A climate of inaction
Does anyone remember climate change, global warming, that whole Al Gore thing?
Back in the 2000s it seemed a pretty big issue, masses of documentary films, TV shows, charity events and such were produced. At school the issue was a huge focus in classes and I must have seen the Inconvenient Truth and similar films almost a dozen times. Before 2009, seemingly everyone across the political spectrum accepted the need for tough action to tackle the great challenge of our generation.
Yet today look at any media outlet the issue is barely mentioned. Global conferences come and go, such as the recent Rio get together, but with a distinct air of impotency and charade, officials and governments pretending to care. Scientists still regularly publish swathes of evidence of how human actions are causing potentially apocalyptic global warming, yet where the issue is mentioned in public discourse, the overwhelmingly, undeniable validity of the consensus is increasingly questioned by unsubstantiated articles based on fringe 'research' and impossible conspiracy theories.
Odious figures such Melanie Philips are allowed to pollute the airwaves with dismissals of mainstream science as “bogus” without any supporting evidence. The debate has regressed to questioning the very basis of the science when in a rational world their would not be a debate at all, such is the force of the consensus argument.
At Cancun one of the only real agreements was that the “safe zone” of temperature rises should be two degrees. Beyond this the situation spirals out of control, feedback mechanisms kick in, vastly accelerating the increasing the danger to levels that could well threaten the extinction of the species. For example the Permafrost will melt after a 2 degree rise, releasing the even more dangerous reserves of methane gas trapped underneath.
Recently Lord Hunt, the former head of the Met Office, warned that we are currently on course for a 3.5 degree rise, while the most reputable scientific institutions in the world, from NASA to USGS to the US National Academy of Sciences, all corroborate the evidence and all press the case for urgent action now. Its a bit of a cliché in climate change circles now, but it is undeniable that 97% of leading scientists support the consensus and that, according to a recent creditable report (that unlike the vast majority of evidence used by sceptics, was actually peer-review by proper scientists);
“...the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely non-existent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes”.
In contrast the arguments of those who are sceptical and critical of global warming are infinitely less credible. Take the infamous sceptic film “The Great Global Warming Swindle” released in 2007. This was edited countless times after its initial release, such were the audacity of its flawed claims. For example, at first it claimed that Volcanoes produce more Co2 than human factories, when the USGS proved that in fact, humanity makes “1000 times” more carbon dioxide than volcanoes.
When trying to prove that cosmic rays had a greater impact on climate change they produced a graph showing that there was some correlation between temperatures and cosmic ray presence. Strangely this stopped at 1975 and when extended to present times, the correlation diverged completely, totally undermining the sceptics' arguments.
The 'science' used by sceptics is also dubious. Senator James Inhofe scuppered Congressional action on climate change throughout the 2000s by citing an article published in a sceptical journal that was so flawed, the journal it self had to distance and criticise its own paper. Meanwhile the apparent master of the sceptic movement, Lord Monckton has been known to voice support for the “Birther” conspiracy theory, that Barack Obama was not born in the US. This is something that has been discredited numerous times and is only held by the most insane members of the Republican right. This only further illustrates the place of climate change scepticism in the pantheon of fringe political paranoia.
So what happened? Why in spite of such evidence have governments and the media ignored the urgency completely, save for questioning the science or desperately needed policies?
Firstly, the corporate mass media is driven by a self-interested ideology that opposes any and all rationale for regulating the economic system that so benefits such corporations. As a result the likes of the Spectator, Telegraph and other right wing presses have openly questioned the factual basis in recent months, while the supposedly 'progressive' Guardian and others are reduced to occasionally making vacuous demands for action on the same page as adverts for polluting lifestyles and vehicles.
More worryingly the power of oil and fossil fuel lobbies has been used, as large concentrations of economic power always have, to corrupt true democratic process. These sources fund various think tanks and institutes that promote the fringe ideas of climate scepticism, to give credence to the arguments of the aforementioned ideologues and writers. Most infamous was the Heartland Institute, but its funding has now begun to dry up thanks to its excess extremism after it ran an advertising campaign labelling all supporters of consensus as “murderers, tyrants and madmen”.
Nonetheless other bodies like the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) or the Heritage Foundation continue to have their 'research' funded by big oil companies such as Exxon Mobil.
The net result of all this is that doubt is created in the public eye. Average people often have an appalling level of climatological knowledge and are easily deceived simply by the presence of words such as “cosmic rays” or “little ice age” and so on used by sceptics. While this may not persuade them to either argument, it stifles pressure upon politicians who can sit back and avoid any real action, hence the meek response at Rio, where the likes of Cameron and Merkel failed to even turn up and where the word “commit” was soon replaced by the much more prevalent, and meaningless, phrase; “encourage”.
The solution is simple. It is up to those of us with the knowledge and willpower to question these sceptics and reveal the fallacies behind their work. It is up to us to pressure the government to not only follow through with its rhetoric of commitment, but also to denounce those in the media who are sceptical without substantiation, those whose position is no longer factually, or perhaps more importantly, morally tenable.