Monday, June 29, 2009

Betraying the planet - Krugman

"Is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual?  Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable."

Today's NYT:

"So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research...

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there’s growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing — that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual?

Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is."

Read a new Krugman every few days on my blogroll -->


Roger Wegener said...

In Australia in 2009 we have our conservatives - masquerading as liberals - who regularly stuff up because of their born to rule - head in the sand attitude.

In America in 2009 they have their conservatives - often owned by religious right - who stuff up because of their anti science - christian fundamentalism.

In both cases they need to take a large portion of "humble pie" while listening and learning about what is important to their constituents.

Some might even need to go back to school to learn some basic science - or is it too much to expect that those charged with shepherding our planet have a basic understanding of how it all works.

This is sickening stuff - at a time when the planet needs all the help it can get.

carbonsink said...


One day you are applauding the strength of the dirtiest economy on the planet (and I mean Australia, not China). The next you are horrified by the actions of Republican denialists.

I mean, if we were exporting solar panels and wind turbines to Asia then perhaps I'd understand, but last time I looked, Australia was the world's biggest coal exporter, and as Jim Hansen said, "Coal is the enemy of the human race"

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is humans against the planet. Gee, I wonder which one will win? Sorry disaster capitalist hoping to make a profit from global degradation, your game is going to get patchy.

Ian F said...

The predicted temperature variations cited in Paul Krugman's article are presumably denominated in Fahrenheit, rather than Celsius.

Peter Martin said...

They would be - and it explains why I had never previously heard those ranges quoted.

ken said...

Krugman is a bit dangerous outside his field. The MIT work he cites merely tweaked a few assumptions in the model and came up with different results.
As a non-scientist, I accept the consensus view but do lose patience with those pushing their models to get worse results and people like K who readily accept them.
If the number of sceptics on AGW is increasing, it is I believe partly due to researchers competing to come up with even more frightening projections.

Adam S said...

Krugman is becoming less and less credible in my opinion. His economic opinions are so hopelessly partisan these days that I have a hard time taking them seriously and his commentary on this issue is even worse. The science is far from settled on climate change and embarking on the biggest wealth redistribution programme in history is not something that should be attempted lightly.

mshaw2001 said...

The science isn't "settled" and doesn't need to be "settled". That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what scienctific practise is. Any hypothesis is and should be open to scrutiny and scienctific debate. The matter of policy doesn't need to have absolute proof in order to act, because this will only be available once the experiment is run.

Deciding to do nothing at this stage is like continuing to allow traffic to use a bridge that the vast majority of civil engineers deem structurally unsound. A few dissenting voices claim that the bridge is safe and it would be expensive and wasteful to stop using it or carry out expensive repairs. They might be right, but no sensible public administration would ignore the majority peer reviewed studies and run the live and definitive experiment with real traffic to find out who is right.

The denialists are either dishonest or deluded. They are not accountable now by participating in real science by publishing their work in peer reviewed journals and therefore they should have no voice in policy debates. They will also not be accountable in the future if they are wrong because once the experiment is done it cannot be undone.

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