Call it a war among friends. This is an argument about climate change that is getting louder in recent days. It’s not the dreary battle between those who respect climate science and those who deny, facts be damned. No, this one is about whether it’s already too late to slow and ultimately reverse the manmade climate change juggernaut. And while this may seem like inside baseball – the debate rages in particular in chat groups among highly engaged activists – it has consequences for all of us and for the planet.
Evidence mounts daily for the futile position. For a few of the latest examples, consider this article about projections that we will burn through the world’s “carbon budget” in just 20 years. (The carbon budget is the estimated limit to total fossil fuel use before triggering climate change feedbacks that push world temperatures beyond the “safe” 2o C. rise that most experts say is already pretty much a done deal). Or maybe a look at the level of Arctic warming tells the story better. Then there are new IPCC projections of climate change cutting into food supplies, while the human population continues to expand. Then there is the debt we owe to the ocean, which has been absorbing the largest part of our emissions, and turning acidic as a result. That debt will be repaid with interest.
In my mind the most important battle is still that between climate scientists and their supporters on the one hand and denialists on the other. Why? Because the denialist crowd (I refuse to call them “skeptics,” because that implies openness to persuasion) still has the upper hand when it comes to policy. In other words, that battle is far from won, particularly in the pivotal country known as the US of A.
But the battle within the climate science activist community is vital as well. Why? If a significant share of those who trust the science say it’s too late to save this place known as Earth, this is fuel for the very profitable fires of the fossil fuel oligarchs, particularly these guys. If anyone knows how to capitalize (i.e., build lots more capital) on policy inertia that is helped by public futility, it is the Koch Brothers (whom I like to call “oiligarchs”).
Think of it this way. We are on a ship, moving at full speed. The ship seems to have sprung a leak. One crowd – the one that holds sway, at least in America – says “Don’t worry about it, we are still moving at speed, and anyway, when we reach our destination, there will be a miracle fix that will bail out all the water and fix the hull, the whole works. So just shut up now and enjoy the ride.” Another crowd acknowledges the leak, and some are fighting to persuade the captain to slow down the ship and dedicate all energy to plug that leak, which by the way is growing, slowly but steadily. But part of that latter fact-aware crowd does complex calculations to prove that the leak is growing too quickly, there is already too much water on board, and of course that distant port is too far off for that magical fix. The result – full steam ahead, pay no attention to that hull problem, if it even exists.
I say, let’s pull together and fix the damned leak. Right about now.
Prescription: Scientific Revolt
One of the things I keep promising myself I will do on my blog is post a list of my most recommended books. A pillar of that collection will be Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. Klein brilliantly documents how powerful industrialists have continued to profit from crises, and, insidiously, foment crisis where one does not already exist – in order to privatize profits and socialize losses. Klein has weighed in several times on the climate crisis, so when she spoke out recently on climate science and activism, it was worth noting.
Here is Klein’s complete article, in which she rightly calls out the godfather of scientific activism, James Hansen. She also notes the work of Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, both of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.