Bridging the political divide

Ignoring it won’t make it go away, whatever you call it

Climate change is a hot topic replete with heated rhetoric and smoking guns.

On the one hand, there is consensus among the scientific community that our planet’s atmosphere is warming up. Is this just another “Chicken Little” scare? These are the experts who are supposed to be qualified to understand the data and its meaning. They are warning us that a climate crisis looms large and that that its causes include human factors, especially the burning of fossil fuels. A hundred years of industry, transportation, population growth, waste and war, all fueled by the burning of fossil fuels appears to be taking it’s toll on our planet.

The most significant factor is that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher now than it has ever been since before we humans built our first fires. This is concerning because increased CO2 levels will contribute to warming our planet’s atmosphere, potentially enough to change living conditions drastically; and because the processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere are generally slow. This isn’t a question of how cleanly we burn carbon fuels; it is about gross quantity, the tons of CO2 we continue to release into the atmosphere every day.

On the other hand, many people disagree with this analysis and there is ongoing debate. I won’t take space and time here to argue the science. I am convinced of the basic premise, but I’m not the best person to teach you how the various climate systems work or why polar ice is so important. I strongly recommend that you examine the scientific evidence for yourself. The information is readily available. The local library has several good books and DVDs, including Nova, NatGeo and History Channel specials. Wikipedia is an easy reference. Watch “An Inconvenient Truth” as well as the rebuttals. Please look into both sides and try to sort out the sound science from that which is not.

Among the many legitimate pro and con arguments in the debate about climate change runs a sinister undercurrent of denial, which worries me, because it is shaped like propaganda. It uses pseudoscience, illogical inferences and memorable but deceptive sound bites to cast shadows and doubt. Wikipedia, when queried for “climate change denial” says this:

“Climate change denial is a set of organized attempts to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of global warming, its significance, and its connection to human behavior, especially for commercial or ideological reasons. Typically these attempts take the rhetorical form of legitimate scientific debate, while not adhering to the actual principles of that debate, Climate change denial has been associated with the fossil fuels lobby, industry advocates and free market think tanks... The relationship between industry funded denial and public climate change skepticism has been compared to earlier efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine scientific evidence on the dangers of secondhand smoke, and linked as a direct continuation of these earlier financial relationships.”

In other words, powerful interest groups are actively promoting the idea that global warming is just a theory and that it’s advocates have some nefarious, perhaps anti-American purpose. Beginning back in the 90s, when the scientists first announced their concerns, the same PR company used by the tobacco lobby went to work against global warming. Their first step was to change the name of the game from global warming to climate change. On the surface, this seems insignificant. However, this singularly simple trick has become a wedge dividing any possibility of unity in attempts to organize efforts to change our course or to reduce the impacts and consequences. Global warming, you see, is only a theory and climate change, well, it happens all the time and it’s not our fault. Such disingenuous pseudo-speak has had little impact on the scientific debate, but I think it is aimed at public opinion and there it has had greater impact.

Words won’t matter a bit if and when the hurricane deluge, storm surge, tornado or dust bowl comes to your neighborhood. You were going to do some research. You will have found that some of the climate trends are frightening and indisputable. Regardless of your political mindset, it is evident that weather has become decidedly more extreme and violent! Ask yourself, just how bad could it get? We don’t really know, but It seems we had better allow for more and worse storms, increasingly erratic and unprecedented weather, and coastal flooding!

Wouldn’t it be prudent of us to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best — i.e. disaster preparedness. What if this is all a big hoax and we make the world a better place for nothing? As a culture, we would certainly benefit from reprioritizing, moving sustainability and the common good above short-term profit for a small elite. Individually, we could dispense with our lemming-like allegiance to a consumer rat race way of life. Common sense suggests that if we learn to live more wisely and locally, choosing goods for value and recyclability rather than buying the lowest priced junk shipped from the other side of the globe, this alone will bring us closer to sustainability.

In the end, I expect your studies will lead you to conclude that climate change is happening. You may ask, as I did, what we can do about it. If the risk of an impending climate crisis is even half as severe as the evidence suggests, the time to do something about it is now, before the crisis is upon us. Denial of the near certainty that our carbon-based, energy-hungry lifestyle is compounding what may or may not be natural climate changes won’t protect us from the consequences. If hindsight is 20/20, how will future generations assess our actions, our response? I for one would rather err on the side of caution and preparedness. After all, we, ourselves, will have to survive whatever climate changes we find ourselves confronted with. It’s not as if we have another planet to escape to. We only have this one Mother Earth. Let’s show her some respect!

Eric Blackmer lives in Peterborough.

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