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Science is Science, but Indifference Trumps All

Lou Grinzo's picture

Lou Grinzo is a writer and researcher residing in Rochester, NY. He blogs at The Cost of Energy (http://www.grinzo.com/energy/)

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carbon emissions and obama admin policy

I’m sure most people in this little virtual corner cafe are aware of the interview President Obama gave Thomas L. Friedman, published in the The New York Times, Obama on Obama on Climate. The juxtaposition of some of Obama’s comments with some just released results from a survey conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Communication are, to put it mildly, interesting.

From the Times piece:

For starters, Obama is aware that we can’t just keep burning oil, coal and gas until they run out. As the International Energy Agency warned, “no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050” — unless carbon capture and storage technology is widely deployed — otherwise we’ll bust through the limit of a 2 degree Celsius rise in average temperature that climate scientists believe will unleash truly disruptive ice melt, sea level rise and weather extremes. The rest has to stay in the ground, and we need to steadily find cleaner alternatives and more energy efficiency. I asked Obama if he agreed with that analysis.

“Science is science,” he said. “And there is no doubt that if we burned all the fossil fuel that’s in the ground right now that the planet’s going to get too hot and the consequences could be dire.”

Do I really have to add here that I wish Friedman had pressed President Obama about how aggressively we have to curtail our CO2 emissions to have even a ghost of a chance of remaining below 2C? Or even asked him what scientists are increasingly saying about 2C being the appropriate limit? No, that would be too obvious, and I would expect anyone who reads this blog to have a head of steam up about those points, and likely others, just as much as I do.

No, what prompts me to write is those survey results, which include the following table:


This table tells us that among American adults, 18% think “thousands” or “millions” of people die annually because of global warming, with another 20% saying similar numbers of people are injured or made ill. And looking ahead 50 years, 31% of people think that thousands to millions will die because of global warming, while 32% say that many people will become ill or injured.

So, how is there even a single climate change denier in elected office today? How can any candidate, anywhere in the US, so much as whisper that “the science isn’t in” or “there have always been cycles” or whatever other low-grade denialist balloon juice they’re peddling these days without being laughed off the campaign trail?

The answer, of course, is simply that even the people who intellectually grasp at least the fundamental feeds and speeds of the problem don’t care enough to do anything about it. I’m sure a great number of these people have children, so their view of the problem and their lack of action amount to no more or less than saying, “My kids will have to live through a bad horror movie for a good portion of their lives, but I don’t want to change anything to try to avoid that outcome.”

Can you think of anything more revelatory, more condemning of a broad population, than their consistently putting their own short-term gratification ahead of the well being of the world’s children, including their own? Perhaps we need a term for such willful indifference, something akin to The Good German. Given the shocking level of immorality, myopia, greed, and fanatical pursuit of personal gratification on display, I suggest we go with The Corporate American.

Photo Credit: Science and Public Opinion/shutterstock

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Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Jun 16, 2014

‘18% think “thousands” or “millions” of people die annually because of global warming,…’

Adding the 16% who said ‘thousands’ to the 2% who said ‘millions’ is rather misleading. I personally would guess ‘1-10k’, with soft confidence. Does anyone who’s well-informed say ‘millions’? The annual death rate is about 56M; ‘millions’, i.e. 2+M, would be over 3% of all deaths! Do you believe that? 

As for the political indifference, that would be due to the 70% who said ‘no one’ or ‘don’t know’.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 18, 2014

When the icecps melt sufficiently to slow ocean currents leading to stagnate waters (ocean anoxia), hydrogen sulfide emitting bacteria will create the alien atmosphere of death, as has happened before.

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