Global warming denial burdens world with catastrophe

Civilians flee the violence that erupted in the Protection of Civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan. Photo: UNMISS/Nyang Touch

Global warming denial—the work of ignorance, wishful thinking, demagoguery, and heedless self-interest—spreads global catastrophe.

A writer in a letter in the Toronto Star asserts that “…climate change has absolutely nothing to do with carbon emissions… climate change is not about science but rather about the politics of social engineering and wealth transfer.”

It is this, and more like it, that typify a flight from evidence, reason, and reality. It has done much to burden the world with the initial stages of global warming.

In 1895, Swedish Nobel chemist Svante Arrhenius was the first to calculate how increased concentration of carbon dioxide will cause global temperatures and sea levels to rise.

They have.

Since 1880, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by half (from 270 to 400 parts per million); the global average temperature increased by 0.940 Celsius (1.69 F); and the sea level has risen eight inches (three inches in the past 20 years.)

Some 2,500 hundred climate and related scientist from 60 countries on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and thousands on more public, private and academic research organizations, have found no credible alternative to CO2 as the main cause of global warming.

The geologic record provides further evidence. As Arrhenius pointed out, ice ages have been periods of low CO2 concentrations; warm periods, with giant plants and the critters that feed on them, have been periods of high carbon concentration.

So why do apostles of global warming denial insist on denying the obvious? Probably because of the very human tendency to believe what we want to believe. Who wouldn’t prefer to believe that which accords to their own interests and convictions?

The wise, it has been said, are beset by uncertainty. “I would not die for my beliefs because I might be wrong,” declared Bertrand Russell, one of the 20th century’s leading philosophers and mathematicians. Or, as Plato said 2,500 years ago, “We must trust our reasoning until someone shall find us a better to convince us.”[i]

But global warming skeptics cannot admit they might be wrong. If they admit the dark warnings of the scientists might be right, prudence would demand vigorous action to curb carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. The converse, however, does not hold. If the scientists are wrong—in spite of logic and evidence—the world would still reap health, environmental and other social benefits from burning less fossil fuel.

Political demagogues are in a class of their own among deniers. They know they can reap political support by exploiting the human tendency to believe what we want to believe. It doesn’t matter whether or not they believe what they say, or whether it’s fact or fiction. And what better message to declare global warming junk science or Chinese fiction? Well, hello, Donald Trump.

Numerous coal and oil companies have cast doubt about global warming and its cause. Some paid for the research of skeptic. But in the past few years, the giant global oil companies, and many smaller ones, have acknowledged carbon-driven global warming. In February 2015, Bob Dudley, CEO of oil giant BP, bluntly warned: “The most likely path for carbon emissions, despite current government policies and intentions, does not appear sustainable.” The oil giants now advocate a carbon tax as the most effective means to curb the burning of the fuels, a view supported by many other advocates of action. Yet there are other energy companies that still promote doubt, if not denial.

Global warming denial has already exacerbated weather disasters, famine, mass migration and property loss by robbing public support and thereby delaying full implementation of the measures needed to curb GHG emissions.

Especially in North America. Fewer than half of adult population of the United States—48 percent, according to the U.S. Media Education Forum—believe global warming is caused by human activity. One non-believer is Scott Pruitt, a self-proclaimed “leading advocate against the…activist agenda” of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who thinks” elimination of the EPA would be “justified.” As a political ally, he has received millions of dollars of election campaign funds from energy companies, including $300,000 for an election in which he had no opponent. As Oklahoma Attorney General from 2010 to 2016, Pruitt filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA, 13 on behalf of Oklahoma utilities opposed to regulation of their coal-fired electric power plants.

On February 17, Pruitt was confirmed as director of the EPA. He lost little time in refuting the Agency’s statement that “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas pollutant, accounting for nearly three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions and 84 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.” Pruitt countered: “I would not agree that” human activity is “a primary contributor to the global warming.” He also claims its effects have been exaggerated.

The EPA has not been eliminated, just transformed. Trump’s proposed budget would cut EPA financing by 20 percent. Three thousand of its 15,000 employees are to be dismissed. Climate change skeptics have taken over. Pruitt’s deputy, chief of staff, and deputy chief of staff are former staff members of Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, the most prominent climate-change skeptic in the U.S. Congress. Five scientists in the agency’s Board of Scientific Counsellors have been replaced by industry representatives. Federal orders and regulations aimed at protecting the environment and curbing global warming—from curbing carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants to higher fuel economy standards—are falling like 10-pins. Rules to prevent the escape of global-warming methane (natural gas) into the atmosphere have been scrapped.

The EPA has effectively become the Energy Protection Agency.

To perceive no adverse effect from global warming, the Trump administration will have to keep its eyes averted from the human catastrophe unfolding in Africa and Syria, the northeastern hinge of the big continent. “The greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration,” the IPCC warned as early as 1900. And it is here on the dark continent and its hinge that the warning has become the most awesome reality.

Global warming generates displacement, refugees, and mass migrations in two related ways. People flee from famines caused by drought, floods, and storms, which in turn are caused or exacerbated by global warming. The poverty and loss of homes, livestock and other property incites violence and civil war. “Climate change can indirectly increase risk of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying… poverty and economic shock,” the IPPC states in its fifth and final report in 2014. Thus migrants flee from both global warming-related famine and global warming-related violence.

