By FRANK CARINI
The past two years have been hell for the environment. Things weren’t going that swimmingly before authoritarian wannabes in the United States, Poland, and Hungary decided to join despots in Russia and Saudi Arabia in spreading climate lies and working to make the present and future worse.
That is why 2019 needs to be the year we reject the lies and the people who spread them. It’s the year we take the deniers’ soapbox away. It’s the year we start to elect only those who recognize the problem.
The fact that the planet has a fever isn’t in dispute among the vast majority of scientists and sane world leaders. A 2013 report that analyzed scientific papers studying climate change found that 97 percent of scientists endorsed the idea that humans are causing global warming.
In fact, it’s been more than five decades since scientists first expressed concern to a U.S. president about the dangers of a changing climate.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment — the recent work of 13 federal agencies and 350 scientists — is crystal clear: The planet is warming faster than at any time in human history, and humans are causing it.
At least 18 scientific societies in the United States, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Medical Association, have issued official statements about manmade climate change.
Despite this scientific consensus — and common sense, quite frankly — climate-change deniers are still given airtime, by the same media outlets that nightly report on wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and other extreme weather. Many of the same people being left homeless by a feverish Mother Nature vote for politicians who deride climate solutions and incessantly bark about clean coal.
When the second volume of the National Climate Assessment was released in November, a failed presidential candidate and paid CNN contributor went on the cable news network to spread manure, babbling that climate scientists “are driven by the money that they receive.”
The thing is, just about every climate scientist could make the same amount of money, or more, in a different field, like, say, the fossil-fuel industry. The money they receive from those insidious grants deniers point to pays those scientists for their work, graduate researchers, computer programs, modeling technology, and publication fees, among other expenses, and a percentage often goes to the university or college where they are employed.
Professors at public universities and colleges who teach environmental studies and earth sciences generally do earn more than their peers in social sciences and humanities, but less than faculty in business, economics, and law departments, according to the Association of American Universities.
The next day, CNN gave airtime to another denier, a former House majority leader who was convicted in 2010 on money laundering and conspiracy charges — a Texas Court of Appeals panel acquitted him. He pontificated that the U.S. government report was “made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming. That’s what this is all about. It’s not any new science. It's not any new — the only new stuff is the alarmist stuff that in 80 years we're going to see people dying and starving and all that kind of stuff.”
Deniers ignore the fact that internal research by fossil-fuel companies supports the scientific consensus on climate change. They also ignore the fact people are already dying and starving. But there can’t be climate refugees if the climate is hunky-dory. Must be fake news.
When the first volume of the National Climate Assessment was released last year, the White House responded with the application of more organic fertilizer, spouting fossil-fuel talking points that “the climate has changed and is always changing” and that it “will change back again.”
Those PR terms are popular with ignorant deniers who dismiss climate change by talking about past ice ages and warming cycles, or by bringing a snowball to the Senate floor. They prefer to blame any excess heat in the atmosphere on the sun, volcanoes, and livestock — they ignore the fact these animals are harvested in factory farms by humans for ourselves and our pets.
Greedy deniers point to cold winter days and childishly say, “Look.” They are unwilling or unable to recognize that climate is the long-term average of weather over decades. They ignore the fact that since the turn of the century the planet has endured far more heat records than cold ones.
Instead of concern for future generations and for life on this polluted blue sphere, we get senators who call for an investigation of a National Science Foundation program that educates meteorologists about climate change, alleging that the teaching of science is nothing more than propaganda.
Instead of concern about what we leave behind, we get a group of careless Rhode Islanders working to keep the mere mention of climate change out of comprehensive municipal plans.
Instead of concern about human health being impacted by the unrelenting burning of fossil fuels, we get a White House “science” adviser casting doubt on longstanding research that links fossil-fuel pollution to premature deaths and health problems. The industry-hack-turned-Environmental-Protection-Agency-consultant is questioning whether soot from coal plants and cars can be directly blamed for asthma and cardiopulmonary problems.
Instead of investigating the corrosive effects of special-interest money on democracy, the federal government uses the FBI to assess the danger posed by the climate-change activist group 350.org and its founder, an environmentalist, author, journalist, and educator.
Politicians hold press conferences to praise fossil-fuel companies for helping to address a problem they knowingly created and handsomely profit from. In November, for instance, profits for the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company surged 57 percent to $6.24 billion. (The 350 scientists who authored the Fourth National Climate Assessment would have had to make more than $17,828,571 each to top the profits of just one fossil-fuel corporation.)
A 2017 report found that U.S. taxpayers continue to fund more than $20 billion in fossil-fuel subsidies annually, for an industry that in 2016 compensated its four highest-paid CEOs a combined $95.5 million.
For the sake of comparison, in fiscal 2017 the federal government spent $13.2 billion of taxpayer money on climate-change funding, according to the Government Accountability Office. Most of that money funded renewable-energy technology. Science funding accounted for $2.8 billion, and climate-science funding represents only 2.4 percent of the 118.3 billion in total federal research funding for fiscal 2017.
The fossil-fuel corporation applauded in Providence at a mid-November press conference also happens to be one of the biggest polluters in Rhode Island, but since it donated some financial scraps to help fund climate mitigation efforts, it gets to play the part of savior.
In the press release announcing the restoration grants, the term “climate change” is avoided. Instead, the fossil-fuel bought announcement uses terms such as “coastal resilience” and refers to rebuilding after hurricanes and safeguarding vulnerable coastal areas. It’s all about treating the symptoms, not the disease. Tiny percentages of bigly profits aren’t going to solve a massive problem.
The coastal resilience press release quotes a U.S. senator from Louisiana who has said he believes that global temperatures are rising but says the evidence doesn’t clearly explain why. He supports “encouraging technology to burn clean burning coal.” He has told reporters that while the planet may be getting warmer, “I’ve seen many persuasive arguments that it’s just a continuation of the warming up from the little ice age.”
A U.S. senator from Rhode Island is quoted in the same release as saying he’s “grateful” to this science-challenged senator “for joining me in this effort.”
The United States was ranked 27th out of 180 countries in an environmental performance review compiled this year by Yale University and Columbia University researchers. The environmental performance index assigns the ranking based on 10 categories, including air and water quality, biodiversity, and climate and energy.
To celebrate that less-than-impressive ranking from the purported leader of the free world, the White House is planning to strip Obama-era pollution protections from thousands of streams and millions of acres of wetlands.
The federal government plans to scale back the list of waterways for which land users are required to obtain permits to be able to pollute, according to a recent story in The Guardian. That pollution includes agricultural runoff from fertilizers and pesticides and other industry waste, which can flow from smaller tributaries or wetlands into major bodies of water. The vast network of waterways covered by the current protections provide drinking water to some 117 million Americans.
The new year demands we stop listening to and electing liars and corporate puppets. It’s also time we stop watching cable news networks and Sunday talk shows that continue to pay idiots and give free airtime to deplorables who spew toxic lies.
Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.