The Future is Real; Let's Keep it Cool

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As one of the originators of the DeSmogBlog, and as its financial backer, I’d like to explain why I got involved in this project and why I think everyone should engage more seriously in the issue of climate change.

My rationale can be summed up in three phrases:

1. 100 years from now exists;

2. Stop me if you’ve heard this before; and:

3. Use less? No: expect more.

Let me explain:

One hundred years from now exists.

It’s true that we can’t prove it, any more than we can prove the science of climate change to the satisfaction of the good folks at ExxonMobile, but we still all understand and agree that the year 2106 will arrive on time and on schedule, whether or not any of us, or our children, survive to see the day.

The question, then, is why can’t we plan for it? Humans are all but unique in the world in their ability to anticipate future events and adjust their actions accordingly. It’s true that a cougar will stash a half-eaten carcass so it can come back to it later, but it’s a leap from that kind of foresight to, say, planning for retirement or brushing your teeth when you’re six, so you will still have teeth when you’re 60.

Regardless of that human quality – that capacity – the media conversation on climate change is still dominated by people who would have us throw away our tooth brushes, take off our seatbelts and resume smoking. They argue that while intelligent caution might  serve us well, it also might not. Your teeth might fall out anyway – and 2,500 of the world’s most accomplished climate scientists might be wrong about humankind’s impact on the earth’s environment.

Right. And time might stop.

If you drink enough wine, you will find in that last statement good fodder for an interesting philosophical discussion. But even inebriated, most of us would recognize that it’s a stupid position on which to build policy.

 Where have you heard this before?

Remember the guys who told us smoking might not be bad for you? If you don’t, if you can’t put a name on that perfidy, check out www.junkscience.com. Steve Milloy, the Fox News columnist and climate change denier-for-hire moved seemlessly from taking money from Big Tobacco to attack cancer scientists to taking money from Big Oil to attack climate science. (It’s not clear how the guy sleeps at night, but it seems likely that, given his client list, he can afford a comfy mattress.)

Again, on one hand we have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, the world’s most reputable climate experts all agreeing that we face a global catastrophe if we don’t change the way we are living. On the other hand, you have a handful of self-interested skeptics who will, apparently take money from the world’s most rapacious companies and then dream up arguments to justify their actions. Perversely, the media presents both these views and calls it balance.

The other aspect to “Where have you heard this before” – the other common argument – is that addressing climate change will be damaging to the economy. Well, abolishing slavery was damaging to the economy of the white folks who were reaping the benefit, but without wanting to put any words in Steve Milloy’s mouth, I think we’re all pretty convinced it was still a good idea.

Want Less? No: Expect More.

This is the part of the argument where I often fall out of step with the environmental lobby. I think it’s a terrible mistake, when you are trying to build public support in an urgent policy discussion, to try to recruit converts by telling people that they should want less than tomorrow than they have today. There is, among the clumsiest enviro-campaigners, an abstemious self-righteousness that works only at chasing potential supporters away.

Finding intelligent solutions to climate change should not involve telling everyone that they have to give up their vehicles and live in cold, dimly lit houses. We should not want less for ourselvs and our families, we should demand more – from our governments and from the industries that serve us. We should not tolerate the faux helplessness of an auto industry that complains that it can’t profitably meet emission standards and then sells everyone into unsafe, truck-based vehicles just to dodge emission regulations. We should not tolerate a government that subsidizes oil but can’t find serious money for alternative energy research.

I am convinced that the solutions are there if we look for them – if we invest in them. I am also impressed that the world’s most reasonable governments could, in Montreal in December, continue to agree on a format to set substantive and enforceable emission-reduction targets. Anything less is frighteningly inadequate.

Finally, I have been delighted by the passion and courage that my DeSmogBlog partner Jim Hoggan brings to this issue. As an old pro in the PR field, he recognizes instantly the too-common misuse of public relations tactics to confuse, rather than educate the public on climate. Most PR professionals probably see the same thing, but no others have shown the strength of character necessary to stand up and say so.

So: watch for those phrases. Pay attention when someone starts talking as if 100 years from now does not exist. Listen skeptically when you start hearing messages of phoney reassurances that sound too much like things you’ve heard before. And don’t let anyone tell you to want less. Be reasonable, be prudent, be responsible in your energy usage, by all means. But be demanding. We all will have to achieve a high standard if we are to contain climate change.

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