Other Armies

Bill Burtis

By Bill Burtis

Manager of Communications and Special Projects
Clean Air-Cool Planet

“…the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t.” – Paul Krugman, “Cassandras of Climate”, New York Times, September 28, 2009.

Ross Gelbspan has a great way of talking about what we know about global warming, pointing out that it comes from the work of “2000 scientists from 100 countries in what is the largest, most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history.”

That used to thrill me.  Yeah, I thought, the argument is over, the world will hear this, and we will move forward to solve this problem.  I envisioned this phalanx, comprising scientists marching together, slowly expanding as politicians and citizens joined, joyfully, in the solution.

Well, that didn’t happen.  Instead, we still have choruses extolling the idea that global warming is a hoax, a ruse, a political game, being played for the money – all those green dollars.  We’re down to that.

I started thinking about what kind of money it would take to get those 2000 scientists and all those government officials on board for this hoax.  If we were to apply some kind of multiplier to the amount of money companies like Exxon and Peabody Coal have paid their band of mercenary “scientists” to create the disinformation campaign they’ve carried out over the past several years, we’d bankrupt science budgets globally.

It’s a silly claim, of course, once you stop to think about it.  But the point is, people don’t stop to think about it.  They hear Rush or O’Reilly or some other commentator say it and, POOF, it’s reality.  I don’t know if they think Rush and Bill have checked the facts, done the math, understand the implications – or they are just too lazy or busy to bother.

My assumption is the latter.

So, in addition to the armies of lobbyists, deniers, and commentators plying their trade to convince the uninformed electorate that global warming is a hoax, we have the legion electorate, for whom it is, of course, vastly more convenient to believe this and do nothing than to believe the science and start to change.

Cut to the streets of Port au Prince.  No, I’m not suggesting that earthquakes are caused by global warming.  But my friend and colleague Anne Stephenson wisely commented (and perhaps will have more to say here, soon) that we’d be well advised as a world to get better at responding to disasters of this magnitude if we are going to continue down the path of fossil energy use and carbon emissions we are on now.  And looking at the wreckage and the carnage in those Caribbean streets, it is easy to imagine the same results from hurricane winds and storm surge, tornadoes and floods – the kinds of events the science suggests we may have in store.

Today, the news is that people in Haiti are getting angry at the delays in reaching them with the aid that might save lives slipping away from injury, dehydration and starvation.  I think that kind of anger, and the fear it accompanies, is one of the things the military and national security leaders in this country are concerned about when they talk about climate change as a national security issue.

As the drunken lawyer George Hanson observed (as played by Jack Nicholson in the 1969 classic Easy Rider), people are dangerous when they are afraid.  The emotions of disaster will play out in Haiti; it would be wise to keep in mind what emotions might fuel armies of climate refugees.

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