Climate Hawks: Deniers of Another Kind?

In Chongqing, China, in 2011, they were saying “If we don’t do something about this real soon, it’s going to get real bad. They didn’t. It did. And on it goes. (Photo by Leo Fung/Flickr)

In Chongqing, China, in 2011, they were saying “If we don’t do something about this real soon, it’s going to get real bad. They didn’t. It did. And on it goes. (Photo by Leo Fung/Flickr)

The best thinkers and writers about the rampant destruction of natural systems that is the hallmark of our times profess, almost unanimously, that mankind faces catastrophe unless something is done, something effective, right away. Political action is a necessity, they say, nationally and internationally. We must find the will to act. A respected, frequent commenter on this site suggested the other day that to do anything else is a distraction from the vital effort to transform politics. But is that “unless,” that ever-present qualification — the notion that something might be done, tomorrow or maybe the day after, to save us from the worst consequences of our actions — itself a form of denialism?

I think so, and I submit into evidence three headlines from this week’s news. The first, about the UN organization that is working for consensus on mitigating climate change: “Hopes for Strong 2015 Climate Deal Fade, as Risks Grow.” The second, about what is happening in the world while the UN dithers: “Greenhouse Gas Volumes Reached New High in 2012.” And lastly, a demonstration of why the world works as it does: “Environmental Defense Fund Sells Green Cred to WalMart for Low, Low Price of $66 Million.”

“Hopes for Strong 2015 Climate Deal Fade, as Risks Grow.”

Why would anyone have hoped that there would be a “strong” climate deal in 2015? The only climate deal ever reached internationally was at Kyoto in 1997; it was a deal that barely scraped the surface of the problem at best. And in fact (or at worst) it was never ratified by the US and it never applied to China, and while some of the signatories made token reductions in emissions,they were primarily due to recessions.

For nearly 20 years, frequent UN “summits” have been convened to give the Kyoto Protocol some teeth or to replace it (it has now expired). Instead, each meeting emulated the US Congress and concluded by vowing to do something really serious and effective about the problem at some time in the future. It’s about to happen again, in Warsaw next week. Delegates are going to be working on some really serious measures that will begin to take effect in, oh, 2020, that’s of course if they actually sign it, which is not actually scheduled until 2014. [See: “Why United Nations Climate Change Conferences Will Always Fail.”]

Hope fades? Doh.

“Greenhouse Gas Volumes Reached New High in 2012.”

Meanwhile, back at the world, emissions of greenhouse gases reached a new record high in 2012, breaking the record set way back in 2011, which broke the record set in 2010. Back at one of those summit meetings, in Copenhagen in 2009, the serious people agreed that action must be taken (at some future time, of course) to prevent a rise of global average temperature of more than two degrees Celsius. That action has not yet been taken, and we’re on track to hit the two-degree mark at mid-century.

According to the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud, “Even if we were able to stop [increasing emissions] today – we know it’s not possible – the ocean would continue to warm and to expand and the sea level would continue to rise for hundreds of years.”

“Environmental Defense Fund Sells Green Cred to WalMart for Low, Low Price of $66 Million.”

In 2005, a troubled WalMart decided to greenwash itself and began bombarding the world with announcement of its plans to become “sustainable,” to use renewable energy (See? We’re putting several solar panels on the roof of this store! Several!), to sell green products and healthier foods. As a PR campaign, it worked beautifully, restoring WalMart’s tarnished image in precisely the markets and demographics where restoration was most needed.

No surprise, really, that mainstream media took the news releases, and covered the PR events (Look! Several solar panels!) without ever inquiring into the realities. (Grist did, in 2011, with eye-opening results.) Nearly ten years later, for example, WalMart gets a whopping two per cent of its energy from its several solar panels and windmills.

More surprising is the fact that the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the premier environmental groups in the country, has become a raucous cheerleader for WalMart’s greenwash. Here’s just one news release, put out by EDF in September:

“Walmart announced a new chemicals policy today that promises to bring safer, healthier products to the 80 percent of Americans that shop there… EDF commends this aggressive new policy.”

