Daily Archives: March 7, 2019

How ‘Merchants of doubt’ fooled the public about climate change

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By Zeeshan Hasan

In 1988, Dr. James Hansen, senior climate scientist at NASA, testified to the US Senate that global warming caused by burning fossil fuels was a serious threat. Yet for 30 years the world did practically nothing, and both greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continued. Global inactivity was largely due to successive US governments pretending that the science of global warming was still uncertain and not worth the expense of reducing coal, oil and gas use. The intentional ignorance of climate science on the part of the American politicians was encouraged by a small group of right-wing scientists who were not specialists in climate change, but were rather driven by ideological opposition to the increased government regulation that would obviously be required to tackle issues such as global warming. Reluctance of US authorities to consider reducing fossil fuel use resulted in all other countries refusing to to act as well. How this happened is the subject of Merchants of Doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.
Oreskes, a professor of history of science at Harvard University, points out that a number of the prominent scientific advisors of the US government (recurring names are Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, Robert Jastrow and Bill Nierenberg) started their careers in nuclear weapons and missile research in the midst of Cold War conflicts with Russia. Thus these scientists were reflexively anti-Communist and inclined to oppose any scientific research that made a case for more government regulation; they saw such regulations as a sign of the socialism which they had opposed all their careers growing within the US. Hence this small but influential group of senior scientific advisors continuously opposed emerging scientific findings that tobacco caused cancer, that industrial pollution caused acid rain, and finally that dangerous climate change would be caused by burning coal, oil and gas. Unfortunately, these anti-regulation/pro-market scientists found support in the fossil fuel industry, various pro-market media and think tanks, and various US politicians whose political campaigns received money from coal/oil/gas companies. The result was that the science of global warming and climate change was perceived by the media, the government and the public as contested for decades after a scientific consensus on these issues was in fact established. Due to these manufactured doubts, government policy was slow to accept the scientific evidence on the danger of man-made global warming.
Of the various scientific issues discussed by Oreskes, climate change has by far the biggest impact on humanity as a whole and thus also created the most resistance amongst anti-regulation scientists, corporate lobby groups and politicians. Reading Oreskes’ book, one sees how naïve it is to expect that worldwide government policies regarding global warming would be simply be decided based on scientific evidence. The fact is that the political systems which have been established to govern democratic countries are not set up to make decisions based on science. Rather they are set up to encourage politicians to make decisions based on the likelihood of winning the next election. Multinational coal, oil and gas companies have more than enough money to make political donations big enough to legally “buy” political support for their industries in spite of dire scientific warnings. The public has largely been deceived by fake science produced by non-specialists in climate change presenting themselves as ‘experts’ and muddying up the waters with doubt. Oreskes’ book has also been made into an informative film.
The past 30 years has shown that voters around the world, and especially in the US, have not been sufficiently informed of the dangers of catastrophic global warming which could cause worldwide water shortage, crop failures and famines resulting in hundreds of millions of deaths if left unchecked. Fossil fuel companies and anti-regulation scientists and politicians have taken advantage of the lack of knowledge of climate science among the public to deceive and endanger us all. Hopefully this will change as the media and the public wake up to the threat of global warming. Only the tireless activism of all members of the public can change the cycle of misinformation and election of climate-skeptic politicians. Otherwise the world will continue getting hotter, and our children might grow up to inherit a climate running amok.

Climate Refugees – How does it Feel to Flee Your Home Country?

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By Kate Goldstone

There’s a lot of cruel nonsense talked about refugees. Some people think refugees only leave their home countries because of greed, because they’re simply economic migrants, because they want to tap into another country’s social security system or take other people’s jobs. But when you put yourself in their shoes, life as a refugee looks very different.

Maybe you escaped from war or rape, murder, starvation, dictatorship, terrorism, or violence. Maybe you’re making a life-or-death journey to give your children a better life. And just maybe you’ve had to flee your home country because of climate change. It’s happening.

OK, so climate change refugees are, so far, quite rare. But as the climate steadily warms and already-hot regions around the equator become too hot to support human life, we’re likely to see climate change refugees from all over the planet relocating to survive. How much sympathy will you feel for them? How welcome will you make them? It all depends how deeply you can imagine yourself in their shoes, how much you can empathise.

