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Dissecting the sceptics (2)

An appreciation of human nature – not just hard science – is needed to fight the rising tide of climate-change denial, argues Bill McKibben.

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The climate deniers come with a few built-in advantages. Thanks to Exxon Mobil and others with a vested interest in debunking climate-change research, their “think tanks” have plenty of money, none of which gets wasted doing actual research to disprove climate change. It’s also useful for a movement to have its own television network, in this case US media giant Fox, though even more crucial to the denial movement are a few right-wing British tabloids that validate each new “scandal” and put it into media play.

That these guys are geniuses at working the media was proved this February when even the New York Times, normally sensible on the issue of global warming, ran a front page story, “Skeptics Find Fault With UN Climate Panel”, which recycled most of the accusations of the past few months.

Access to money and the media is not the only, or even the main reason for the success of the climate deniers, however. Their success in the United States can be credited significantly to the way they tap into the main currents of our politics of the moment with far more savvy and power than most environmentalists can muster. They’ve understood the popular rage at elites. They’ve grasped the widespread feelings of powerlessness – and the widespread suspicion that we’re being ripped off by mysterious forces beyond our control.

The passion with which people attack former US vice-president and environmental campaigner Al Gore, for instance, often seems focused on the charge that he’s making large sums of money from green investments and that the whole idea is little more than a scam designed to enrich everyone involved. This may be wrong – Gore has testified under oath that he donates his green profits to the cause and scientists are not getting rich researching climate change – but it resonates with lots of people. I get many emails a day on the same theme: “The game is up. We’re on to you.”

When I say it resonates with lots of people, I mean lots of people. When it comes to global warming, we’re pretty much all easy sells because we live the life that produces the carbon dioxide that’s at the heart of the crisis and because we like that life. Very few people really want to change in any meaningful way, and given half a chance to think they don’t need to, they’ll take it. Especially when it sounds expensive and especially when the economy stinks. As David Harsanyi, a columnist for the Denver Post, says: “If they’re going to ask a nation – a world – to fundamentally alter its economy and ask citizens to alter their lifestyles, the believers’ credibility and evidence had better be unassailable.”

“Unassailable” sets the bar impossibly high when there is a dedicated corps of assailants out there hard at work. It is true that those of us who want to see some national and international effort to fight global warming need to keep making the case that the science is strong. That’s starting to happen. There are new websites and iPhone apps to provide clear and powerful answers to the sceptic trash-talking and, strangely enough, the denier effort may, in some ways, be making the case itself: if you go over the multi-volume report from the IPCC with a fine-tooth comb and come up with three or four lousy citations, that’s pretty strong testimony to its essential accuracy.

Clearly, however, the antiseptic attempt to hide behind the magisterium of science in an effort to avoid the rough-and-tumble of politics is a mistake. It’s a mistake because science can be – and should be – argued about infinitely. Science is, in fact, nothing but an ongoing argument, which is one reason why it sounds so disingenuous to most people when someone insists that the science is “settled”. That’s especially true of people who have been told at various times in their lives that some food is good for you only to be told later that it might increase your likelihood of dying.

Anyone who works seriously on the science soon realises that we know more than enough to start taking action but less than we someday will. There will always be controversy over exactly what we can now say with any certainty. That’s life on the cutting edge. I certainly don’t turn my back on the research – we’ve spent the last two years at my website, 350.org, building what Foreign Policy magazine called “the largest ever coordinated global rally” around a previously obscure data point, the amount of atmospheric carbon that scientists say is safe, measured in parts per million.

But it’s a mistake to concentrate solely on the science for another reason. Science may be what we know about the world, but politics is how we feel about it. And feelings count at least as much as knowledge, especially when those feelings are valid. People are getting ripped off. They are powerless against large forces that are, at the moment, beyond their control. Anger is justified.

So let’s figure out how to talk about it. Let’s look at Exxon Mobil, which, in each of the last three years, has made more money than any company in the history of money. Its business model involves using the atmosphere as an open sewer for the carbon dioxide that is the inevitable by-product of the fossil fuel it sells. And yet we let it do this for free. It doesn’t pay a red cent for potentially wrecking our world.

