Denialism and the power of fear
There are two types of pesky partisans on the loose right now who refuse to accept reality due to their ideological blindness — birthers and global warming deniers. This realization struck me last week as I listened to Republicans argue that we should let the world boil over, all while they “dithered” over reading silly emails written between a few climate scientists. The members of the Flat Earth Society may be out of ideas, but they are not out of denials.
The Flat Earth Society is, of course, the climatic analog of the birthers movement, determined to undermine Americans’ confidence in clear facts about climate change. The first fact they deny is that the first American black president was elected last year. The second denial concerns the well-established scientific consensus that the earth is warming and the oceans are acidifying because of human activity.
Both birthers and the climate-change deniers work on a similar premise — that concrete facts can be subjugated to the power of fear. Both movements fear change and contemplate that they can create enough smoke and confusion to fertilize the ascendency of fear. They both enjoy big megaphones and are capable of big noise, but are both fundamentally rotten at the factual core.
So they work to obscure plain and unbridled truth by pointing to the inartful language contained in a bunch of emails from a British research institution. While the obvious truth is that the Arctic is melting, the Greenland glaciers are melting, climate change refugees are moving, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic than in preindustrial times, the seas are rising, and the deserts are expanding — the deniers continue to blow their smoke calling global warming science a “trick.” If this is a trick, it is one that is now undermining the very foundation of the globe’s climate, and perhaps changing it more quickly than any time in the planet’s history, except a couple of times when we were hit by comets or asteroids.
But let’s give the deniers their 15 minutes of fame and consider what the scientific consensus would be even if the British researchers were, in fact, members of some evil international conspiracy on the order of the group “Spectre” that James Bond so nobly fought years ago. Simply put, the impact of concluding that the British were out to lunch is zero. As the National Academy of Sciences concluded, and White House science adviser John Holdren articulated at a congressional hearing last week, we have so many separate threads and data sets that lead to one overwhelming conclusion: we cannot take our eye off the ball in pushing for vigorous CO2 emissions caps.
If you laid out end to end all the emails the deniers now have their knickers in a twist over, they would still not cover up the thousands of square miles of the Arctic Ocean that are now ice free in the summer. You could chop up all the emails and spread them over Greenland, but they would not insulate the island’s massive glaciers enough to stop the rapid loss of volume that have now been confirmed by multiple examinations, all of them independent from the British study caught up in the email non-scandal. It is neat public relations “trick” the deniers are now using in an attempt to fool the public into abandoning efforts to fight this global crisis, but it is going to fail, for two reasons.
First, it is going to fail because there are Republicans who have the courage to stand up to both the birthers and to the deniers. We should be encouraged by the comments of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who recently said that email controversy or not, the fact that the earth is warming due in part to human action is well established. Courage comes in many forms. Insistence upon listening to clear science, even if it disturbs some ideological views of certain groups, is one admirable form of courage.
Second, the deniers are going to fail because their cynical allies, the birthers, are going to fail. The birthers have not been able to stop an American president from going to Copenhagen to lead the world in an effort to stop global warming. We ought to be proud we have a president who can say, “The nation that leads in clean energy will be the nation that leads the world, and I want America to be that nation.”
With an attitude that sees global warming as an economic opportunity as much as an environmental problem, we have a president who can spark a new period of economic growth and leave both the birthers and the deniers where they belong, in the dustbin of history.