Now, Grist has revealed that the Walton family, who owns WalMart, have contributed $66 million to the EDF.

So here we are in the real world, where summits and congresses kick all the cans down every available road; where the people who are killing the natural world are ramping up their activities as fast as they can; and where the money they make, rules. And we are supposed to think that there will be a catastrophe unless all this gets fixed, tomorrow?

Don’t deny it. There’s going to be a catastrophe.

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13 Responses to Climate Hawks: Deniers of Another Kind?

  1. SomeoneInAsia says:

    Easy to do are things that harm oneself, but very hard to do are things that benefit oneself. (Buddha, Dhammapada 163)

    Things like renouncing our collective greed so there won’t be a catastrophe, for example…

  2. Its all about thermodynamic reality. Politics is merely the attempt by humans to adjust to the reality of a changing climate.

    Till now, our civilization had won great technological conquests – over oceans, weather, hunger and disease – now we have hit the greatest wall: basic sustainability for our species – this one requires universal species understanding.

    Science evenually trumps politics every time, so true political victories must have great understanding of human interaction with environment.

    This survival problem requires a total unified effort, so anything less than survival success means – our population will be persistently reduced to a level where a total commitment is possible.

    The lessons of harsh and ruthless reality. Everything is a lesson, and lessons not learned will be repeated until learned or not. .

  3. Gail Zawacki says:

    Hi Tom, I went back a couple of posts to find the comment that provoked this essay, and while admitting I am not an expert by any means, I question your statement to Lewis: “I view what’s coming not as an extinction event, but an evolutionary one. No extinction has ever been complete — we still have dinosaurs running around, we just call them chickens. Evolution operates when conditions change drastically, destroying the organisms that were once normal, and giving the advantage to the outliers.” Do you really mean – no extinction has ever been complete…we call dinosaurs chickens? Surely that can’t be tree? Evolutionary biologists do say that many species have gone extinct, not simply evolved to be another species…I think! Also as to the resilience of the earth being underestimated, it is my impression it is almost always overestimated, and here’s why. What we are doing is totally unprecedented in all the history of life on earth. Never has the climate changed this fast, never has the ocean acidifed so fast, and certainly never have so many toxins – chemical, radiation, heavy metals and sewage – contaminated the biosphere. If we don’t stomp out all life on earth, never mind just humans, it WILL be a miracle. (in my opinion)

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Sometimes I overstate. And sometimes I get stuff dead wrong, but while I’m ready to plead guilty to the former — I should have said that extinctions are frequently incomplete — I’m not going down for the latter, at least not yet. Another thing unprecedented about this situation is that the threatened species — us — has the ability to understand what’s coming, to plan for it and to maximize chances of survival. The dinosaurs did not have that going for them. It seems there are only two things to hope for: united, concerted, global action to mitigate all the evils of industrial pollution; or that individual action can be effective in escaping the worst consequences until the natural world rights itself. I choose door number tree. I mean two.

      • Tom,

        IMO humanity is lost, and so are all so-called “higher” life forms. The overshoot is too high and the systems/people inertia too big to scale down to sustainable numbers and per capita consumption (500 million people at pre-1712 life styles?) in an ordered way and quickly enough.

        On the post-exuberance, increasing-scarcities downslope, the chaos and wars will lead to the destruction and depletion of all that’s left.

        In the end the unsupervised nuclear plants, bombs and waste sites will start leaking and irreversibly radioactively contaminate the planet.

        Which living being would be able to survive?

      • Gail says:

        True SOME of us have the ability to understand however that proportion seems to be so vanishingly small that I think we may be genetic mutants…as the ability to understand is dwarfed in most people by magical thinking, delusion, and hope. Still, I see the attraction of Door Number Tree.

        • Tom Lewis says:

          Mutants. Exactly! Like those weird-looking, long-necked giraffes that no one would take to the prom until the normal ones all ran out of leaves.

  4. Gail Zawacki says:

    *true*, not *tree*, haha! Freud strikes again!

  5. The notion that we’re going to solve our climate crisis while ignoring the cause (civilization itself) is patently absurd. The answer is no.

