State of denial
How local, countrywide politicians encourage climate change
By Joan Trossman Bien 09/04/2014
“In all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.” — Carl Sagan
“… Almost everything the federal government aggressively promotes to the public is a blatant lie. … If you think this same government is telling you the truth about global warming, you probably need to have your head examined.” — Mike Adams, naturalnews.com
The level of discussion about the veracity of global warming can vary widely.
All talk, no walk
Climate change may be the most politically divisive issue today. Last May, a New Hampshire poll of 568 residents found that Democrats, Republicans and Tea Partiers are farther apart on climate change than on the contentious issues of abortion, evolution, the death penalty or gun control. Eighty-three percent of Democrats said they believe that humans are causing global climate change. At the other end of the spectrum, only 36 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans agree that humans caused the problems. And way over to the right, Tea Party supporters believe humans are causing the climate change at a rate of merely 23 percent.
A small vocal minority, led by powerful and wealthy owners of energy and fossil-fuel companies, has insisted that even if it is eventually learned that humans affect the climate, it is not a big deal, and possibly may have positive outcomes. Politicians who previously flatly denied that anything abnormal was happening with the climate now say, in unison, “I’m not a scientist.” That statement implies that only experts should discuss scientific issues. That could be a dangerous road to travel when applied to any large or complex issue over which Congress has control.
Mark Rains is an associate professor of geology at the University of South Florida, specializing in environmental water issues. Rains said the controversy over the causes and ramifications of climate change are actually not in dispute when a full 97 percent of scientists agree that it is happening right now and that it is caused by human activity.
“In fact, there is no question,” Rains said. “The physics would suggest that greenhouse gases are going to warm the planet … so there’s a theory that we’ve long understood. We have this long-term data set that says, yes, it is actually happening. So it is really hard to fathom the disconnect between hearing empirical information and modern understanding with our long-term modeling capabilities.”
Rains had some harsh words for the deniers as well as for the media for creating an evenhanded disagreement when, in fact, there is no controversy about the fact that climate change is real.
“There’s been an ‘egalitization’ of knowledge. So true expertise can be counter-balanced by somebody’s opinion,” Rains said. “It has set up the perception of false equivalency. If you dig just a little deeper you will see that one side is represented by somebody who ought to know and the other side is represented by somebody who just doesn’t.”
Two large studies on climate were recently released, one from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and one from the National Climate Center. Both found that climate change is already happening and will accelerate over the next several decades.
A large panel of scientists created the National Climate Assessment for the White House, which then released the information in May. The news was not encouraging.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” said the National Climate Assessment report. “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours.”
These drastic changes occurred even though the past century saw a small rise in temperature, a little under 2 degrees. The report warned that if things continue as they are now, climate change will escalate and it could possibly raise the temperature a full 10 degrees by the end of the century.
Another change in extreme weather, the report found, is an increase in very heavy rainfall, the downpours that turn streets into pools with white caps and basements into toxic swimming pools. In the past 50 years, the amount of rainfall that is very heavy has increased by 71 percent in the Northeast and by 37 percent in the Midwest.
NOAA released its report on the condition of climate change in 2013. The report was the product of 425 scientists from 57 countries. Its sweeping conclusions:
“There is mounting evidence that harm to the nation (U.S.) will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced.”
The report warned that changes are already happening. Several important indicators are rising, such as sea levels, greenhouse gas emissions, superstorms and temperatures around the world. The Arctic is experiencing the fastest-rising temperatures on the planet. Fairbanks, Alaska, broke a record last year with 36 days of summerlike heat, clocking in at 80 degrees or warmer. The report pointed to the extreme drought now plaguing California as the worst in state history. Australia had its hottest year on record.
California has lost more water through lack of rain and evaporation than ever before. That’s according to a new report from the UC Davis Center for Watershed Science. The UC Davis report said the drought will probably continue through next year, unabated by a possible El Niño weather pattern.
The oceans are already registering disturbing changes. The vast majority of our planet, some two-thirds, is covered by oceans. And the acidification of the oceans, according to researchers, is now increasing at the fastest rate in 300 million years.
Deny, deny, deny
“You study meteorology, you would think you would never be in this situation,” said longtime KABC-TV meteorologist Dallas Raines. “The thing that I don’t like about it is when something that is science becomes political. I think that a lot of scientists feel that way.”
Raines is more skeptical than Democrats but more analytical than Republicans. “For the people who are pushing climate change, that is the area where they are not really being honest with the public. To try to ascertain what happened 40 years ago; I think that’s a slippery slope. We do report proxy data through tree rings, oxygen in the ocean, so we have ways of kind of looking at the climate back thousands of years.”
