TWO RECENT news items: 1) A new U.N. report finds that over the last 20 years, 4.1 billion people have been injured in extreme weather events—the floods and forest fires that are proliferating as the climate warms. The report adds that the total will keep steeply climbing in the years ahead.
2) Two teams of investigative journalists, following separate document trails, proved in the course of the fall that Exxon—now ExxonMobil, the world’s most profitable company—had known everything there was to know about climate change 25 years ago. And then lied about it, helping to set up the elaborate infrastructure of climate denial that has prevented serious international action on global warming.
I don’t know how to keep these two things in my head at the same time without giving myself over to hatred. I know I’m not supposed to hate, and much of the time I’m able to work on climate change without losing my cool. I can meet oil industry executives, understand the problems that make it hard for them to move quickly; I can and do sympathize deeply with coal miners and tar sands miners whose lives will be disrupted as we take necessary action.
But for Exxon? There have been hours, reading these reports in the Los Angeles Times and the Pulitzer-winning InsideClimate News, when I’ve just found myself in a blind rage, unable to comprehend how people—professed Christians, most of them, in that Texas hotbed of Christianity—could act this way. Their scientists told them quite straightforwardly that burning coal and oil was heating the planet and that it was going to be disastrous. By the mid-1980s, before any politician was talking about climate change, they had good computer models indicating (correctly as it turned out) how much the earth would warm. And they believed those predictions—they helped guide their actions in places like the Arctic, where they were bidding for leases in waters they knew would soon be free of ice.
But they also knew that serious action on climate change would cost them money—would force them to start switching their business from fossil fuel to renewable energy. And so they went to work, helping to set up front groups that hired veterans of the tobacco wars to open a new front of obfuscation. Their CEO, Lee Raymond, gave a speech in Beijing in 1997 insisting that the climate models were hokum, and that the earth was cooling.
Yesterday was a momentous day for the creation care movement: after years of inaction from Congress, President Obama announced a major, comprehensive plan of action on climate change. President Obama’s new “Climate Action Plan,” which he laid out in a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, addresses the country’s largest source of climate pollution — carbon dioxide from power plants — as well as boosting energy efficiency standards, renewable energy production on public lands, and resilience for cities, towns and roads.
The Global North and West is addicted to fossilized fuel. Myself included. And we are trying to push our addictions onto the Global South.
Everywhere we look the fossil fuel pushers are in our face, luring us into our next fix.
Not a week after the elections, the American Petroleum Institute launched ads in Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina targeting U.S. senators who are raising the issue of climate change; specifically, the ones calling into question oil company subsidies.
The oil and gas companies try seduction ("fighting for jobs"). They try fear ("we are too big to fail"). They accuse us of being unfair to them ("Discriminatory treatment of the oil and gas industry is a bad idea"). They try bullying and slandering.
Even when our court system recently convicted one of them killing (BP convicted of "manslaughter" for the 11 murdered on Gulf Oil spill rigs), they are not stopped.
Won't it reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? Won't somebody else develop the Alberta tar sands if the U.S. doesn't do it -- someone like China, perhaps?
I've been wrestling with many of these issues as I contemplate risking arrest as part of two weeks of sustained protest by leading environmentalists, climate scientists, and faith-based groups at the White House forth to pressure the Obama Administration to block the Keystone XL Pipeline. This pipeline project will connect Canadian tar sands -- containing the second largest and dirtiest oil reserves on the planet -- with the oil refineries in Texas.
The April issue of Sojourners magazine takes on climate change denial. One challenge is that the truth is hard to face -- but, as scientist Sasha Adkins describes from personal experience, one strategy is to draw inspiration from the comforts of home.
The question that I am most often asked when I talk about my Ph.D. research on the impacts of pollution has nothing to do with my methodology or my data. It is, "How do you live with this knowledge? Where do you find your hope?" It's a good question. My research results on the impact of plastics on human health and the environment are often quite demoralizing to hear. More than once when I am presenting them, an audience member has literally started to cry.
I took a year off from my environmental studies program to search for the answer to that very question, to find hope -- but this time, instead of turning to peer-reviewed journals for answers, I turned to my cats. I asked them if they would be willing to try living without fossil-fuel heat for the winter.
With all the angst about the economy, the deficit, and a looming government shut-down, I'm still concerned that we're treating symptoms rather than diagnosing the underlying disease.
I know something about this. I spent a week in the hospital last year having loads of tests done -- blood work, heart scans, stress tests, and sonograms. I was discharged without a diagnosis, merely with hopes that by treating the symptoms, whatever was wrong would go away. It didn't. It turned out my real problem was a tick-born disease, and once it was diagnosed, a ten-dollar prescription of antibiotics cured me. Without that ten-dollar prescription to treat the real problem, I could have experienced life-long disability.