    The real denialism is the hopium that continues to be published by the majority of climate scientist themselves. There is no time left, dozens of critical tipping points have been reached and are totally irreversible.

    Frankly, we never stood a chance, not when the very fabric of civilization monetized endless environmental destruction for obscene profit. Change is simply never going to happen on this side of eternity.

    Denialism is not admitting to the whole, entire, unvarnished truth, summarized by this glaring fact: It’s too late now to save humanity or anything else. Nothing can survive the 6C of irreversible warming we’ve started.

    This is now well documented, all else is simply one degree of hopium or another.

  6. Northwest Resident says:

    I agree with what Richard Pauli states: “…our population will be persistently reduced to a level where a total commitment is possible.”

    We are locked into a death spiral and their is no way to escape it, from my point of view. Ultimately, and not too far into the future, what’s left of humanity will be reduced to pockets of self-sustaining groups located in geographical areas of the world where polution and radiation are absent or limited.

    Those small groups of people, having survived the horrors of apocalypse, MIGHT by virtue of what they’ve been through together be able to collectively come together and agree on a sustainable future path for humanity.

    But for now, as long as we have mega-oil companies and billionaire brothers and so many others that are fully invested in BAU, and who are experts at buying off the “leaders” that we trust to get things done for us, there is only one outcome: massive die off.

    I’m an optimist. But I don’t see any other realist outcome.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I agree with you entirely. Now, those of us mutants who grasp that truth must invest everything in that MIGHT.

  7. Nicholas Arguimbau says:

    This article is one of a genre. The message is, “The governments are corrupt. The NGOs are corrupt. We cannot reform the corruption. Ah, woe is us! Catastrophe is inevitable.” But what of us, the 7 billion who are not governments and are not NGOs? Indeed. Forget the 7 billion, and catastrophe is inevitable, because in all probability it is too late to end the corruption. But if the 7 billion are told or tell themselves, what they can do to avoid misery for their descendants for untold generations, will they necessarily ignore the possibility? No one knows, because no one has tried. We have been too cowardly.

    The governments and the NGOs have at worst avoided all action and at best settled for decades on a two-prong strategy for mitigating global warming. The two prongs are “efficiency measures” and “alternative energy sources.” If they are asked, “What efficiency measures and what alternative energy sources?” it becomes immediately clear that all the efficiency measures and alternative energy sources in the world will add up to too little, too late unless we venture imto a great unkknown of technological advances that may never occur, may be too costly to implement, may be too costly even to develop, and may come too late. And at best, the known efficiency measures and alternative energy sources require trillions in capital expenditures – trillions that aren’t there. And there is no guarantee that efficiency and alternatives will offer one ounce of emission reductions. Why? Because they will supplement rather than supplant fossil energy use. That is called, loosely, the “Jevons Principle,” and it has been understood for over a century.

    Why do they offer a strategy doomed to failure? Because they will not deviate from the concept of “sustainable growth.” the vision of a population that grows forever and a GDP that grows forever. A vision good for the one percent and bad for the rest of us if it could happen, but it can’t; “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron, the dream of a deluded few that their lives of luxury can only get better, now and forever.

    The missing prong in their strategy is reduction of consumption – “conservation.” The way to reduce emissions is to reduce emissions. It’s that simple. The major “conservationist” organizations do not advocate conservation. They never have. With conservation there are no major capital investments required, no new technologies, no delays, just savings. But conservation, reduction of consumption implies a dropping GDP, some sacrifices going along with savings. Will the seven billion accept that when it becomes clear that the alternative to conservation now is unntold generations of misery in the future? Are the seven billion determined to live soon-to-be-aborted lives of unnecessary self-indulgence to assure that generation after generation will correctly attribute their eternal misery (if indeed they survive at all) to our transient greed? We cannot truthfully answer those questions, because the seven billion have never been asked. The unmitigated greed of the seven billion has been presumed by the corrupt governments and corrupt NGOs.

    It is time to question their judgment. Tomorrow will be to late.

    Nicholas C. Arguimbau