Over the last few years I’ve noticed something interesting about our ongoing climate change discussions. It used to be that logic and knowledge were the keys. We looked at the best available science, weighed the predicted costs of action versus the predicted costs of inaction, and then considered the most appropriate alternatives. Businesses use this kind of approach all the time. It’s called a “cost-benefit analysis.”
Recently, though, our climate discussions have slowed and even stalled. Not because of the science, which remains irrefutable, or because of the proposed solutions, which are generally still feasible, but because so-called climate skeptics are doing their best to muddy the water and raise doubts about the issue.
Let’s be clear. By its very nature, skepticism implies a reliance on reason, logic and empirical data. A true skeptic will say, “I’m not sure you’re right, so show me why I should believe you.” That’s not cynicism or negativity, that’s a healthy approach to most any controversial issue.
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As Congressman Willard Vandiver of Missouri said all the way back in 1899, “I come from a country that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri, and you have got to show me.”
You can’t argue with that kind of statement. It makes too much sense.
But what doesn’t make sense—not even for a second—is when climate skeptics refuse to accept the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence. That isn’t skepticism; it’s denial. And it’s the same kind of response we hear time and again from people who’ve fallen into alcoholism or drug addiction.
“No way. I don’t have a problem.”
Or in the case of the climate deniers, “No way. We don’t have a problem.”
Here’s an interesting anecdote. Not long ago a bright, well-informed “skeptic” e-mailed me an essay that disputed conventional climate science. When I responded, I told him that my opinion wasn’t set in stone and that I’d be happy to alter my views—just as soon as the scientists modified theirs. Then I asked him two simple questions: What would it take for him to change his mind? What would have to happen before he’d agree that we have a major problem on our hands?
You’d think he’d be able to offer a reasonable answer, something centered on a near-unanimous scientific consensus, or dramatic new empirical evidence, or people he trusted changing their views. Nope. Nothing. He has gone radio silent. As best as I can tell, he’s simply not open to anything except denial.
Nor are most other “skeptics.” They’re past the point where scientists can convince them or where logical arguments can persuade them. They’ve become ideologues, and whether they’re driven by religion or politics or their distrust of the science is ultimately irrelevant. They’ve hardened into intransigence and their skepticism is nothing more than a thin veneer of respectability plastered over an otherwise indefensible position.
Not that we can fault them. They rely on fossil fuels. They’re addicted to fossil fuels. Of course they’re going to deny that they —or we—have a problem. That’s what addicts do.
But we need to realize that this isn’t a normal case of addiction. There’s more than one life, or one family’s well-being, at stake. Our collective future is on the line. Our kids and our grandkids will live well, or poorly, or not at all, because of the decisions we make over the next year or two. Which means it’s our responsibility to make the best possible choices about climate and energy legislation.
Here’s what we need to know. The science is clear and unequivocal. We are dumping huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and all that carbon is warming the planet and making our oceans more acidic. Our dependence on fossil fuels has created a worldwide crisis that threatens every single aspect of our lives.
Fortunately, there’s hope on the horizon. Green energy development (such as wind and solar) has the potential to drive our economy and create millions of high-quality jobs—jobs that can’t be shipped overseas. Energy conservation can cut our carbon emissions while it saves us money on our utility bills and at the gas pumps. And if we stop sending our petro-dollars to the Mid-East, we can stop funding rogue regimes who promote international terrorism. It’s a win/ win for America. We have the ability to strengthen our economy at the same time we protect our security—but only if we pass strong climate and energy legislation.
Real skeptics figured this out a long time ago. And now they agree with the 97 percent of climate scientists who insist that climate change is a real threat. They agree with the 76 percent of Americans who are worried about global warming and want the federal government to address the problem. They agree with the 55 percent of Americans who want the USA to sign a binding global treaty that would require significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
In short, they side with the science—and with common sense.
As for the climate change deniers who are shouting down the experts and telling us not to believe our own eyes, well, they’re addicts. And we all know what that means.
Todd Tanner writes about conservation and the outdoors from his home in Montana’s Flathead Valley.