On Denial

I’ve written a lot of posts that are hopeful and positive. But I do feel a need to address something less so. And that is climate change denial, the people behind it, and the part governments play in enabling people who don’t want us to stop burning fossil fuels, because it means they won’t make money selling them.

Confronting the reality of climate change is tough. I told you about that crazy flip-trick my mind would do if exposed to climate change info. It just twisted away from the truth, and conjured up this image of a scary mountain that said, “you can’t beat this thing. Don’t even look at it!” (Btw, I’d love to hear your experiences with eco-grief, if you feel up to it…)

So it’s natural, and understandable, that people would rather believe that climate scientists are lying or mistaken. Human beings can be stubborn in refusing to accept what we perceive to be bad news. And accepting climate change also means accepting that we as a species must change. The thought of change is often more upsetting than the thought of the problem itself. Like, what kind of change are we talking about here? How big, how fundamental, how long term? Change means disruption, even if the endgame is attractive. And, in this case, no one is offering an attractive vision for the future. But there are glints of beauty and exciting possibility inherent in a “green economy,” and I have such plans to bring it to you!

I just feel the need to get some fundamentals out of the way first. And climate change denial isn’t a thing any climate change activist can avoid or gloss over.

So let me say right up-front, that climate change is not the average person’s fault. You did nothing wrong. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Drop the guilt, drop the shame. Neither of those emotions will do anyone any good. All they can do is hold us back at this point.

I say this because an EXTREME and INAPPROPRIATE guilt seems to be pushing many people into a kind of rebelliousness. It’s like they’re resisting their guilt so hard that they’re going overboard with the opposite response. And vested interests are tapping into this response, saying, “aw, you know climate change isn’t your fault! So forget about it. It’s probably not real. You know there’s reason to doubt…” And seeds of denial are being planted like that.

And realize that if you do feel guilty about climate change, it’s because you’re a good person! You hear that there’s a problem with fossil fuels, you use them (because EVERYBODY does), you know you need to KEEP using them (until good alternatives become available), and they’re causing harm. Guilt is an appropriate response to the idea that you’re causing harm. But the average Jo did not create climate change. So I “recommend” maintaining a realistic guilt, as in a healthy awareness of the need to pitch in where you can. If it had been up to us, we’d be living the green dream right now. Governments and the oil industry got us here. As one journalist says: “we need to let go of the idea that it’s all of our individual faults, then take on the collective responsibility of holding the true culprits accountable. In other words, we need to become many Davids against one big, bad Goliath.”

We ALL have the right to our feelings. Anger is a big player in this climate change drama. I’m angry because our governments should’ve had the backbone to protect us. Others are angry for different reasons. And we feel OTHER emotions about climate change as well. But so often in western culture, people, especially men, don’t feel supported, legitimated, or comfortable with feeling and expressing other emotions, like fear, sadness, or helplessness. Our culture tends to view them as weakness. So we lash out.

But anger has the destructive effect of stopping discussion. If citizens are to converse about climate change, and we really do need to talk about it openly, we’re going to have to become more comfortable with conflict. Conflict is part of life. It’s inevitable. Even so, many people try to avoid it. Others come out swinging because they feel comfortable expressing only anger, or it’s been repressed and explodes out, or the person has grown aggressive in political discourse.

There are reasoned ways to manage disagreement and anger in conversations. And we all have a right to feel safe and heard and taken seriously on important public issues. I’ll definitely post some conflict and anger-management thoughts and ideas asap.

So let’s talk about the people who ramped up the denial machine. The people whose goal it was, and still is, to make sure effective climate change policy doesn’t get discussed as reasonable, doesn’t get formulated, and certainly doesn’t get implemented.

In America, there has been a coordinated campaign to obfuscate and flat-out discredit climate science since RONALD REAGAN. Isn’t that amazing? I had no idea it went that far back. But it was 1981 when a certain Al Gore saw the need to begin “booking” scientists to testify to the dangers of what was then known as “global warming.” In 1983, Reagan’s EPA issued a report stating that climate change is real and worsening. Reagan called the report “alarmist.” This is when the partisan divide on climate change began, with Democrats believing, and Republicans denying, but of course the divide was not nearly as deep as it is now.

Wikipedia says: “From 1989 onwards industry-funded organisations including the Global Climate Coalition and the George C. Marshall Institute sought to spread doubt among the public, in a strategy already developed by the tobacco industry… legitimate skepticism about basic aspects of climate science was no longer justified, and those spreading mistrust about these issues became deniers. As their arguments were increasingly refuted by the scientific community and new data, deniers turned to political arguments, making personal attacks on the reputation of scientists, and promoting ideas of a global warming conspiracy.”

“In a strategy already developed by the tobacco industry.” In fact, the exact same public relations firm that the tobacco industry hired to create doubt (admitting, in an internal email, that “doubt is our product”) about the negative effects of smoking was hired by Exxon and other oil companies. Their goals were to stop any and all regulation, to confuse the public so it wouldn’t demand action from Congress, and to recruit scientists to sow doubt, for generous payments. And always, the true proponents of the campaign were hidden, and every effort was made to make it look like the people- the grassroots- were behind the “skeptics.” It’s a trick (called “astroturfing”) that the doubt-spreaders have perfected. Not only does it eliminate evidence of bias on the part of climate change deniers, it also makes it appear as if the deniers are just regular people looking out for other regular people.

That was never, ever the case. The climate change denial movement was ALWAYS industry-generated, whether that industry be coal or oil. Billions has been spent to make you and I unsure about the reality of climate change. In 2007, a Newsweek article said: “the denial machine is running at full throttle—and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion. Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change.” A ’08 study found that 92% of denial-promoting think tanks were paid for by oil companies, including companies based in foreign nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Steven Brown, wikimedia

And yet, the campaign has been successful. Climate change mitigation- preventing increasing emissions, getting renewables working, and regenerating carbon sinks to literally suck CO2 out of the atmosphere with PLANTS and healthy SOIL- our miracle allies- has not been systematically planned or implemented. Western governments can’t even get the discussion going because the public is not pressuring them. So climate change activists like me are undertaking real grassroots efforts to educate, organize, and lobby governments. Even if, like me, they haven’t a clue, and are asking God to illuminate the next three inches of the path! That’s literally my strategy at this point. Show, and I follow. I have to trust that people will resonate with and support my efforts.