CLIMATE CHANGE – INDUSTRY KNEW THIS WAS COMING
Allan Maynard, MSc. August 5th, 2021.
Sometimes a picture can express many words. This graphic does just that. Many believe it’s already too late to stop the warming that was predicted decades ago.
There is little doubt now. Climate change is dangerously impacting societies the world over. As forests burn and cities drown, as crops wither and people die, the question looms louder than ever this summer: What will it take for leaders to finally act? Consider the following recent extreme events – many unprecedented.
• In late June 2021, it was a deadly heat wave in the north-west Americas that smashed Canada’s all-time temperature record by more than 5 degrees C and caused around 500 to 600 heat related deaths in each of British Columbia, Oregon and Washington. The World Weather Attribution Organization (see link below) reports that this was the “the most anomalous heat event ever observed on Earth.”
Burnt-out cars stand in front of a ruined building in Lytton, B.C., on July 9, 2021. (Bethany Lindsay/CBC News). In late June 2021, Lytton recorded Canada’s highest ever temperature of 49.6 degrees C (121.3 degrees F).
• About 10 days later, it was devastating floods that turned streets into rivers and trapped people in cellars in Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the UK.
• A few days after that, we observed horrifying visions of Chinese commuters trapped in Zhengzhou subway trains as flood waters pushed air out of the carriages. At least 33 people died in the city after a year’s worth of rain fell in four days.
• Other heat records were recently set in Turkey, Finland, Estonia and elsewhere, while savage forest fires in North America continue to rage, filling the skies with toxic smoke over a good portion of the continent.
• Massive floods are also deluging Nigeria, Uganda, and India in recent days, killing hundreds.
• More than a million people are close to starvation amid Madagascar’s worst drought in history.
• In Siberia, tens of thousands of square miles of forest are ablaze. New data is now showing that the drastic warming in Siberia is unleashing methane stored in the frozen ground below. Methane is 84 times stronger than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
Forest fires in Siberia. The resulting smoke from forest fires such as this one and other fires and others around the world are highly dangerous to human health.
The U.N. climate officials are pleading for the world to heed the alarm bells, pointing out that these catastrophes are simply the latest in a ghastly string of warnings over decades, that the planet is hurtling down a treacherous path. Most alarming of all is that the science is now showing that climate change is making parts of the world too hot and humid for humans to survive.
PREDICTED LONG AGO (even by Industry)
In 1896, Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius created what was, in effect, the first model of climate change. After years of work and hand computations he made a striking prediction. He stated that if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doubled it would raise global temperatures by 5 to 6 degrees. Today – that prediction holds up reasonably well. The CO2 concentration has almost doubled and warming in the arctic areas has increased over 7 degrees C.
Since the 1960s there have been plenty of modern warnings from scientists around the world. I can clearly recall one important warning more than 3 decades ago (1988), when James Hansen—then a NASA scientist, told the US Congress – “the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” Another early prediction – a 1972 MIT study predicted that rapid economic growth would lead to societal collapse in the mid 21st century. A new paper shows we’re unfortunately right on schedule (see link below).
But consider this prediction from JAMES F. BLACK – SENIOR SCIENTIST FOR EXXONMOBIL – in the 1970s no less. – “There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels … There are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert. (Some countries) would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed. Man has a time window of 5 to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical. Once the effects are measurable they might not be reversable.”
From this and other unearthed industry documents as well as highly credible research studies in the public domain – there is no escaping the fact that the fossil fuel industry knew this was coming.
INDUSTRY TACTICS – BILLIONS SPENT ON DENIAL AND DELAY
So – what was industry’s response to these dire and well-founded warnings, many from their own scientists? DENIAL AND DELAY. For the fossil fuel industry, climate change denial has been a multi-million-dollar endeavour. After all, trillions of dollars of assets will have to be left in the ground as the world moves towards renewable energy and away from energy based on fossil fuels. It is well documented that the public relations firms used to undermine climate change science are the same kinds of companies (along with their so-called ‘scientists’) that were hired to deny the truth linking lung cancer to cigarettes, industrial discharge to acid rain and CFCs (chloro-fluoro carbons) to ozone depletion. In all of these cases they have been soundly proven wrong. They fought science with junk-science but their message stuck. The denial reports, even though wrong, became the salvation for politicians who lacked the courage to confront the global warming threat, or even worse bowed to the wishes of their mega-donors.
LATEST INDUSTRY TACTIC – BLAME THE CONSUMERS
In the past few years, the denial strategy by industry has crumbled in the face of the many dramatic realities of climate change. For this reason, the fossil fuel industries have been settling on a new tactic to avoid being properly and necessarily regulated. That tactic? DEFLECTION – TO BLAMING THE CONSUMER.
You may recall my second article of the plastics series (The Myth of Plastic Recycling) describing the “Crying Indian” (played by an Italian actor) ad (see link below). The ad was a fraud. The ad was funded by the “Keep America Beautiful” organization founded and still mainly funded, by the beverage and packaging industries. While anti-littering campaigns should certainly be lauded, the sinister reality behind this campaign was to shift blame for packaging waste in the environment towards the users of the products rather than the manufacturers.
This tactic has now been embraced by the fossil fuel industries, factory agriculture and more. Michael Mann – the respected and widely published climate scientist has called this the Great Deflection Campaign in his new book “The New Climate War”. The idea, as with the packaging waste, is to shift the blame to consumers –buy smaller cars, fly less, eat less meat, buy clothes from recycled fibres, etc. It’s us consumers who are to blame – not institutions, manufacturers, or sub-standard government policies. Sure – consumer choice and individual action are needed, but these will not result in high-speed transport, funding for renewable energy research, or regulate toxic and greenhouse gas emissions.
WHAT THEN MUST WE DO?
This heading – the actual title of the Leo Tolstoy book dealing with poverty, exploitation, and greed as perennial aspects of the human condition, seemed appropriate to summarize. We are now facing a very rough road ahead. We have left it too long. Our biggest enemy is no longer climate denial but now it’s climate delay. The most dangerous opponents of change are no longer the shrinking minority who deny the need for action, but the supposed supporters of change who refuse to act at the pace that the science demands. Unless the world cuts emissions in half in this decade, we will probably lose the chance to avoid warming of significantly more than the 1.5C set out in the 2015 Paris Accord.
There is no way we will get out of this crisis without a massive intervention that is even grander in scope than the recovery from World War II. As Michael Mann points out – “there is no escape from climate change catastrophe that doesn’t involve policies aimed at societal decarbonization”. It will take behavioural change, incentivized by appropriate government policies, strict regulation, intergovernmental agreements, and massive technological innovation. Business as usual (in other words laissez-faire or hyper- capitalism) and the accompanying politics (bought and paid for by major corporations) is no longer an option. The politicians that are standing in the way of massive change and the accompanying investment must be voted out of office.
The actions we take defy the normal rhythm of political cycles. As Ed Miliband correctly points out in The Guardian “What we do in the next few years will have effects for hundreds of years to come”. Let us hope these actions take our world in the right direction as opposed. Otherwise, our children, grandchildren and future generations face an unthinkable terrifying future.
Michael Mann – The New Climate War – PublicAffairs – New York, 2021.