The tragic Syrian civil war is an example. It was preceded by a severe drought starting in 2007. That forced 1.5 million people to migrate from rural to urban areas. Soaring food prices, poverty, and loss of property are said to have created the political tensions that triggered the civil war.

Similarly, three civil wars in Sudan—and now South Sudan—(1955-72; 1983-2005; December 2013 to date), have been related to famine. So far, at least five million Sudanese have been displaced while 2.6 million have died from starvation, disease, and fighting. “The situation in South Sudan continues to worsen, with a combination of conflict, drought, and famine leading to further displacement and a rapid exodus of people fleeing one of the world’s most severe crises,” the UN reported in mid May.

Twenty million people face threat of famine in Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen, or already suffer it in South Sudan, according to the UN Refugee Agency. A famine is defined as two starvation deaths per day per 10,000 people. For 20 million people, that implies at least 4,000 deaths per day, not counting war, other violence, and disease.

Hopefully, with the average global temperature having risen less than one degree Celsius since 1880, the worst of this immediate crisis can be averted. But a temperature increase of at least 20C is widely considered inevitable. What happens then? What happens in Africa, in North America, in the world? How many climate refugees will swamp not just Europe, but also North America?


[i] W.H.D. Rouse, translator, “Great Dialogues of Plato, The Republic. New York: New American Library, 23rd printing, paperback, no date, p. 185.

4 thoughts on “Global warming denial burdens world with catastrophe

  1. Whay say you to Patrick Moore and to articles like this one?

    What bothers me about the IPCC reports is that their predictions are made in terms of such low probability. Almost as if they do not want to be held to account. It bothered me too to read, around the Paris meeting, that international financial investors in green energy had lost their confidence in climate change ideology but because they wanted to make a profit on their investment, would continue to promote a narrative they no longer believe explains the facts.

    I think the recent exponential increase in human population is the greatest reason for the increase in carbon pollution. But what do we do about that side effect of fossil fuels use or about the medical science that produces vaccines that save millions of lives or about the rise out of extreme poverty of most of the world that once naturally died off?

    Suspending one’s judgment, especially about issues that are emotionally-driven, can be exhausting. But the practice, indeed the lifestyle, affords one the freedom of an open mind. Nothing dearer than that to me.

    I’m with Socrates; the more I learn, the less I know.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Joan. I think, however, failing to heed the warnings of 99 percent of the world scientist on the basis that they might be wrong would be sheer madness. If adequate measure to curb global warming—especially carbon emissions—are delayed and the consensus is correct, the consequence could be cataclysmic. If the consensus is wrong, we lose virtually nothing by heeding their advice. Burning less fossil fuel offers important health and environmental benefits.

      Richard Lindzen is an eminent scientist. For all I know his minority view that the adverse consequences are minimal, could be correct. But his advice to generally ignore the consensus—and specifically that the United States should opt out of the Paris climate accord—involves an horrific gamble. His claim of minimal impact and advice to President Trump opt out of the Paris Accord is disputed in a letter to Trump by the other 20 MIT climate scientists, not to mention thousands of other climate scientists around the world. He is controversial. He has reportedly accepted funds from a major coal company. He questions whether cigarette smoking causes cancer. For a detailed profile of Lindzen, check particularly “Third party characterizations of Lindzen.”
      If Lindzen and his cohorts are wrong, and their efforts impede global warming action, the consequences could add hundreds of millions to the toll of global warming victims. Who is prepared to vote for that gamble and risk the possible results on their conscience?
      There is no doubt in my mind that carbon-emitting fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—have done more to improve material human welfare than any other natural resource during the past 250 years or so. But things change. The North Pole was once near the equator. Fossil fuels are now widely seen as one of the greatest perils facing humanity.
      I doubt that it’s possible to completely eliminate the burning of fossil fuels, or perhaps even desirable. But even if it were, these fossils will still almost certainly be needed for the provision of everything from medicine to fertilizer, plastic, pantyhose, lipstick, and hundreds of other items that we use every day.

  2. Earle, thank you for a very comprehensive overview of the current state of the major environmental concern. Coming from you, who has spent your long career studying and writing about carbon fuels, makes it extremely convincing. I particularly agree with the line “If the scientists are wrong—in spite of logic and evidence—the world would still reap health, environmental and other social benefits from burning less fossil fuel.” It is all very well to “roll the dice” as Mulroney did with a mere Constitution but with the carbon problem rolling the dice and losing likely means the end of our species. Trump et al represent a transition from Homo Sapiens to Homo Hubris and as we know in good Greek tragedy the flaw of overweening pride inevitably brought the hero (in this case all of us) to gruesome disaster.

    1. Thank you, Munroe, for your encouragement. The problem of accepting evidence that upsets preference, believes, biases, or even a person’s entire life, can be complex. It must sometimes by very difficult. Consider the tobacco farmer of a few decades ago when the link between tobacco and cancer became clearly established. It threatened his way of life, his property, his future. His reluctance to accept the evidence is not surprising. The same angst must face some coal miners and petroleum geologists. But that is not the situation of most climate change deniers.

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