Right now, there’s a bill in the Congress – cap-and-dividend, it’s called – that would charge Exxon for that right and use the proceeds to send a cheque to everyone in the country every month. Yes, the company would pass on the charge at the pump, but 80% of Americans (all except the top-income energy hogs) would still make money out of the deal. That represents good science because it starts to send a signal that we should park that SUV. But it’s also good politics.

Keep in mind that fear and rage aren’t the only feelings around. They’re powerful feelings, to be sure, but they’re not all that we feel. And they are not us at our best. There’s also love, a force that has often helped motivate large-scale change and one that cynics in particular have little power to rouse. Love for poor people around the world, for instance. If you think it’s not real, you haven’t been to church recently. People who take the Gospel seriously also take seriously indeed the injunction to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. It’s becoming patently obvious that nothing challenges that goal quite like the rising seas and spreading deserts of climate change.

There’s also the deep love for creation, for the natural world. We were born to be in contact with the world around us and, though much of modernity is designed to insulate us from nature, it doesn’t really work. Any time the natural world breaks through – a sunset, an hour in the garden – we’re suddenly vulnerable to the realisation that we care about things beyond ourselves. That’s why art and music need to be part of the story, right alongside bar graphs and pie charts. When we campaign about climate change at 350.org, we make sure to do it in the most beautiful places we know, the iconic spots that conjure up people’s connection to their history, their identity, their hope.

The great irony is that the climate sceptics have prospered by insisting that their opponents are radicals. In fact, those who work to prevent global warming are deeply conservative, insistent that we should leave the world in something like the shape we found it. We want our kids to know the world we knew. Here’s the definition of radical: doubling the carbon content of the atmosphere because you’re not completely convinced it will be a disaster. We want to remove every possible doubt before we convict in the courtroom because an innocent man in a jail cell is a scandal. But outside of it we should act more conservatively.

In the long run, the climate deniers will lose; they’ll be a footnote to history. (Hey, even OJ Simpson is finally in jail). But they’ll lose because we’ll all lose. Because, by delaying action, they will have helped prevent us from taking the steps we need to take while there’s still time. If we’re going to make real change while it matters, it’s important to remember that their scepticism isn’t the root of the problem. It simply plays on our deep-seated resistance to change. That’s what gives the climate cynics ground to operate. That’s what we need to overcome and, at bottom, that’s a battle as much about courage and hope as about data.


Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including the forthcoming
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

An
earlier version of this article was published by TomDispatch.com. It is used here with permission.

Homepage image from 350.org

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

这个作者活在哪个星球?

这是我倒霉地读到过的最糟糕的研究文章之一。如果你曾经稍微花时间去读了一下乐施会关于“怀疑论运动”的报告,你就会看到有60亿英镑支持的机构和成千上万的人们包括一名前天气预报员和一些博客作者参与的游行。

如果做一个怀疑论者有钱赚的话,我倒想知道,因为我已经很反感也疲于将我有限的时间和资源花在回复这样没脑子的文章了!

Translated by Fang Imogen Liu.
Translation edited by Meng Si.

What planet is the author living on?

This is one of the worst researched articles I have had the misfortune to read. If you bothered to look at the Oxfam report on the sceptic movement, you'll see £6,000,000,000 institutions with thousands of people matches along side an ex weatherman and a few bloggers.

If there is any money from being a sceptic, I'd like to see some of it, because I'm sick and tired of spending my own limited time and resources replying to stupid articles like this!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

继续前行

这里一无是处。拒绝腐败。闭嘴送钱来。戈尔需要绿色资金。

Move along.

