Climate Change Denial isn’t About Science, or Even Skepticism
Lets’ suppose the world’s legitimate scientific institutions and academies, climate scientists, and most of the world’s governments are wrong.
Maybe, as some people have argued, they’re involved in a massive conspiracy to impose a socialist world order. Maybe the money’s just too damn good. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just imagine they’re wrong, and that the polar ice caps aren’t melting and the climate isn’t changing. Or, if you prefer, that it’s happening, but that it’s a natural occurrence—nothing to do with seven billion people spewing carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
Would it still make sense to continue rapidly burning the world’s diminishing supply of fossil fuels? Does it mean we shouldn’t worry about pollution?
We could pretend global warming isn’t happening, or that humans aren’t a factor if it is. That would be crazy in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but even if it weren’t, there would still be no reason to continue down the road we’re on. Energy is at the heart of modern society's needs, but when the source is finite, it seems folly to be hell-bent on using it up in a few generations, leaving the problems of depletion and pollution to our children and grandchildren. The longer we delay implementing solutions to our energy challenges the more costly and difficult it will be when we have to face the inevitable.
So, why do so many people insist that we remain stuck with outdated and destructive systems and technologies? Why do so many try to throw roadblocks in the way of progress and solutions? And what can we do about it?
Many books and studies have addressed the first two questions, including Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, and Climate Cover-Up, by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore. Those show that huge sums of corporate money have been spent on campaigns to sow doubt and confusion about issues ranging from the dangers of smoking to threats to the ozone layer to climate change. It’s all about protecting corporate profits and interests. That doesn’t explain why so many ordinary people buy the industry spin, but a number of theories have attempted to shed light on that phenomenon.
What’s important, though, is for those of us who rely on facts rather than spin to look at solutions. We can all do much more to reduce our environmental footprints, but the problem has grown so much that large-scale efforts are needed, and many of these must come from decision-makers in industry, government and academia. However, there appears to be reluctance in some of those circles to act unless the public demands it. And so it’s up to all of us to become informed. Then we can hold our leaders to account and challenge those who refuse to see the big picture.
This public responsibility is especially important in light of stepped-up efforts to deny the reality of climate change or the role humans play in it. Cases in point are illustrated by the “denialgate” scandal revealed by the release of Heartland Institute documents and the revelation that Ottawa’s Carleton University hired Tom Harris, a PR man for a number of “astroturf” groups with a mechanical engineering background, to teach a course on climate change.
There are many credible sources of information, and they aren’t blog sites run by weathermen like Anthony Watts or industry-funded fake science organizations. One place to start is at skepticalscience.com. Click on the tab that says “Arguments” for scientific responses to all the main climate change denier talking points.
Another great rebuttal to the deniers came in a recent article in the New York Review of Books by Yale University economics professor William D. Nordhaus. He said his article, “Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong,” was “primarily designed to correct their misleading description of my own research; but it also is directed more broadly at their attempt to discredit scientists and scientific research on climate change."
The misrepresentation of Nordhaus’s research is typical of the Orwellian doublespeak deniers employ, but scientists and researchers are calling them on it.
Armed with credible information, we can challenge those who misrepresent science and spread confusion. If nothing else, we’ll be able to breathe easier!
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington.
Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.