Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Musings: Denial

Koko and I were just about to head out into the darkness when a big rain came, so she went back to bed and I drank tea and worked until it stopped. The moon — super bright last night, and adorned with intricate cloud patterns — was struggling to be seen through the mauka pile up as we went walking through the puddles, accompanied by the constant swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of cars on wet pavement.

It made me think of a comment that a friend made last week when we stood on Kuhio Highway in Lihue town. “Just think of how much quieter it would be if all these cars were electric,” he said. “Electric cars are the answer.”

To which I replied: “No cars is the answer.”

But that day ain’t coming any time too soon, which is good, since I need to drive into town this morning.

My friend’s comment was prompted, or at least preceded, by a discussion over lunch about climate change, and just what it might take to get people to snap out of their stupor and make the hard choices necessary to reduce carbon emissions.

When the price of oil gets high enough, it’ll force cars like those off the road, he said, gesturing toward a monster truck parked outside the restaurant. Still, he said, he was kind of worried about the economic shocks that might occur when oil, already priced high, despite the current glut, is suddenly in demand again.

It all — and always — seems to come down to economics, and fears over the perceived high cost of actually taking steps to restrict emissions seems to have had the effect of causing folks to question whether climate change is really occurring.

In short, how do you deal with “an inconvenient truth?” Why, through denial, of course.

According to a recent piece in The Week, which can be read on line by subscribers only, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center indicates that just 36 percent of Americans believe that global temps are rising because of human activities — an 11-point drop since last year. And only 57% think there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, down from 71% in April 2008.

As the Associated Press noted:

The poll was released a day after 18 scientific organizations wrote Congress to reaffirm the consensus behind global warming. A federal government report Thursday found that global warming is upsetting the Arctic's thermostat.

"The priority that people give to pollution and environmental concerns and a whole host of other issues is down because of the economy and because of the focus on other things," suggested Andrew Kohut, the director of the research center, which conducted the poll from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4. "When the focus is on other things, people forget and see these issues as less grave."

Andrew Weaver, a professor of climate analysis at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said politics could be drowning out scientific awareness.

"It's a combination of poor communication by scientists, a lousy summer in the Eastern United States, people mixing up weather and climate and a full-court press by public relations firms and lobby groups trying to instill a sense of uncertainty and confusion in the public," he said.

Interestingly enough, just 35 percent of Republicans believe climate change is happening, compared with 53 percent of independents and 75 percent of Democrats. (Anarchists, it seems, are never polled.)

The Week quoted Steve Benen of WashingtonMonthly.com as saying:

“The more GOP leaders characterize climate change as an ideological/partisan issue — it’s only something liberal eggheads with their annoying ‘data’ and ‘evidence’ care about — the more the rank and file will agree.”

Unfortunately, Americans aren’t the only ones with their heads in the sand. As the Calgary Herald reported:

Canadian climate-change scientists say growing skepticism about global warming in the media is confusing federal politicians and causing delays in action that could prevent dangerous changes in the Earth's atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the deniers continue to pump out their propaganda and obscure the issue by levying personal attacks.

And through it all, the clock keeps ticking as the temperatures keep rising and the ice keeps melting and the ocean keeps acidifying as we keep dithering.

As the old saying goes, never underestimate the power of denial.


Anonymous said...

if we didn't have cars we could have a bikepath around the island with plenty of room to spare for dogs, strollers, kupuna and horses. i'd vote for that!

Anonymous said...

Try reading S. Oppenhimer, Out of Eden.
He says that natural gobal warming, extended by human activity, is actually staving off a glacial period.
A glacial period that may be harder to cope with then a warming of the earth.