Some have asked whether I’m using too-tough language against those devoted to delaying or blocking action needed to stop catastrophic global warming. Actually, most of the time I think it is too mild, a point underscored by a terrific NYT column from Nobel-Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, “Betraying the Planet.”
Krugman’s writing on climate has gotten increasingly blunt (see Nobelist Krugman takes on the “fantasists” of the “burn-baby-burn crowd” for opposing climate action that costs Americans 18 cents a day. And his blog, “The Conscience of a Liberal,” is becoming a must-read for those interested in seeing the record set straight on climate economics.
As an aside, the times this blog gets bluntest are when I think about how future generations will speak about us if we fail to spend the tiny amount of our vast wealth needed to prevent their decades and centuries of incalculable misery – see “Intro to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost – one tenth of a penny on the dollar.” They won’t be calling us “The Greatest Generation.” They will be cursing our name as “The Greediest Generation,” as the Bernie Madoffs of the global Ponzi scheme we created to enrich ourselves unsustainably at their expense.
Today’s column by Krugman takes that perspective, and I’m reprinting it below, with annotation:
So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.
But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.
And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason – treason against the planet.
To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.
The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe – a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable – can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.
Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there’s growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing – that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Perhaps Krugman reads this blog, as I have written at length about the important study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change – when it first was published on MIT’s website (see “M.I.T. joins climate realists, doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°C“) and almost entirely ignored by the media – and again when it was published in a peer-reviewed journal and got (a little) more attention (see “M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F – with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F“).
I would add that MIT is hardly alone in upwardly revising their projections of planetary warming on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions (see “Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path” and U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” – 1000 ppm).
Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves – the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation – may become annual or biannual events.
This is, of course, the recent multi-agency report, Global Climate Change Impacts in United States (see “Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year – and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!” and Lubchenco says, “This report is a game changer”).
In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?
Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking – if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided – they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.
But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it – and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.
Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists – a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.
Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.
For the YouTube clip, see “Rep. Broun receives applause on the House floor for calling global warming a ‘hoax’.”
Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.
Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual?
Yes, it is – and that’s why it’s unforgivable.
Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole – but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.
For a full discussion of that threat, see “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water.“
Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.
[Note: I am putting this into the “Uncharacteristically blunt scientists” category knowing full well that Krugman is not scientist. I just can’t see starting a category “Uncharacteristically blunt economists” since it would be so damn tiny! (see Voodoo economics reporting, 7: Failing to report the consensus that action is cheaper than inaction).]