How it feels to leave your home country

You might not realise it until you leave, but everything about the place you were born and brought up is dear and familiar. Away from home you slowly realise that everything – absolutely every aspect – of the place you’ve moved to is baffling and strange. Not just the language, not just the way things are done. The food in the shops is puzzling and unfamiliar. The currency, the laws, the rules and regulations, the people, the clothing, the road signs, the cars, the sense of humour, nothing really makes sense any more. Even the air, the smells, the light, the way the evenings fall and the days begin, are different. You don’t even feel like you belong in your own skin any more.

You say the wrong things, in the wrong way, to the wrong people. You keep getting cultural stuff wrong, missing the mark, never feeling quite at home, or quite comfortable, or like you belong. You have no friends, no family, no support network. And, often, there’s nobody to help from a human perspective, from an emotional view point. Just cold-faced officials herding you through the system like cattle.

How would you feel if climate change forced you to leave your home, the things you love, everything you recognise and feel safe with? Can you imagine how distressing, terrifying and unsettling it’d feel? Would you be able to sleep at night? Would you wake every morning with feelings of sadness, of despair, of desperate loss?

Do you think it’s fair to lump your fellow humans into one big, unhappy, suffering category, simply anonymous members of a ‘refugee crisis’? This is how refugees are often treated whatever their origin, age, race or gender. Even though many governments and politicians are hell-bent on dehumanising them, refugees are exactly like you and me.

How many climate change refugees can we expect to see?

What’s the climate change-led refugee crisis looking like so far? Take Bangladesh. Most of Bangladesh lies just above sea level. The rainy season sees as much as a fifth of the entire nation flooded, and it’s only going to get worse as sea levels rise. According to National Geographic,Interviews with dozens of migrant families, scientists, urban planners, human rights advocates, and government officials across Bangladesh reveal that while the country is keenly aware of its vulnerability to climate change, not enough has been done to match the pace and scale of the resultant displacement and urbanization, toppling any prospect of a humane life for one of the world’s largest populations of climate migrants.

AsRefugees International says, “In 2018, a UN scientific panel released a major report warning that – absent immediate and ambitious action – climate change will have severe and irreversible impacts. This is especially true for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Among the report’s key findings are that higher temperatures, more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and other effects of climate change will contribute to human displacement, migration, and conflict worldwide.

At the same time the United Nations Refugee Agency says, “The Earth’s climate is changing at a rate that has exceeded most scientific forecasts. Some families and communities have already started to suffer from disasters and the consequences of climate change, forced to leave their homes in search of a new beginning. For UNHCR, the consequences of climate change are enormous. Scarce natural resources such as drinking water are likely to become even more limited. Many crops and some livestock are unlikely to survive in certain locations if conditions become too hot and dry, or too cold and wet. Food security, already a concern, will become even more challenging.”

The World Economic Forum also expresses concern, saying, “A new study in Science finds that as crops fail in agricultural regions of the world, more people will seek asylum in Europe in the coming decades. If the current warming trends were to continue, the research predicts that by 2100 Europe will receive around 660,000 extra applicants each year.

Whatever the number of displaced people turns out to be, whichever regions of the world they escape from and flee to, there are eventually going to be millions of us leaving climate change-affected countries to find safer, better lives. You might be one of them. If you’re flooded out of your home, it’s impossible to grow food on your land any more, or climate change related violence is threatening your family, you might have to leave.

Would you expect compassion from your new country?

If it happens to you, you’ll expect your new country to treat you with kindness and respect. You’ll want the people to be welcoming, and the officials to help you settle down quickly. You’ll expect the right facilities and support at every stage. And you’ll be even more distressed, lost, and frightened if it didn’t happen.

A refugee isn’t a problem or an issue to solve. A refugee is a fellow human being in need. Far too many governments around the world already dehumanise refugees, painting them as a big problem, people we should be suspicious of, people we should protect ourselves against. And that’s not human. It’s a disgrace.