When does opposition to action on climate change cross the line between legitimate political debate and enter the realms of irresponsible, immoral and dangerous inaction? Paul Krugman, professor of economics at Princeton, Nobel prize winner and New York Times columnist is in no doubt: most of those who voted against the Waxman-Markey emissions reduction bill in Washington earlier this week breached all the principles of good governance.
…most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases. And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldnâ€™t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason â€” treason against the planet.
To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.
Krugman mentions MIT’s revised projections, and the Copenhagen synthesis report analysed in recent posts by Bryan Walker conveys the same message. But it was the quality of the debate in Congress that really upset him…
Krugman was particularly moved by the comments made by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia:
Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Fridayâ€™s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a â€œhoaxâ€ that has been â€œperpetrated out of the scientific community.â€ Iâ€™d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists â€” a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.
Yet Mr. Brounâ€™s declaration was met with applause.
You can watch Broun’s speech at Climate Progress. It’s not a pretty spectacle. Krugman then asks the big question:
Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isnâ€™t it politics as usual?
Yes, it is â€” and thatâ€™s why itâ€™s unforgivable. […] …the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because itâ€™s in their political interest to pretend that thereâ€™s nothing to worry about. If thatâ€™s not betrayal, I donâ€™t know what is.
No doubt Krugman’s blunt assessment will meet with howls of fury from cranks and deniers around the world. But he has a very good point, one that I would like to explore a little in the New Zealand context. Let me be clear about one thing: I do not think that people who are ill-informed, misinformed or disinclined to believe in the dangers of global warming are guilty of any offence — other than, in some cases, wilful ignorance, perhaps born of ideology. Nor would I include industries and companies lobbying for soft treatment under any carbon pricing regime. Much as I think that contributes to the difficulty of solving the problem, it is still a perfectly legitimate course of action for them to take — provided that they don’t deny the obvious, the existence of the need for action.
The culpable ones, the people who will be vilified by future generations are those who have deliberately spread disinformation on the reality of the problem for ideological or purely political purposes — who have sought to delay action and in so doing made the long term damages worse than they need have been. In the US, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heartland have been in the forefront of carefully orchestrated campaigns to undermine public trust in climate science and its findings. Heartland have gone beyond the boundaries of the USA and sponsored climate denial around the world, organising conferences and publishing a veritable cherry orchard of denialist tomes. These organisations and their paymasters will have to face up to the consequences of their actions.
In New Zealand, the Climate “Science” Coalition have done their feeble best to spread the denialist message, but have only really found a receptive ear in the ranks of the libertarian right and whatever Rodney Hide is calling himself this week. Their sole success has been the National Party’s craven (and from a Krugman perspective shameful) agreement to ACT’s demand for an ETS review, but on a global scale they are unlikely to be more than footnotes to a sorry story.
In the case of tobacco, it took about 20 years for the industry’s machinations to be found out and brought to court. With climate change, it may not take so long. My guess is that at some point in the next decade, the clear and present danger to which Krugman refers is going to be undeniable, the damages obvious and the human and monetary costs mounting. The world at large is going to wake up to the inconvenient truth. The shift of public opinion will be swift, and cranks and deniers will be as popular as Nazis in London during the Blitz.
Every year’s delay now means a year more of warming when its at its worst. You don’t need to channel Lovelock to know that it’s going to be bad. The deniers have made a bargain with the devil, but we will all pay the price. For that they deserve all the infamy coming to them. And come it will.