In the past year alone, there has been a marked sea-change in the wider American public and international discourse on climate change. For far too long, it seems, the world has had to endure the prolonged grieving process of the fossil fuel industry.
The debate over climate change has been dominated by a fossil fuel industry in a deep state of denial (Stage 1) and anger (Stage 2) and which, so far, has refused to accept that the age of fossil fuel dependence is dead.
The problem is that denial and anger – fueled by money – has translated into serious attacks on anyone warning about climate change, including the scientific community. Those who recall the tactics the tobacco industry used to deny the link between smoking and cancer may not be surprised, but that is hardly comforting when the health of the planet is at stake. The fossil fuel industry’s campaign seemed to trap us all in Stage 3, bargaining almost exclusively on carbon emission reduction at the expense of other concrete actions. As the damage of global warming becomes more apparent around the world, we cannot allow ourselves to be held hostage by someone else’s grief. We cannot get depressed (Stage 4) while we wait for the fossil fuel industry to accept (Stage 5) the truth and move forward.
Those who support public interest whistleblowers, as GAP does, know the importance of ensuring critical information is available to all those who can and should take action on matters of public importance. Addressing fossil fuel dependence and stopping more damage to the planet is of utmost importance, and we need all the information we can get. If you have visited GAP’s website before, you will know about the actions taken in 2005 by Rick Piltz, the original founder of our Climate Science Watch project, who blew the whistle on the George W. Bush White House for political interference with the integrity of climate change communication. Under Rick’s leadership, the program was a vital loudspeaker in a hostile political environment of global warming silencing and denial. GAP is continuing Rick’s legacy by supporting the second stage of his vision, with the help of a small army of volunteers, and the launch of the Climate Science and Policy Watch program.
So for many reasons the climate talks in Paris this week are deeply important, not least because of the “climate” in which they are taking place. On the one hand, public awareness and demand for change is greater than ever before. Even the Pope says it is now or never. Reaching out to millions of Catholics around the world, the Pope’s 184 page encyclical published in June 2015 right before his visit to Washington DC, affirms the “very solid scientific consensus” that global warming is real and harmful, and that it is mainly as a result of human activity (for example, see NASA’s figures here showing how 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree). Yet despite President Obama’s lobbying in Paris for an international and binding agreement capable of meaningfully addressing climate change, back home, the House of Representatives quickly voted to block that attempt.
The horrendous attacks on the streets of Paris also mean that the UN climate talks are taking place under heightened security and when the idea of working together constructively and cooperatively feels harder to do than ever. Yet it is exactly what we must do. We must remain steadfast against those who use terror and fear to prompt a crackdown on civil liberties. Whistleblowers in national security agencies, in powerful banks, in multi-national industries and in government oversight bodies, have demonstrated time and again, that real protection depends on more, not less, transparency; more debate, not less; more accountability, not less.
GAP’s Climate Science & Policy Watch Director Michael Termini says it well:
“Environmental problems of the magnitude that we face, require massive, coordinated leadership and definitive action. Civil society, scientists and citizen activists must continue to take the lead for our leaders and galvanize action on this critical issue, which affects all of us.”
We need the freedom to do it.
Anna Myers is Executive Director and CEO of the Government Accountability Project.