Katy Burns: What’s in it for the average climate change skeptic?
Do climate change deniers ever wonder whether they just may be wrong? Do they ever allow a niggling doubt to creep into their certainty? Do they ever ask themselves what might happen if that which they have so firmly and loudly insisted will not occur does in fact occur?
I’m not talking about people like the Koch brothers, who likely know perfectly well that human activity has been adversely affecting climate and will continue to do so. They – and others whose fortunes and futures are tied to fossil fuel industries – happily line their own pockets while despoiling the planet. After all, their money and power will protect them from the worst of the coming changes, right?
Nor am I talking about the army of propagandists – paid for by the Kochs and their ilk – who argue loudly that there’s no such thing as man-made climate change. They’ve got to make a living somehow.
And I’m not even talking about the gutless politicians who also know that warming is real and largely human-caused, but they’re never, ever going to admit that in public. (Watching Marco Rubio’s twisting himself into knots on the subject in a TV interview in New Hampshire last weekend was downright fun.)
I’m really talking about the ordinary citizens who are so convinced that this warming cannot be happening that they have basically become unhinged – and who scare the aforementioned gutless politicians to death.
These deniers carry signs denouncing climate science, they clog the lines to radio talk shows, they fulminate in letters to editors and they haunt news comment sections waxing ever more hysterical about hoaxes and worldwide plots by a cabal – a very, very large cabal – of top climate scientists who . . . well, what?
Why on earth would vast numbers of scientists from across the world – men and women who have spent most of their lives studying climate and related sciences, whose lives are largely dedicated to searching out facts, who are perhaps the ultimate reality-based human beings – willingly band together in a global conspiracy to hoodwink the world’s billions of nonscientists?
It simply makes no sense.
Grant money? What grant money is worth traipsing all over the Arctic and Antarctica? Wouldn’t it be easier to work for an international energy conglomerate and spend time in nice, warm places?
Glory? They’d get a lot more curing cancer or inventing a flying car. Even coming up with a hot new video game.
Well, deniers darkly mutter, all this scientific skullduggery is really meant to allow Obama/the U.N./the Bilderbergers/some other international conspiracy to achieve his/their nefarious goal – destroying our country’s economy, impoverishing Americans or (a favorite of our right-wing brethren) taking away our liberties. Someone is always plotting to take away our liberties.
What nonsense! If in fact this conspiracy is about taking away our liberties, why on earth is our military taking it seriously? Because it is. Our nation’s defense establishment – the people sworn to protect our liberties – is spending lots of time and money preparing for increased global warming and its potentially catastrophic results.
Now I can testify from personal familial familiarity that by and large the military isn’t a hothouse full of touchy-feely hyper-liberals. But one can honestly say America’s military is another reality-based community.
And those people believe it’s a darned good idea to prepare for whatever – realistically – may come in the future. It’s called contingency planning, and the military does it very thoroughly. It methodically plans for things we ordinary folks never even think of.
They’re doing it in a variety of ways. They’re spending big bucks to explore alternative energy sources, including renewables. After all, the military uses a huge amount of fuel. And who wants its army dependent on a fuel that is controlled in large part by countries that are hostile to our nation and its ideals? Or fuel that we could lose access to in the event of some kind of global disaster?
They’re also deep into planning what it could mean for this country when other, more vulnerable countries around the world begin literally sinking into the rising seas. Because they will. The potential for world destabilization and human catastrophe is great, and its effect on other countries could be profoundly disruptive as well.
And they must plan on what they should do when this country starts losing its low-lying areas as well – including our own New England coast. Because we will call on the military for help. We always do. And they have to be prepared.
In the last two weeks, we’ve seen the national release of two monumental reports on the rapidly changing world climate and what it means for our future.
The first was the third National Climate Assessment, a massive study mandated by Congress back when Congress cared about such things. Those who participated in the study, including representatives of oil companies, foresaw a grim future. And it singled out the Northeast as bearing the brunt of the changes, with Boston and our own Portsmouth cited as coastal communities especially threatened by rapid sea rise.
The Boston Globe summarized what the study said of the Northeast: “Over the past century, temperatures in Northeastern states have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and if heat-trapping gases increase at current rates, warming could spike as much as 10 degrees by the 2080s, prolonging bouts of extreme heat, taxing electrical systems and disrupting ecosystems.
“In the same time, the region’s precipitation has risen by more than 10 percent, and the worst storms here have brought significantly more rain and snow – a surge of more than 70 percent over the past 50 years and significantly more than other parts of the country.”
It is only going to get worse, the report said. And it summarized different but also dramatic changes elsewhere in our country – more and longer droughts, bigger and more frequent wildfires, more catastrophic flooding and crippling snowstorms, more extremes of heat and cold.
The second study, released just days ago, dealt with the alarming and unexpected loss of the ice sheet in west Antarctica, which is breaking apart and disappearing at a rate that “appears unstoppable.” It could disappear entirely by the end of the century, leading to ocean rises of anywhere from 1 to 4 feet – catastrophic for low-lying coastal settlements around the globe.
These two studies alone should surely give even the most ardent warming deniers pause, at least. What if all these alarms are real? What if there’s even a 5 percent chance the global warming predictors are not crazy conspirators? Shouldn’t we be prepared to protect ourselves? Does it ever occur to deniers that, well, maybe it might be worth doing just a little planning? Just in case?
Those of us of a certain age, of course, won’t be dramatically affected by coming changes. But what about our children and their children? Do we really want to leave this deteriorating world for them to repair?
Sadly, for a lot of the deniers – and the politicians too afraid to cross them – the answer is, oh, why not!
(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)