Nothing to see here! Nothing corrupt! Shut up and send cash! Al Gore needs your green dollars!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

中国的政治制度和对气候变化的反应

麦克基本的文章谈到了中国与西方国家在看待气候变化方面的一些有意思的区别。在西方国家,石油巨头的游说已经严重拖延了如何应对气候变化的讨论。尤其是在美国,政府处于本能的拒绝影响经济活动。但中国的政治系统却几乎不会受到上述两条因素的影响,而且中国在应对气候变化的的许多问题上看法更具有远见。

但是,现阶段的中国仍然能够从可再生能源行业的扩张、能效的提高等活动中受益,真正的难题将出现在减少排放总量(而不是排放强度)的时候。有的评论员认为这正是中国政府在哥本哈根拒绝接受全球减排指标的原因之一。

当需要真正减排的时候,中国能否顶住从廉价、黑色的煤炭行业中受益的商业、官员等带来的压力?中国的政治系统是否能够帮助找到解决“由西方国家”带来的全球变暖这一问题的方法还是阻碍这一进程?

Andrew Stevenson

China's political system and responses to climate change

McKibben's article points to some interesting differences between Chinese and western approaches to climate change. In the west, the debate on what action to take has been retarded by the fossil fuel lobby and, especially in the US, an instinctive resistance to any government interference in the economy. China's political system currently appears less susceptible to both these obstacles, and in many ways it has been far-sighted in its climate response.

However, China is still in a stage where it is able to benefit from expanding its renewables industries, improving energy efficiencies, etc: the really hard choices will come when it has to cut emissions (and not just carbon intensity). Some commentators have already alleged that this was one reason for China's opposition to global targets at Copenhagen.

When the time comes for cuts, will China be able to resist the pressure applied by businesses, officials etc who benefit from cheap, dirty coal power? Will China's political system help or hinder a shift from global warming as "a problem created by the West" to "solutions that we will all pay for"?

Andrew Stevenson

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

谎言令人心痛

事实令人心痛。石油巨头正在想尽办法歪曲事实。他们愿意花费成百上千万的美元来否认气候变暖,否则他们会有十倍、百倍的损失。你不相信的话去看看过去十年他们的盈利。白纸黑字上的数字不会骗你。他们正在尽全力保证盈利不会变少。看看中国的污染情况吧。你是否还记得上世纪80年代烟草公司是如何编造谎言说吸烟与肺癌无关。就像烟草公司一样,这些碳排放公司最终也会被起诉

pojoe

pojoe

THE TRUTH HURTS' the oil companies are trying any way they can to twist facts distort the truth ,they have billion to loose in profit and will spend million to disprove global warming.You don't believe that fact check there profits for the last ten years numbers don't lie only the industries that want to make sure there profits are unchanged You can see the pollution in China you see it first hand .Do you remember the tabbaco companies of the 1980's how they lied about tabbaco not causing cancer the carbon industries are doing the same ,like the tabbaco companies the carbon companies will get sued

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

科学家的生态位

IPCC的失误其实是相当细微的,但居然成为否认温室气体对气候变化的影响,实在让人不解。不过,IPCC的科学家们自己需要时刻提醒自己,科学研究一定要有科学的研究方法。而切勿受到政治的干扰。

The Scientists' Niche

The IPCC's errors are in fact quite minor, but have actually come to be an influence favouring the denial of climate change, which really is incomprehensible. However, the scientists of the IPCC need to remind themselves that scientific research must be done according to scientific research methodology. Furthermore, entirely without political interference.

(Translated by Ruaridhi Bannatyne)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

~未來~

~悠則然~而樂之天下~

~天於爾~而災于己身~

午夜時分~藉著皎潔的夜色~來到寂靜的海岸線~只有微微的海風~激起小小的浪花~聽著潮汐拍打在沙岸上的音符~感覺這世界~這大自然的風貌~真的很美妙~在此刻~心靈上的平靜~讓沉思的思緒得到解放~沒有一絲絲的雜念~沒有利益的爭吵~更沒有權力的算計~只有天地間無爭的偉大胸懷~~

栩栩微風~眼前一片黑暗~抬頭仰望星空~似乎正以微笑的眼神與我接觸~並且在呼喚我內心深處的精靈~與之交流~頓時~所有時間~彷彿停留在第三空間~沒有任何繁雜的思緒~沒有任何起伏的情緒~猶如出了竅的靈魂~游刃於天地間悠然自得的仙境~這是夢??這是幻想??我用懷疑的直覺問我自己~我給了我自己一個答案~這是我用心去體會大自然的奧秘~而大自然也讓我體會天地間的另一種風貌與神秘~~

