One of my earliest interests in political activism was environmental issues. For over two decades I've listened as everyone from my dad to presidential candidates insist that global climate change is a hoax. "There is no such thing," they say, "and even if there is, it has nothing to do with human beings."
I’m likely going to be criticized for “politicizing” this storm and its aftermath. Let me say at the outset that I think such criticism is ridiculous and empty – we’ve politicized the environment for the last fifty years, and nobody has a problem with that when it’s giant oil companies feeding lies to complicit media outlets, lies that have helped to create this disaster and others. Suddenly when the chickens come home to roost, it’s all about ‘omg don’t politicize?’ Sorry, but that dog don’t hunt here. If you can’t be bothered to find your righteous indignation at the deaths of thousands of people and costs in the trillions of dollars as a direct result of a series of self-serving lies perpetrated on the public by a relatively small but very powerful group of profit interests, please don’t waste my time telling me how terrible it is to “polticize” a natural disaster; your complaints simply have no merit in light of your acquiescence to the lies for the sake of your own comfort and ego.
The Lies – “Skepticism”
Major corporations that contribute the most through their business to global climate change have fought against the notion that human activity is a contributing factor for decades. Particularly the oil and coal industries, but also manufacturing industries which create air pollution. The auto industry was part of this for a long while, but they seem to have gotten it together since the rise of Japanese auto makers with their fuel-efficient vehicles in the early 1980’s forced major changes in the way US auto manufacturers think about fuel efficiency, which led to serious reconsideration of other environmental impact issues. As a result, there has been more successful regulation of the auto industry than of many other polluting industries over the last three decades.
These companies and the wealthy individuals who own them have driven the narrative of anti-intellectualism and so-called “skepticism,” which is really the profoundly ignorant rejection of proven science by appealing to ego and logical fallacy, since environmental issues first started becoming prominent in the mid-20th century.
The stories of major cities like New York and Washington being under water are treated as just hype, driven by some never-quite-clearly-defined profit interest in getting people to push away from fossil fuels and all the other things we do that are tearing this planet apart.
Of course, in the last few years we have seen major cities go underwater, the latest as of this writing being several on the east coast in the path of Hurricane Sandy, including huge swaths of the New York metro area.
In reality, climate change and the human-caused factors that create it or dramatically exacerbate natural climate cycles are beyond any reasonable question. You can even see this in the defensive strategy employed by these big corporations – it wasn’t too long ago that climate change itself was treated with derision and scorn as something that simply was not happening. Now, there are very few people or groups willing to go that far, and instead we’re stuck on carping over whether human activity is a factor.
Here at LowGenius Networks, we’re currently working on a video project that will explore the evidence regarding the human impact on climate in greater detail, but for now suffice it to say that any lucid survey of current scientific knowledge show an irrefutable reality: the millions of tons of garbage we’ve dumped into the atmosphere over the last century and a half have had a profound effect on our climate, contributing to the rise of “superstorms” like Sandy, the melting of the polar ice caps, heat waves and drought on an unprecedented scale, and much, much more.
The lies – “too expensive”
Common-sense environmental regulation has been repeatedly disparaged and rejected by right-wing politicians as a “threat” to business.
Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) voted yes on a bill barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses, calling that regulation “the biggest regulatory threat to the American economy,” “imposed not by Congress, but entirely by the Obama EPA.”
Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said the consequences of a bill to enforce limits on CO2 pollution would be “devastating for the future of the economy of this country.”
Congressman John Fleming (R-LA) signed H.R. 391, which gutted the Clean Air Act, declaring that “nothing in the Act shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming.” He also signed the “No Climate Tax Pledge” – “I pledge to the taxpayers of my state, and to the American people, that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”
Of course many reports have resurrected current Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s remarks made during one of last year’s GOP debates, saying specifically of disaster relief: “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up…debts and pass them on to our kids.” Even as recently as the 2012 GOP convention, Romney treated the issues of global climate change and rising sea levels with derision and scorn, ironically just before a photo-op visit to New Orleans to survey damage from Hurricane Issac.
This “too expensive” narrative is again driven by the interests of major corporations who want to avoid environmental regulations and delay a major shift away from fossil fuels for as long as possible, because it’s easier for them to continue making a profit from doing what they’ve been doing, than to find a better way of doing it.
What makes this so sickening is that the costs of not getting our act together are far higher than the costs of doing so…but those costs are borne by average Americans and government on the federal, state, and local levels rather than by corporations. Corporations profit from disaster – making Mitt Romney’s suggestion that disaster relief should be privatized even more disgusting, macabre, and ghoulish. A hundred homes burn down, someone’s got to pay to rebuild them…and that means someone’s getting paid. All those first-responders and utility workers moving in to the affected area right now? Every one of them is driving heavy vehicles that eat gasoline like candy. Consider these costs:
- Hurricane Sandy: $15Bn-$40Bn+ (estimated, could be substantially higher)
- Hurricane Ivan (2004): $15.4Bn
- Hurricane Charley (2004) 16.5Bn
- Hurricane Wilma (2005) 17.1Bn
- Hurricane Rita (2005) 17.1Bn
- Hurricane Ike (2008) 27Bn
- Mississippi River Flood (1993) 30.2Bn
- Hurricane Andrew (1992) 40Bn
- Drought/Heat Wave (1980) 55.4Bn
- Drought/Heat Wave (1988) 71.2Bn
- Hurricane Katrina (2005) 133.8Bn
- Joplin, MO Tornado (2011) 2.8 Bn
- Drought (2012) 12Bn
- Hurricane Fran (1996) 7.2Bn
- Hurricane Hugo (1989) 12.2Bn
And these are just a few numbers, a far cry from the total. Just the list above adds up to half a trillion dollars…and many of those numbers haven’t been adjusted or normalized for inflation.
