“For the rest it is not difficult to see that our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition. The spirit of man has broken with the old order of things hitherto prevailing, and with the old ways of thinking, and is in the mind to let them all sink into the depths of the past and to set about its own transformation. It is indeed never at rest, but carried along the stream of progress ever onward. But it is here as in the case of the birth of a child; after a long period of nutrition in silence, the continuity of the gradual growth in size, of quantitative change, is suddenly cut short by the first breath drawn–there is a break in the process, a qualitative change, and the child is born. In like manner the spirit of the time, growing slowly and quietly ripe for the new form it is to assume, disintegrates one fragment after another of the structure of its previous world. That it is tottering to its fall is indicated only by symptoms here and there. Frivolity and again ennui, which are spreading in the established order of things, the undefined foreboding of something unknown–all these betoken that there is something else approaching. This gradual crumbling to pieces, which did not alter the general look and aspect of the whole, is interrupted by the sunrise, which, in a flash and at a single stroke, brings to view the form and structure of the new world.” — Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
At this time when society should be dealing with the urgent problem of climate change, it just isn’t happening, except for the merest baby steps. You can’t outrun a lion with baby steps, especially when the reality is one baby step forward, two leaps back. It’s a measure of the crumbling of this globalized capitalist society. Government, like industry, has become dominated by seekers of short-term self-interest, unable to take care even of the medium-term interests of the system they serve. “Après moi le déluge!” (After me, the flood!) is the only ethos they understand. When they do speak of future generations, as in deficit scare tactics, it is only a transparent, hypocritical excuse for pushing through policies they want for other reasons.
These are the signs of a system that feels its coming end in its bones. It feels no confidence in its own future, only frivolity and ennui, as Hegel put it. But to this we must add the desperation of a cornered animal, ready to rip to shreds whoever appears to be a threat. Nor can we assume that what will replace this crumbling system will be desirable for human beings. A new barbarism or even extinction promises to be our fate unless a new confidence can prevail, confidence in the ability of masses in motion for freedom to remake society on new human beginnings. A great deal of the battle going on now is a battle to prevent people from having that confidence, to shove down our throats the idea that there is no alternative to capitalism.
Part of that battle over the minds of humanity is the effort to cultivate a false consciousness around global warming and keep science separated from the minds of the masses. The very forces that depend on science to maximize the killing power of weaponry and the exploiting power of industrial machinery, are at the same time using all the tools of propaganda and ideology to discredit scientific results that they know are sound. That fact is one sign of just how reactionary this stage of society has become.
For these reasons, I want to call attention to the true nature of those who make it their business to raise fear, uncertainty, and doubt about climate change. First, recall that the following are solid, indisputable results of science, accepted by 97% of climate scientists (I’ll get back to the small number of scientists who are termed “skeptics”):
1. Global warming is happening.
2. The observed global warming cannot be explained except as being mainly the result of human actions that have released greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Evidence is also very, very strong for this generally accepted statement:
3. Global warming is already killing people and causing other disruptions; if left unchecked, its harmful effects will accelerate, far exceeding any temporary, localized beneficial effects.
If you sincerely don’t believe that these are solidly established science, then either you haven’t studied the science, or you haven’t understood it. This is not a crime, but the mob of people screaming against these facts are a problem.
Even the rather conservative National Academy of Sciences has come to accept #1 and 2 as “settled science.”
So who are the “experts” who try to cast doubt on these realities? At the apex are a handful of scientists who are NOT climatologists but who DO get funding, directly or indirectly, from oil companies, especially ExxonMobil. One of the most prominent skeptics, Richard Lindzen, served as a witness for tobacco companies, questioning the reliability of data connecting smoking and diseases such as lung cancer. Then there are people like Bjorn Lomborg, who admit that they are not scientists but endlessly repeat the same statements after they have been debunked. (Lomborg boasts of the number of footnotes in his books, but those footnotes have been shown to be misleading, so that there is a whole book titled The Lomborg Deception.) These voices are amplified by mass media stacked with deniers, including Fox News, which has ordered its reporters to speak in a fundamentally deceptive way; and with journalists striving to be seen as “neutral” by presenting “both sides,” even if one side is science and the other is manipulation.
The systematic deceptions performed by industry’s servants have been exposed time and time again–see, for example, Chapter 2, “The Denial Industry,” in George Monbiot’s Heat; Chapters 5, “How Climate Rhetoric Trumps Climate Reality,” and 10, “Missing the Story of the Century,” in Joseph Romm’s Hell and High Water; and the early chapters of James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren. A great example of how the deniers’ claims don’t stand up to scrutiny is Monbiot’s televised debate with Ian Plimer. For a really up-to-the-minute write-up, see Climate Progress’s 2010 Climate BS of the Year Award.
There is another layer of people, however, who are not the cynical deceivers but the true believers. (I’m not talking about people who have some doubts.) I have already received a comment from one “Roger,” claiming that “anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming is a hoax” supposedly perpetrated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC, a fairly conservative international body of scientists, whose findings have consistently underestimated the harmful impact of global warming), etc. There are quite a few people who cling to fantasies of conspiracies of scientists and environmentalists trying to destroy the U.S. by taking down its economy. Sometimes these conspiracies are thought to be mysteriously working at the behest of immigrants and people of color. The fantasy of these attacks on the U.S. through its economy shows how they sense the crumbling of this system but cannot make sense of it. For someone with a capitalistic mindset, this can only fill them with terror, which explains why rational arguments and pointing to the actual facts won’t change their minds. I’ve seen a hundred of their comments on various blogs and newspaper websites, always asserting nonsense with great authority–much in the same way that when The Onion published a satirical article claiming that President Obama had sent a rambling 75,000-word email to America, Fox News posted it on their website, and dozens of Fox fans showed in their comments that they knew it was true, with one brave soul even claiming that Obama’s non-existent message had been forwarded to her by a friend. (I can’t provide a link because, after realizing it was a satire, Fox wiped it off its website, pretending it had never existed.)
That should explain sufficiently why I prefer not to spend time arguing with these people, and will not allow their falsehood-filled rants to be published in this blog’s comments. Nor am I interested in arguing about whether points 1, 2, and 3 above are true. They are true. Let us not be diverted from the urgent task of helping the new world to be born, transforming society into one that is not driven by capital’s disastrous momentum. Then we will finally have the chance to set in motion human development that does not undermine its own natural basis.