A week ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science came as close as such a respectable institution can to screaming an alarm.
“As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do,” it said as it began one of those sentences one knows will build to a “but,” “But human-caused climate risks abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes.”
In other words, the most distinguished scientists from the country with the world’s pre-eminent educational institutions — the US — were trying to shake humanity out of its complacency. Why were their warnings not leading the news?
In one sense, the association’s appeal was not new. The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, the Royal Institution (a London-based organization devoted to scientific education and research), NASA, the US National Academy of Sciences, the US Geological Survey, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the national science bodies of about 30 other countries have said that human-made climate change is on the march. A survey of 2,000 peer-reviewed papers on global warming published in the past 20 years found that 97 percent said that humans were causing it.
When opponents of anthropogenic global warming talk about the “scientific debate,” they either do not know or will not accept that there is no debate. The suggestion first made by biological researcher Eugene Stoermer that the planet has moved from the Holocene epoch, which began at the end of the last ice age, to the human-made Anthropocene epoch in which we now live is gaining support everywhere. Human-made global warming and the human-made mass extinction of species define this hot, bloody and — one hopes — brief epoch in the world’s history.
If global warming is not new, it is urgent — a subject that should never be far from our thoughts. Yet within 24 hours of the association’s warning, the British government’s budget confirmed that it no longer wanted to fight it.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who once promised that if whoever voted for the Conservative Party would go “green,” appointed Owen Paterson — a man who is not just ignorant of environmental science, but proud of his ignorance — as the UK’s secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who once promised that the British Treasury would be “at the heart of this historic fight against climate change,” now gives billions in tax concessions to the oil and gas industries, cuts funding for onshore wind farms and has stripped the Green Investment Bank (a funding institution created to attract private funds for the financing of the British private sector’s investments related to environmental preservation) of the ability to borrow and lend.
All of which is a long way of saying that the global warming deniers have won, and please, I want no e-mails from bed-wetting kidults blubbing “you cannot call us ‘global warming deniers’ because ‘denier’ makes us sound like ‘Holocaust deniers’ and that means you are comparing us to Nazis.” The evidence for human-made global warming is as final as the evidence of Auschwitz. No other word will do.
Tempting as it is to blame cowardly politicians, the abuse comes too easily. The question remains: What turned them into cowards? Right-wing billionaires in the US and the oil companies have spent fortunes on blocking action on climate change. A part of the answer may therefore be that conservative politicians in London, Washington and Canberra are doing their richest supporters’ bidding. There is truth in this bribery hypothesis.