I went through a tough half-hour of disbelief this week, when I encountered a very ordinary story in the Boston Globe. It was about the revised estimates of sea-level rise for the next thirty years and how they will affect our city (guess what?–more of it will be underwater!) The article was short, unremarkable, grim and based on peer-reviewed science. Then there were the comments. Dave Pomerantz from Greenpeace had emailed the story to a group of Boston 350 activists, noting that the deniers were going wild and we needed to counter by posting something.
As I scrolled down through some 50 replies, I found nothing but rage and denial at the scientists’ findings, with a lot of righteous citing of the recent ClimateGate “scandal” around the emails hacked from the University of East Anglia. Here’s a few typical quotes:
“There is absolutely no truth to this whatsoever. Go to www.telegraph.co.uk/news/James Delingpole or www.jamesdelingpole.com. The scam is just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ Global warming is a conspiracy by left wing loonier scientists looking for $$$ and nothing else from all Gov’ts.”
“Climate change is a proven, coordinated fraud that’s been foisted upon the masses by politicans and corporations. The NY Times, Fox and others are reporting on the recently uncovered shenanigans of the “climate researchers,” yet the Globe is still pounding the drum of hypothetical hysteria. $463B worth of damage here in Boston? When? Ridiculous.”
I wanted to help out, but by the time I got to the end of the multi-author screed, I was nauseous and had nothing to say. But I’ve got something to say now, and I will address it to the deniers themselves.
I want to make it clear to those of you who doubt the science that tells you our world is warming dangerously due to human burning of fossil fuels–so much so that civilization itself, and up to half of the earth’s species are threatened by a cataclysm that we may have little power left to effect– that we agree with you. I am speaking for the activists, the scientists, the writers and pundits who keep throwing this climate change thing in your faces. We are absolutely, 100% with you, and though you perceive a conflict of interests, political or existential or otherwise, there is NO conflict. We do not want this, we do not want to believe this, and we would give anything in the world to be wrong. If you see (correctly) that there are big egos invested in promoting the idea of climate change, then be assured that they are only there, puffed up all out of proportion, to counter the big egos of the opposition (coal and oil industry CEOs–egos, what?)
There is nothing we want more than to be wrong — to go home, forget it all happened, and retreat, shamefaced, to live out our ordinary lives. Every climate activist I have ever met is being eaten up from within: Every fiber of our being tells us that this shouldn’t happen, that it’s inconsistent with a loving God, or with a theory of evolution that states that a species wants above all to survive, or just with the basic horse-sense that people will never do anything to endanger themselves and their children. Even those of us who are bona-fide tree-huggers, militant vegetarians, or radical-simplicity wackos, still do not wish this on anyone.
Everyone is a denier. (Okay, maybe not Adam Sacks!) We all read every scrap of science with the same hope that there will be new evidence of a cooling trend, or a colossal mathematical error that proves that carbon isn’t trapped in the atmosphere at all, it’s all benignly wafting out into space. We wait for that breaking story that the ocean is full of healthy coral and fish, and the dead pine forests of Canada will awaken and flourish again, because this just isn’t possible! The planet can’t die–who would let that happen?
Some of us differ only in our incapacity to turn our heads away. For whatever reason, we have lost the ability to believe that we are somehow protected, whether it be by a benevolent creator, the intelligence of our species, the government, the positive, life-affirming forces of market capitalism, what have you.
It may be a different process for others, but I think most of us who stare directly into the bright sun of climate change are convinced that the scientific method–rigorous, peer-reviewed, replicable data–if not the scientists themselves, is sound and leads to the truth, however hard it may be. Science is bigger than the will or desire of any scientist, and though not infallible, it is ethical. It is worthy of our faith and our humility, and it repeatedly reveals the persistent will of the earth to follow its own laws, and not ours.
I can let the scientists and the activists speak for themselves, and they have done so already. I’m only weighing in here to make one point, and that is that there is no conflict. We should call off any battles we think we are waging.
Activists–remember your own fear and denial. Deniers–please note that no one on earth could possibly want this…and then consider the facts.