The cover of a recent issue of Scientific American reads, “How We Conquered the Planet, Our Species Wielded the Ultimate Weapon: Cooperation.” When I read that, I nearly choked on my kale smoothie. Humans once cooperated?
The article explained that 70,000 years ago many different human species inhabited the earth, but after that Homo sapiens eventually drove other archaic human species, like Neanderthals, into extinction, ultimately colonizing the entire planet. Homo sapiens flourished over other human species because of our unique grasp of scientific cause and effect, and a likely unique genetic propensity for “cooperation with unrelated individuals,” i.e. people outside our family or sphere.
As the site of the latest terrorist tragedy, Paris is now struggling to prepare for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference. Serious cooperation among the members of our species seems almost unfathomably out of reach, especially on the climate crisis.
Having Congress run by climate supervillains perpetuates citizen apathy, confusion and cynicism.
On the home front, as a prelude to the conference, President Obama vowed to “protect the one planet we’ve got while we still can” and rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. You can say he is at least tapping on the brakes before we hurtle over the climate cliff. On the other hand, Republicans in Congress seem determined to stomp on the accelerator, driving our entire species ever closer to the brink of extinction with their dogmatic dismissal of science and primitive unwillingness to cooperate “with unrelated individuals.”
The US Republican Party is the only elected, conservative political party in the world to deny or dismiss climate science. In fact, as Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and company mount an avowed campaign to actively sabotage the Paris climate negotiations, the UK’s Guardian newspaper says they have become real-life “climate supervillains.”
In my home state of Utah, after Obama killed the pipeline, all six members of Congress released official comments, ranging from contempt to outrage that the president would dare try to avert apocalyptic global warming. Rep. Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) response was typical. Wrapping himself in a thick cocoon of anti-science, Bishop snarled that Obama nailed “his legacy as the most anti-energy extremist president the nation has ever had. This is one of the most radical and dangerous moves that the president could make.”
Since its inception, the competitive strength of our nation has been our advancement of science, and that our public policy generally follows in the same direction as that science. But now, Republicans are marching en masse in the opposite direction, back to the Stone Age, and the heyday of the Neanderthals. Every Republican presidential candidate since 2008 – save Lindsey Graham and perhaps Jon Huntsman – has been either a “climate denier” or “climate hoaxer.” In all the 2015 Republican presidential debates to this point, the climate crisis has been addressed for all of four minutes.
We cannot afford to let the self-interest of the climate deniers among us, or the climate villains in power, write our last chapter.
Whether climate disaster is real and/or imminent is a debate only for climate scientists. Among them, that debate is long since over. Human-caused global warming threatening the survival of our species is the most thoroughly studied, most widely accepted and most important scientific conclusion of modern times. The often-quoted statistic that over 97 percent of climate scientists agree is actually an understatement. From a recent review of more than 24,000 peer-reviewed papers on global warming published in 2013 and 2014, only five rejected rising temperatures or the fact that human emissions are the cause. Furthermore, of the 70,000 working climate scientists worldwide, only four authors still challenge the evidence for human-caused global warming. Those four are considered scientific charlatans. So the real figure should be 99.999 percent.
Every serious international scientific, business, nonprofit and military organization in the world has signed on to human-caused global warming, from the World Bank, to the US Defense Department, to the American Medical Association – that is, every serious organization in the world not connected to Fox News. The only thing left to debate on climate change is the ethical and political considerations of what will be necessary to avoid disaster.
Having Congress run by climate supervillains perpetuates citizen apathy, confusion and cynicism. Perhaps equally to blame are their complicit sidekicks, the shrinking, so-called “nonpartisan” media that still cling to a model where controversy – not facts, science or the truth – rules the day.
For years, the media covered the most important, and the most one-sided issue in the history of humankind as just another “he said, she said.” They played perfect fiddle for Exxon Mobil and other climate deniers by nearly always quoting and interviewing fringe scientists, like Richard Lindzen, as equal, counter voices to the entire legitimate scientific community.
Substantive media coverage of the climate crisis disappeared entirely for nearly three years while the media fell face first for the trumped up, so-called “Climategate” farce in 2009. Recall that servers were illegally hacked, and a few cherry-picked emails between climate scientists were published on the internet, igniting the frenzied claim by Fox News puppeteers that they had found the smoking gun proving global warming was a conspiracy. Multiple investigations exonerated the scientists, but the media had done their usual bang-up job – fomenting controversy, while ignoring the real substance and truth of the issue.
Recently, the venerable Associated Press publicly announced a policy change of abandoning the terms “climate skeptics” and “deniers” in favor of either “climate doubters” or “those who reject mainstream climate science.” All of these terms convey undeserved legitimacy. If someone pushes another person off a cliff claiming they are a “gravity doubter,” they are handed a life sentence, not legitimacy. But someone in a position of enormous power, with an aberrant position on the climate that jeopardizes the lives of billions of people, is still granted a perverse legitimacy by the media. In most advanced countries, people who are thoroughly detached from scientific reality are mocked and dismissed. In the United States, they are given a megaphone by the media and elected to Congress.
In The Associated Press story on Obama killing the Keystone XL pipeline published in the Salt Lake Tribune (Utah’s largest newspaper), the only person quoted besides the president was the CEO of TransCanada. The only Utahns quoted in the expanded print version were Utah’s aforementioned climate deniers in Congress – all six of them. The Tribune is reasonably progressive and certainly not a platform for conservative ideologues. But no environmental groups, public health advocates, climate scientists, academic physicists, biologists or even people off the street who believe in science were solicited for comment.
As I write this, the eyes of the world are riveted on Paris and the ISIS terrorists, whose villainous self-interest has left hundreds of dead and wounded. There is international chatter about the need for all civilized nations to cooperate to defeat ISIS.
Meanwhile, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached record highs for the 30th year in a row. The climate crisis is really just violence played out over time and on a much larger scale. If this is allowed to continue, the number of human victims will eventually be infinitely greater than all the victims of bloody, terrorist villains since the dawn of civilization.
Now more than ever, billions of people must put self-interest aside, for our eventual survival will depend once again on our embrace of science, on our knowing the truth and on our willingness to cooperate. We cannot afford to let the self-interest of the climate deniers among us, or the climate villains in power, write our last chapter.