The vast majority of those costs are paid for by the federal government. This is not, in spite of the rabid rhetoric of the right, a bad thing – if the federal government didn’t pay these costs, nobody would or could. Does the state of North Caroloina have 10, 20 billion dollars sitting around waiting for a disaster? Does the state of Florida have 40 billion in surplus just sitting around? Does Louisiana have $100bn+ stuffed under the mattress “just in case?” Of course not.
This is to say nothing of the thousands of lives lost overall, the incalculable loss of precious heirlooms, property, pets, loved ones, life. How do you put a price on a family photo album, or the collection of your son’s military medals that have sat on display in his bedroom since the day he died serving his country, or the life of a child swept away by flood waters? How do you put a price on the impact felt by the thousands of people who left New Orleans after Katrina, because they had no homes to which they could return? The entire course of those lives changed, permanently; calculating that cost is impossible.
But calculating the cost to oil companies of a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels is easy.
The Lies – How They Work
So the oil companies and the other companies who profit from pollution and poor environmental stewardship spend huge amounts of money to convince us, the general public, that there’s no need to make that shift. It’s all a hoax, they cry, keep driving those big trucks, keep buying that gasoline, don’t you dare regulate our smokestacks or we’ll increase the price of your shiny things.
Make no mistake, these companies spend billions of dollars and consult with platoons of professional psychologists, sociologists, communicators, advertising agencies, and others who have both the knowledge to keep us compliant, and the requisite lack of ethics to do so as long as the price is right.
They do this by playing on everything from the human desire for comfort and stability to the myth of “rugged individualism,” “limited government,” our egos, and a whole spectrum of other manipulative tools. “The scientists are lying,” they say, “just trying to make a buck. Don’t you fall for it!” And we go “hell yeah, I’m not gonna fall for that trick,” most of us never realizing that the real trick is in convincing us that the lie is coming from science rather than from industry.
The Accomplices – Media and Government
It is a sad fact that prominent figures in both media and government have bought in to these lies – or perhaps more to the point, been bought out by the liars – and have contributed to the propagation of this misinformation at enormous cost to the long-term sustainability of the planet and the human race. There can be no question that the elected leaders and candidates I’ve already mentioned, and scores of others, take millions of dollars from oil and gas companies and other destructive industries to keep environmental regulation at a minimum. Some of them, such as Rep. Fleming, appear to be so doggedly ignorant or so callously self-interested that they either believe the stupidity they spout, or they just don’t care what the truth is so long as they’re getting paid to say what they’re told to say.
Then there is the problem of the media. On the one hand, you have the right-wing media whose mendacity and malfeasance in the interests of short-term profit and coddling advertisers is well-documented. But you also have centrist and left-wing media who have been hoodwinked into presenting the fraudulent “skeptics” and paid-off “scientists” and their points of view out of fear of being called “biased” or “unfair” or, horror of horrors, “liberal.” They are just as much to blame as their overtly complicit colleagues over at Fox News and right-wing radio, for not having the spine to stand up and report the truth as it is, caving in to cheap bullying tactics and manipulative rhetoric that threatens to discredit them if they don’t comply…and in their accession to those threats, as is always the case, they give more power to the bullies and dig themselves an ever-deeper hole from which digging out is increasingly impossible.
There are a wide variety of tactics that can help to push back against these lies and manipulations. One of the key factors is getting the money out of both politics and journalism; as long as those vital institutions are at the whim of the almighty dollar, they can never be fully trusted.
Another is to stop being lazy and uncritical of ourselves as individuals; we must face the reality that we’ve been lulled into a serious of catastrophically bad decisions by our own shallow desires for comfort, maintenance of the status quo, feelings of superior knowledge especially when we can feel superior to the fancy-shmancy scientists and all their confusing gobbledy-gook.
Our worst enemy in this fight, as in any fight, is the fear of admitting we don’t know everything, and other people may know more than we do. What was once healthy skepticism – and skepticism is, fundamentally, a healthy thing – has been warped into a deranged anti-intellectualism that categorically refuses to accept expertise, but will cheerfully believe any stupid, unsourced e-mail about HAARP or “chemtrails” that comes at us, just because it makes us feel like we’re “in the know” and softens the blow to our ego that we feel in the presence of science we don’t really understand.
Our natural human desire for independence has been twisted by rhetorical manipulation into a mindless rejection of the simple reality that in a healthy democracy the government is “the people,” and its goals are the people’s best interests both long and short-term. Rather than “what can we do for our country,” we say “to hell with our country, what can we do for ourselves?” Buying in to fallacious and extreme “small government” rhetoric, we hand the keys to our future over to profit interests…and profit interests are inherently opposed to the interests of democracy. That is why we need good government, to balance those interests and ensure that we have both economic security and individual liberty unfettered by a need to serve as slaves to industry just for the bare hope of surviving life until we die.
More than anything else, we need common-sense education and critical thinking skills, something that hat not only been on a terrifying decline over the last several decades, but towards which even elected education officials have openly expressed hostility. This is insane, and it absolutely must be stopped. Nobody is perfect, nobody knows everything. Your humble writer here is a pretty sharp guy, but I’ll never be a doctor or chemical engineer or astrophysicist or even a decent auto mechanic – my brain just isn’t strong that way. That doesn’t make me stupid, it makes me a human being with human limitations. The basics of critical thinking are not beyond even those of us who are affected by many different learning and cognitive disorders; even an average child understands the wisdom of knowing we’re all in this together and helping each other is helping ourselves.
Maybe when we can all manage to attain at least the wisdom of the average child, we’ll start getting this mess straightened out.