Monday, April 09, 2012

Earth Day 2012 – A continual State of Denial


Many think that because they can say ‘Climate Change’ in polite company that we have come a long way on addressing Climate Change. Is it true, and should we celebrate? Not so much. A more realistic view is that although more folks, and even some governmental officials, can finally admit that Climate Change is happening, this Earth Day is foremost a reminder that for all the talk little has been done to stop and reverse manmade greenhouse gases (GHG) going into our atmosphere. As a matter of fact, GHG’s have risen steadily through this Great Recession we are still struggling to overcome, which purportedly kept a lot of folks out of jobs and money for gas-fueled vacations.

A couple of days ago the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a major report Water-Ready Map: Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources that says New York is among only a handful of states that have made substantial progress in addressing the causes and effects of climate change and its challenges to water management. Read it to understand the scope of Likely Changes coming to our region and how our state authorities plan to address them. However, the report is also a reminder that the road to perdition is paved with good intensions that don’t have a chance in hell of getting accomplished.

Why not? Answer: Climate Change Denial. It comes in many forms. Denial is when the President of the US fails to mention Climate Change in his State of the Union Address, as he didn’t do in 2011 and only begrudging did so this year. Climate Change denial is when mainstream media views Climate Change as ‘too toxic’ to question those running for the highest office in this country—the Decider. Climate Change denial is the actual sowing of doubt on the science of Climate Change by scientists getting paid to do so. (See Merchants of Doubt) Denial is when gas prices go up in an election year, and, despite the science of Climate Change and the fact that the US president can do little about gas prices, you vote for the other guy hoping to get a better price. Climate Change denial is when our media notes extreme weather events and fails to connect the dots to the predictions of Climate Change. Climate Change denial is thinking you understand it and yet fail to get alarmed.

This isn’t alarmist, it’s alarming:

“Natural variations in climate are clearly substantial, but one critical comparison is between short-term variability and the long-term changes that have occurred since the last ice age. During the past 20,000 years, the climate of the Great Lakes area has changed enough to alter the regional distribution of forests, prairies, and other vegetation types dramatically, and this change was driven by a 9 to 11°F (5 to 6°C) change in temperature. Put in these terms, the current projections for a 5 to 20°F (3 to 11°C) warming in the region in less than 100 years should ring bells of alarm.” (Page 13) From the Union of Concerned Scientists & Ecological Society of America Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region |Impacts on Our Communities and Ecosystems (2003)

Earth Day was first observed on March 21, 1970, and for most of the span between then and now (42 years) many climate scientists and increasingly more of the public has understood that Climate Change can and is happening. Because of the efforts of Dr. James Hansen, Bill McKibben, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)and many more, a profound idea, perhaps as profound as the Copernican Revolution, monotheism, and evolution, has dawned: Mankind is changing the planet.

It sounds trite to repeat this but I will because it is a paradigm shift in the way we must now view the word. Mankind is changing the planet. In our 5 million year existence on this planet, none of us, not even our philosophers or scientists, ever imagined that our puny little species could, in a concrete way, actually screw up the forces that run our planet and make human life possible.

Now, 42 years from the original Earth Day, even as the consequences of Climate Change are in our face (read Public Perception of Climate Change and the New Climate Dice), we are dragging our feet. The truth is that we are doing almost nothing to plan and execute actions to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change, including our governor: “Since the inauguration of Governor Andrew Cuomo in January 2011, the [New York State Climate Action] council has not reconvened, nor has state agency staff been directed to complete a climate action plan.” - From the New York page of Water-Ready Map: Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources

It’s denial. It’s the belief that educating the public on the fact that our climate is warming is too politically ‘toxic’ to mention. Denial is the belief that the best way to handle Climate Change is to act on things you think might help us adapt to and mitigate Climate Change like encouraging recycling, fighting Fracking, and changing your light bulbs, while remaining too timid to use the word. (This is becoming a favorite tactic of environmental groups who think the public is becoming tired of ‘Climate Change’ and using the phrase might turn their audiences off.)

This Earth Day, rather than another 42 years down the road, would be a good time to stop Climate Change denial in its tracks. Go to’s Connect the Dots to learn how to do that. (In Rochester, NY go to the 14 Annual Sierra Club Forum "Our Water's Fragile Future: Hydrofracking, Climate Change, & Privatization" on April 19th to learn what you can do.) Because if we continue the business-as-usual trend we are on now, those highest emissions scenarios in most Climate Change studies will be our future—not the lower ones where we got our act together.

I think another aspect of Climate Change denial is that future we think we will take action on Climate Change at some more convenient point in the global crisis. It’s like thinking someday you’ll never take another puff on a cigarette. But while people have stopped smoking, there’s not even a hint that we can collectively act to stop or even reduce our emission of greenhouse gases.

We are a species in denial:

“Social and cultural barriers: High adaptive capacity, as in most of North America, should be an asset for coping with or benefiting from climate change. Capacity, however, does not ensure positive action or any action at all. Societal values, perceptions and levels of cognition shape adaptive behaviour Schneider, 2004). In North America, information about climate change is usually not ‘mainstreamed’ or explicitly considered (Dougherty and Osaman Elasha, 2004) in the overall decision-making process (Slovic, 2000; Leiss, 2001). This can lead to actions that are maladapted, for example, development near floodplains or coastal areas known to be vulnerable to climate change. Water managers are unlikely to use climate forecasts, even when they recognise the vulnerability, unless the forecast information can fit directly into their everyday management decisions (Dow et al., 2007). –from Field, C.B., L.D. Mortsch,, M. Brklacich, D.L. Forbes, P. Kovacs, J.A. Patz, S.W. Running and M.J. Scott, 2007: North America. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 617-652. (Page 638)

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