給自己留一點時間~用一點心思去體會大自然的美~人生除了事業之外~還有很多值得我們去追求~等著我們身體力行的事~或許以後我會有屬於自己的家庭~我也會有小孩~如果有一天~我的小孩問我~什麼是*氣候暖化*什麼是*大自然的反撲*為什麼會有頻頻而至的*天災*是什麼原因造成的??我想~當下我無法回答這個問題~但我一定會找時間告訴我的小孩~因為他們是國家未來的主人翁~他們有知道真相的權力~如果我們無法解決危機~不想正視危機~那我們更有義務*放手*~讓我們的下一代知道真相~讓他們知道為了生存在這美麗的地球~他們應該怎麼做~要從何做起~

人類聰明的智慧~驅動了愚昧的行為~我會告訴我的小孩~身為萬物之首的人類就是破壞大自然~掏空地球資源的始作俑者~當萬物的生存權被一一剝奪~生態鏈無法運轉~沒有人能預測下一秒鐘會發生什麼事~~~~~~

Future

At midnight the light seems neat and beautiful. I came to the quiet coastline with soft breeze, little waves, lovely sounds of tide pats on the shore. I try to feel the world, the charming nature, to feel It's fantastic. At that moment, the peace in my soul relieved my mind. Everything in my mind was pure, nothing about behalf, nothing about privilege. Only the greatness between the heaven and earth.

If someday my children ask me what's global warming and what's revenge of the nature,or why those frequantly coming catastrophe happened and what's the causes leading to them. I don't think I can answer them right now. But someday I have to tell them the truth, because they are to be the hosts of the nation. If we're not able to solve this crisis, or unwilling to face it,we should at least let new generations know what to do and how to survival on this amazing earth.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

最基本的科学常识

  第一,水汽在最主要的温室气体,二氧化碳的温室作用很小,并且早已饱和,增加二氧化碳根本不会导致全球变暖。
  
  第二,气候一直在变化,在没有人类之前就剧烈变化。自然因素导致的准周期性的冷暖交替才是气候变化的真正事实。
  
  第三,全球变暖是大好事,利远大于弊。
  
  第四,碳减排的本质就是发达国家限制发展中国家发展,并对发展中国家进行掠夺。

The most basic knowledge of science.

Firstly - of the greenhouse gasses - steam is the most important one; the impact of CO2 is much less. Besides, we long ago reached saturation, so adding more CO2 can't basically lead to global warming.

Secondly, the climate of our planet has always changed. Before the arrival of mankind, there were some ferocious changes. Natural factors lead to definite cycles of alternately colder or warmer temperatures and that is the truth about climate change.

Thirdly, global warming is a great thing and the advantages outweigh the disadvanatages.

Lastly, reducing carbon emissions means developed countries holding the developing nations back while engaging in plundering these developing nations.

[Translator: Suzanne Reynolds]

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

中国人是二等人?

中国人,行动起来,为了国家,为了自己。

按照IPCC的减排方案(所有方案中最有利于发展中国家最公平的方案)计算,发达国家在将高能耗高排放的工业都转移到了发展中国家的情况下,在总的8000亿吨二氧化碳排放空间中,人口不到全球总人口的15%的发达国家将占用其中的40%以上,它们的人均排放量居然是发展中国家的2.3倍!也就是说当发展中国家的碳排放额达到他们的43%时,就必须向发达国家购买所谓的“碳排放权”。

Are Chinese people second- class citizens?

People of China, rise up, for the country, for yourselves.

According to the calculations of the IPCC emission reduction plan (the most suitable such plan, fairest to countries still developing), under the present situation in which developed countries have exported all of their highly resource consuming and high-emission industry to developing countries, of a world total of 8000 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted, developed countries with a population comprising less than 15% of the total world population emit more than 40% of world emissions.
Their average emissions per person are actually 2.3 times that of developing countries! This also means that when the total emissions of developing countries reach 40% of those of developed countries, they will have no choice but to buy these so- called "carbon credits".