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For Humanity's Sake, Get Over Climate-Change Denial


There are many reasons otherwise sane and rational people reject the overwhelming worldwide consensus of scientists that climate change is real, that it's caused by human activity, and that, unless drastic steps are taken, it will be catastrophic to humanity.

For some, it's a matter of pure economics. As author and journalist Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." The fossil fuel industry pays a lot of salaries.

For some, it's ideological. Responding to climate change will require significant government action, and for those ideologically opposed to all but the most limited government action, better to deny the science than rethink cherished beliefs.

For others, it may be psychological. What scientists are predicting is scary, and individual action seems insufficient to do anything about it. Not only that, but the worst impacts are decades off, right? Better to stick one's head in the sand.

And a few may sincerely doubt the science — most likely because someone whose salary depends on a continuing lack of action has misled them.

But whatever drives it, denial is becoming harder to sustain.

Data recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that October 2015 was the warmest October on record, and had the greatest average departure from average temperatures of any month on record. Not only that, this year is on track to be the warmest year on record.

Average global land and ocean surface temperatures were 1.76 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average in October. That shattered the previous record (set just last year) by 0.36 degrees. Those sound like small numbers but, in terms of climate change, they are significant.

More worrisome: Of the top 10 records for warmest months compared to 20th century averages, seven were set this year. Year-to-date, global land and ocean surface temperatures were 1.55 degrees above the norm.

As global leaders prepare to gather for a climate summit in Paris, it's important that the world deals with scientific reality, however difficult it may be and whoever's salary it may put at risk.

That reality is bleak: Unless humanity takes radical steps to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and does it soon, catastrophe is inevitable.

We are already witnessing the shape this catastrophe is likely to take: more extreme weather events, including destructive storms; rising sea levels; debilitating droughts; longer heat waves; and increases in disease, famine and other human suffering.

This result will be more scarcity of resources globally, leading to more conflict and instability.

It is not a pretty picture, but it could get even worse if warming leads to climate tipping points when gradual increases in temperature lead to abrupt and irreversible changes, such as the collapse of the Gulf Stream or the release of huge quantities of methane from the permafrost.

There are promising signs that world leaders are beginning to understand the urgent need to act.

President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan could result in significant reductions of greenhouse emissions from U.S. power plants. That would be a big help. China and other nations are also coming to Paris seemingly prepared to make genuine commitments.

Taken as a whole, though, those commitments are not enough. They represent only a small down payment on the action the world needs to take to avert disaster.

However, even that small down payment is too much for some. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution, 52 to 46, to block the Clean Power Plan. Obama promised a veto, but the passage of the bill was as much about weakening his position at the climate summit as it was about actually blocking new regulations. This vote will make it more difficult for Mr. Obama to negotiate a meaningful climate pact in Paris.

It's difficult to imagine what future generations will think of us if the worst predictions come to pass and humanity faces an epic struggle for survival. They will look back and wonder why we ignored the opportunity to act that we have now.

Action won't be painless, but it also won't be as burdensome as opponents suggest. Renewable energy sources are becoming more competitive with fossil fuels every day, and when you consider the massive environmental and public health costs that the fossil fuel industry currently shifts to the public, clean energy looks even more attractive.

That industry and its powerful allies cannot see past short-term political and financial gain to understand the magnitude of the risks they are subjecting all of us to.

Climate change denial is a sickness with many causes. If the world cannot overcome it and commit to real action, the consequences will be ruinous.




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Marc Dion
Marc DionUpdated 30 Nov 2015
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