A climate of denial

The earth is getting warmer. That much is beyond doubt. Humans are probably responsible for most of the warming. The scientific consensus extends so far.  The process will have profound results on human life.  By the end of the century, as much as a tenth of the global population may have to relocate due to rising sea levels, while agricultural productivity in the United States will drop by at least twenty percent.  Entire nations will disappear as their territories are submerged, causing political as well as social and economic crises.

Though this may come as a surprise to the average reader, both major American political parties share a common stance on the subject of global warming.  What’s more, not one but both of them are effectively climate denialists.

Republican politicians are the more straightforward of the two.  They simply state that the climate is not changing, that average temperatures have not increased, and that the data is insufficient for a conclusion or just plain wrong. Some of them throw snowballs around to prove their point.  Democratic politicians, on the other hand, admit that global warming is a reality.  However, they claim, a few new environmental regulations will be enough to halt the process by forcing the economy to be more carbon-neutral.  They concede the phenomenon but not its long-term effects, except as a scare tactic to force immediate action.

Both Democrats and Republicans are unable to conceive that global warming will realistically affect their day-to-day world in any way.  Manhattan underwater?  Half of Florida disappearing?  It’s not possible.  Too many human activities depend on the cities and industries already established within reach of inundation.  Rebuilding those cities elsewhere and relocating their populations would be so disruptive to the American way of life, practically and ideologically, that politicians of all stripes have convinced themselves that such an emergency is impossible.  If it is inconvenient, it cannot be true, or at least not urgent.

The issue of acceptance or denial of the reality of global warming is, in essence, one of accepting or denying responsibility for that warming.  At every stage of human development, from the first drive of the first Hyksos chariot to the development of the integrated circuit, humanity has been faced with a choice.  Men were never ignorant of the effects of their actions on the environment; it has always been a simple matter for a logician to extrapolate the effects of a new industry or new invention on the world as a whole.  A century ago, before global warming was even thought of, Jules Verne wrote quite candidly in The Underground City that if the earth was composed solely of coal, mankind would end its existence by consuming the entire planet on which it lived.  Men have always had a choice, and both the knowledge and the right to make that choice.  During the past two centuries they have chosen factories and railroads, highways and highrises, automobiles, beef, tupperware, and cell phones over sustainability.  Now they will also be compelled to live with the consequences of that choice, which will include the derangement of the complex societies they have constructed.  Attempting to evade those consequences by a last-minute effort is as much a denial of responsibility as ignoring their existence in the first place.