video, which explains why vegetation won’t flourish as much as we’d like due to climate change, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFGU6qvkmTI

      A great resource for information about green cars is the Ecogeek channel on Youtube, check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/user/theecogeek

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