“Is it ignorance, that these electric companies do not know the science? Is it arrogance, that they somehow imagine they know better than what the science has shown? The answer is likely worse than either of these,” writes CSW guest columnist Andrew Bard Schmookler. “Money talks, and if there were hundreds of billions of dollars at stake in making Americans believe the earth were flat, we’d be hearing that ‘the science is not settled.’"
By Andrew Bard Schmookler
It’s not hard to figure what our electric cooperatives are up to in their magazine, Cooperative Living.
From the pages of this publication, sent monthly to customers of electric co-ops in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware – 500,000 homes – one would think that climate change is nothing to get too concerned about, certainly not so worried as to do anything about it. The message comes through not only in the letters-to-the-editors, but also, in the most recent issue, in a featured full-page column by a “contributing writer” – a software engineer without climate science expertise.
Consider what it means to put out this this message in the light of the following facts:
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that 97 % of the top scientists in the field of climate science are convinced by the evidence for human-caused climate change.
And meanwhile a joint letter to Congress signed by leaders of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, and more than a dozen other of the principal scientific organizations of our nation, stated:
Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science. Moreover, there is strong evidence that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and on the environment.
Among the quite possible consequences foreseen by the experts are: rising sea levels submerging important coastal lands, such as half of Florida and lower Manhattan; increasing crop failures and possible famines, and a scarcity of water where it’s needed; increasing conflict over scarce resources and massive migrations of peoples; a wave of extinctions of plants and animals.
This is the message from those who know best, the core institutions of American science, and the cream of the crop of those scientists who specialize in the relevant field: climate change is occurring because of how we are changing the atmosphere, and its impact could be significant and damaging.
The scientific knowledge is not perfect, but it is good enough to tell us that prudent and caring and responsible people would take some strong (but reasonable) steps to stop accelerating the momentum toward a man-made disaster for all of mankind and indeed all of life on earth.
But we, as a society, are not treating that important message with the respect that it deserves. And Cooperative Living is one part of that terrible failure.
Is it ignorance, that these electric companies do not know the science? Is it arrogance, that they somehow imagine they know better than what the science has shown?
The answer is likely worse than either of these. Investigations have shown that the force behind climate change denial is the power of money. A majority of the richest corporations in the world are in the energy business, and they don’t want us to shake our addiction to their product. So for decades now, their billions give a huge platform and loud megaphone to people denying what 97 percent of the experts agree to be true.
Money talks, and if there were hundreds of billions of dollars at stake in making Americans believe the earth were flat, we’d be hearing that “the science is not settled.”
97 percent to 3: we citizens shouldn’t even be debating this issue.
What kind of corporate culture have we that, to maintain maximal profits, would deceive us about the danger we’re creating to the most vital interests of our descendants?
What kind of society have we become that we would be so easy to manipulate, and so eager not to have to make the least sacrifice, to invest but a fraction of what we spent to win the cold war, to protect the basic well-being of our children and our children’s children?
How will those generations be able to forgive us if, despite the important possible threats disclosed by science to their future, we showed ourselves unwilling to do anything to protect them?
Virginia-based CSW guest columnist Andrew Bard Schmookler is the author of various books, including the prize-winning The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution, and of the website None So Blind.
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