In 2007, then Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman, Rejendra Pachauri said:
“If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”
Well, don’t look now, but 2012 just whizzed past, and thanks to a well-organized and well-funded denier movement, once again, we took no action on climate change.
Ironically, by stalling action, climate change deniers are bringing about the end they’ve been struggling to prevent.
Bottom line: deniers hate big government. As ClimateProgress editor Joseph Romm pointed out, that’s the main reason many conservatives oppose action on climate change.
Of course there is a second reason: money.
Deniers in particular, and Republicans in general, get paid for representing the interests of the fossil fuel fools over those of the people. Then there’s the oil companies. The longer they can stall action, the longer they get to sell a diminishing stock of oil at ever increasing prices.
But both ideologues and greedy plutocrats use denier talking points and free market babble to stall action and keep government action at bay.
In order to appreciate how deniers are bringing about the very thing they so vehemently oppose, it’s necessary to understand how they have systematically undermined action for over half a century, and reversed a bipartisan consensus on the reality of global warming.
As Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conrad pointed out in their excellent summary of the global warming denier movement, Merchants of Doubt, the reality and potential seriousness of global warming had been broadly accepted in the scientific community and at senior levels of government nearly 50 years ago. As Oreskes noted in a Washington Post op-ed:
In a special message to Congress in February 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson noted: "This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through . . . a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels."
Since then, a well funded denier campaign which used the tactics of the Tobacco Industry’s “doubt is our product” strategy has virtually stopped any action to prevent global warming, making the scale of government action required, larger with each decade.
Consider rising sea levels.
In 1965, when Johnson raised the issue, the world could have addressed global warming with relatively modest market interventions.
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By 1988, when James Hansen gave his historic testimony to Congress, it would still have been possible to prevent sea-level rise with some combination of codes and standards, a carbon tax or an emissions trading program, and subsidies for renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures.
Now, we are locked into more than 1000 years of sea level rise no matter what we do, and while this will play out over the long term, it will have serious consequences in the first half of this century, killing as many as 100 million people by 2030.
All told, we face a minimum rise in sea levels of 6.8 meters (more than 22 feet) if we emit greenhouse gasses at the high-end level modeled by the 2007 IPCC report. For the record, our actual emissions are well above even the IPCC’s high-end forecasts.
Sea level rise of this magnitude, in addition to killing hundreds of millions of people, would wipe out priceless near shore species and habitats, and require a continuous investment of hundreds of billions a year to protect nearly every port on Earth and infrastructure worth comparable amounts.
This means governments will very soon be required to significantly shape the market, including massive investments in dikes and elaborate pumping systems, stringent zoning, and strong controls over building codes, vehicle performance, and a host of other activities.
And no, Ayn Rand acolytes, the private sector cannot and will not make the needed investments in the commons – they rarely have, and according to the current structure of corporate law, one could argue they shouldn’t. They’re obliged to maximize shareholder returns. Certainly, there is no way they can organize the massive global response that is now needed thanks to the delays deniers have engineered.
Sea level rise is just one of many climate related disasters that will require an expanded government role. You might even say it’s just the tip of the iceberg – a phrase that may be obsolete if we don’t take action soon.
Food scarcity will drive increased government involvement in food policy and distribution. Heat waves and uber-storms will require a greater role for government in power allocations. Management of a billion climate refugees will require enormous government resources and regulations.
On and on it goes: attempting to save the rapidly dwindling diversity of the global ecosystems, controlling the spread of tropical diseases into new areas – each will require a powerful and enlightened government intervention, a role which is dictated by scientific reality, not ideology.
And everyday we delay, means the size and influence of governments must grow. So deny on, deniers – you only hasten and magnify the end you deplore.
Too bad the rest of us get screwed in the process, or we could all have a good laugh at their expense.
Irony is always thin gruel when it comes with epic tragedy, but these days, maybe we have to take small pleasures where we can get them.