Politicians are deep into the issue of climate change. Some of those politicians, almost exclusively Republicans, have shown their creative side when discussing climate change and science. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, has been on the front lines of the denier crowd.
“I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War,” Inhofe said at a breakfast meeting earlier this year. “Now you have people who are mentally imbalanced, with the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon. For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are.”
Inhofe resented the oversight of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people?” Inhofe asked. “Some parts of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) process resembled a Soviet-style trial, in which the facts are predetermined and ideological purity trumps technical and scientific rigor,” said Inhofe.
Another Republican, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, appeared on Fox News in 2011 and said, “There is no such thing as global warming.” Later, Santorum said, “It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.”
President Barack Obama has also weighed in, criticizing the wholesale failure of Republicans to address climate change and to do something to slow it down. Obama said that one thing that really bothers him is their claim that they are not scientists, so they can’t give an opinion.
“What that really means is, ‘I know that man-made climate change really is happening, but if I admit it I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, so I’m not going to admit it,’ ” Obama said at a speaking engagement at UC Irvine in June.
The website of the California Office of Planning and Research addressed climate change deniers. It pointed out a couple of things that deniers have in common.
“Many have little or no expertise in climate science. . . Many receive funding for their efforts from industries with a financial interest in ignoring climate change. . . Companies that make their profits from burning fossil fuels have funded denier organizations and scientists, just as tobacco companies funded people who claimed that second-hand smoke was safe.”
Deniers and their deep need to explain
Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller appeared on MSNBC in June and, after displaying some disbelief in the whole idea of climate change, was asked if climate change is being caused by humans. Miller answered the question, “Then why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Were there men that were causing — were there cars running around at that point, that were causing global warming?”
Then there is the state government of Kentucky. Republican state Sen. Brandon Smith, who owns Mohawk Energy, a coal company, has an equally creative theory about climate change.
“I won’t get into the debate about climate change,” Smith said, “but I’ll simply point out that I think, in academia, we all agree that the temperature of Mars is exactly the same as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”
(average temp on Earth: 61 degrees Fahrenheit; average temp on Mars: -80 degrees Fahrenheit, according to space.com)
Fellow Kentuckian Kevin Sinnette, though a Democrat, said, “The dinosaurs died and we don’t know why but the world adjusted. And to say that this is what is going to cause detriment to people, I just don’t think it’s out there.”
Sen. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, avoided the actual topic, saying, “Climate change occurs no matter what. The question is, can and should the federal government do something about it? And I would argue the federal government, with all its tax and regulatory schemes, can’t. I don’t see a solution here. I see an excuse to grow government, raise taxes and slow down economic growth.”
California State Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, R-Huntington Beach, in August 2013, said, “Just so you’ll know, global warming is a total fraud and it’s being designed because what you’ve got is, you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level, want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives.”
Inhofe has received a total of $1,352,523 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. Koch Industries donated $90,950 to Inhofe. “God’s still up there,” Inhofe said. “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is outrageous.”
Heartland Institute, created and funded by the Koch brothers, is headed by Paul Bast. Speaking at the institute’s annual convention in Las Vegas, he said that not everything about climate change is bad.
“Skeptics believe what they see. They look at the data and see no warming for 17 years, no increase in storms, no increase in the rate of sea-level rise, no new extinctions attributable to climate change — in short, no climate crisis.”
Taking this line of reasoning further, the communications director for Heartland Institute said, “The net benefits of warming are going to far outweigh any negative effects.”
CNN anchor Bill Weir let fly a spicy tweet: “Weather is not climate, you willfully ignorant fucksticks.” Shortly after this tweet, Weir apologized for his language.
Who are the deniers?
Herbert Gooch is a political science professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and he said this subject brings out the extremists.
“There are always people who think there’s some kind of conspiracy,” Gooch said. “With climate change, they think government is bad, ergo, boom. It is some sort of conspiracy. There are all kinds of deniers. The ones that I think are the most reprehensible are the ones that have a financial interest, despite what science says.”
Herb Gooch, political science professor at California Lutheran University, said the most reprehensible climate change deniers are the ones that have a financial interest, despite what science says.
That describes the biggest, baddest and, by far, the wealthiest players in the climate change controversy, Charles Koch and his brother David Koch. Together, they have the second-largest privately owned company in the country, Koch Industries, an oil and fossil fuel operation. Their business interests have been so profitable that the combined personal wealth of the two brothers is now about $100 billion. That’s double what it was a few years ago.
