Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Unbearable Pointlessness of Climate Change Denial

But the science is still in dispute
The American political right has, as we all know, staked out quite a radical position on climate change. They simply deny the science. Either they deny that the climate is changing, or they at least accept the measurements but deny the logical mechanism of causality, thereby arriving at the conclusion that there is nothing that can or should be done. Some have gone as far as to claim that there are benefits to a warmer planet, a position that blindly overlooks all the non-temperature related effects of a warming climate.

But why do they do this? You have to remember that their primary constituency is corporations and the wealthy, so anything they do must be seen in the light of how it benefits or challenges the business and investment community. And the answer to this question is simple: Corporate Profits. Any effective approach to carbon pollution mitigation is going to a.) drive up the price of fossil fuel based energy and b.) reduce consumption of fossil fuels. Both of these outcomes will certainly have a negative impact on many corporate bottom lines. The reality is that this is a feature, not a bug. The whole point is to increase the cost and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels - that will immediately reduce current levels of carbon pollution and bring renewable energy closer to cost parity with traditional energy sources, making them more attractive to build in the near future.

In one sense, this position underscores the calculated hypocrisy of the American Political Right. When they want to create deficit panic in order to justify further cuts in government spending, they relentlessly invoke the burden this economic debt will place on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren. But the worst impacts of climate change will occur two to three generations in the future, and they demonstrate an even greater cravenness by denying the scientific consensus and insisting that the scientific validity of the greenhouse effect is still unsettled. But it actually takes some effort to actually understand the vile calculation represented by this contemptible policy. Left unchecked, Climate Change will, directly and indirectly, kill billions. It will essentially reduce the capacity of the planet to support a population larger than a certain level. What that level is cannot be calculated (although it can reasonably be estimated), but it is certainly billions below today's population.

The important thing to remember is the entire debate is disingenuous. To whatever extent educated men and women with conservative ideologies actually believe that the consensus of climate science today is false simply doesn't matter - that is not the debate we need to have. That is the debate we are having because they have (correctly) calculated that as long as we're arguing over the science we won't be debating taking action on the science. This tactic is right out of the classic conservative playbook - arguing one or two steps up the decision chain to keep from ever having to debate the merits of the actual question. They classically do it with economics - by arguing relentlessly that spending and deficits are inherently bad and/or dangerous, they don't have to argue about entitlements - they can preempt the conversation by simply claiming that 'we just can't afford' to fund them.


  1. It will essentially reduce the capacity of the planet to support a population larger than a certain level...

    I'd like to say that we foolish humans will get what we deserve for having wrecked the planet. Except that the rich, the ones who essentially run everything, will have long since built their luxurious sanctuaries and will ride out the environmental apocalypse in ease.

  2. it's hard to make predictions, especially about the future, but even if future human populations are much smaller, and at a lower technological level (exhaustion of materials, reduced energy throughput) - who knows if it's good or bad?

    1. the possibility of detecting and preventing the next mass-extinction asteroid impact on earth will probably disappear, i guess - but it's a BIG universe, and the rest of it will just keep going - always look on the bright side

  3. All I ask is that the planet be livable for the cockroaches.