“The Kochs’ money comes from fossil fuel and oil so it is a self-interested argument overlapping with a kind of libertarian orthodoxy which makes you just shake your head,” Gooch said. “It’s a kind of libertarian argument that any advancement of the government is simultaneously retrenchment for individual liberty. Everything has to be seen as a zero-sum game, which, of course, is kind of silly.”
The Kochs and Koch Industries certainly have skin in the game and the brothers are not shy about spreading their extreme wealth around in order to persuade others. From 2007 to 2011, the Kochs donated $41.2 million to 90 tax-exempt groups that mirror the Koch philosophy.
But Koch Industries is a major polluter, creating the exact type of pollution most responsible for climate change. According to the EPA in 2011, Koch Industries, through its oil refineries in just three states, emitted more than 24 million tons of carbon dioxide. That is equal to the amount emitted by 5 million cars.
The intense involvement of the Kochs in the climate change discussion began in 2007 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Environmental Protection Agency does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as pollution. In response, the Kochs used their largest nonprofit political group, Americans for Prosperity, to compose a pledge in 2008. So far, 411 current office holders in various levels of government have signed the pledge with the Kochs.
The pledge: “I, _____________, pledge to the taxpayers of the State of ___________ and the American people that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”
Looking at the influence wielded by the Koch brothers, Executive Editor Charles Lewis headed a study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Lewis concluded, “There is no other corporation in the U.S. today, in my view, that is as unabashedly, bare-knuckle aggressive across the board about its own self-interest, in the political process, in the nonprofit-policy-advocacy realm, even increasingly in academia and the broader public marketplace of ideas.”
Parents of high school students across the country are understandably upset about the way climate change is being taught by some teachers. Instead of teaching unadorned scientific facts about climate and weather, the teachers are framing climate change as a legitimate debate, with two equally credible arguments. A group of parents formed Climate Parents, which advocates pure science being taught and climate change that is presented as fact.
Global climate change was addressed by former State Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, in a round-table discussion at University of Southern California. “When I was a kid it was global cooling — I got a little older and it’s called global warming, and now it’s called climate change. … The problem with that is, scientists will be on both sides. There are a lot of scientists that believe it’s a hoax.” An interview request with Strickland went unanswered.
Mike Adams created and runs the website NaturalNews.com. On the surface, the site is packed with articles (almost all written by Adams). Upon reading some of the statements that are loosely connected to the topic of the article, it is clear that Adams is a denier. It appears that Adams has never met a conspiracy he didn’t like. His disdain for Obama and other big-city experts is very clear.
“I’ve learned over the years that almost everything the federal government aggressively promotes to the public is a blatant lie,” he said. “These people are experts at lying with bad science, hiding their deceptions behind the cover of ‘scientific thinking’ and making outlandish claims such as saying that anyone who doesn’t believe their fabricated data must also believe the earth is flat.”
Adams did not respond to an interview request.
Even some Republicans say the deniers have it all wrong. Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, is a breed of politician that is nearly extinct: He is a moderate Republican. In an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, Huntsman wrote: “So obtuse has become the party’s dialogue on climate change that it’s now been reduced to believing or not believing, as if it were a religious mantra.”
In Florida, former Republican/current Democrat Charlie Crist served as governor while still a Republican. He is now running for governor again, this time as a Democrat, against Republican current Gov. Rick Scott. Crist commented on the odd “I’m not a scientist” response to climate change.
Crist said, “I’m not a scientist either but I can use my brain and I can talk to one (a scientist).”
Costs of climate change:
Damned if we do, damned if we don’t
by Joan Trossman Bien
The biggest problem we are facing with climate change, according to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, is our insistence on framing the issue as either we pursue environmental protection or economic prosperity.
“From an economic perspective, that’s precisely the wrong way to look at it,” Rubin wrote in the Washington Post this past summer. “The real question should be: What is the cost of inaction?”
• 40 percent
The additional amount we will have to pay if we wait a decade instead of acting now.
• 48 percent-68 percent
Value of current property in Louisiana and Florida that is at risk of flooding because portions of those states are below sea level.
• $193 billion
Cost of damage and economic losses from Superstorms Katrina and Sandy.
• $122 billion
Cost of aid packages from Congress following both storms.
• 7 percent
Amount costs will rise if nuclear power is eliminated.
• 6 percent
Amount costs will rise if wind farms and solar farms are limited.
• 2 percent
Lost global income if the temperature rises more than above 2.5 degrees.
Additional heat-related deaths if temperature rises by 2 percent
“What we already know is frightening, but what we don’t know is more frightening still,” Rubin said. “We face a choice between protecting our economy by protecting our environment — or allowing environmental havoc to create economic havoc.”