Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Climate Change Complacency

by CHUCK GASPAROVIC

Gijon, Spain.

Tom is an agribusiness banker in Greeley, Colorado, a Republican, and one of the nicest people I have ever met. During a visit to Greeley this year, thinking I had finally found a chink in his ideological armor, I pointed to the drought punishing the area as an example of the consequences of global warming that could not be more tangible and relevant to his own life.

He simply smiled and replied, “Natural cycles.”

Here on the other side of the world, in economically castigated Spain, ten major fires are simultaneously scorching the earth – 130000 hectares and counting – while daytime temperatures hover around 104° F during the second crop-punishing heat wave of the summer. But in a conversation with a left-leaning friend, Mari Luz, about the urgent need for more collective action to counter climate change, the conspicuous lack thereof, and thus the hopelessness of the situation, she took issue with my alarmism: “I just try to live my life morally and hope others follow the example.”

And that’s how most of us think, somewhere between Tom and Mari Luz. That’s because when most of us woke up this morning, it looked a lot like yesterday morning.  The clock radio turned on, hot water came out of the shower, the toaster worked. It did not seem much warmer outside nor could we look out our windows and see any signs of melting glaciers or rising sea levels.  And even if climate change did darken our thoughts, most of us quickly relegated it to the backs of our minds, some, like Tom, with knee-jerk disbelief, others with a slight tinge of guilt or maybe an exculpatory damning of the oil companies, because…didn’t we already have enough stress in our lives without having to worry about that shit hitting the fan, too? And, after all, what could we do about it?

And that is probably how the morning will go when the shit does hit the fan, or, as recent scientific reports suggest, a “tipping point” in global climate change is reached. A tipping point is the point at which relatively gradual changes in a system lead to sudden changes as a radically different state of the system arises – like what happens to liquid water when reaching the freezing point. In an article published in June, 22 of the world’s leading climatologists, ecologists, and biologists reviewed the geological evidence for global tipping points to have occurred in the distant past as well as recently on more regional scales (Barnosky et al, Nature, 2012).

In an article published this month, NASA scientist James Hansen and others point to the increased variability in temperatures over the last several decades as more evidence that global warming is already producing significant weather instability, instability that is highly unlikely to be explained by the normal causes of cyclic weather patterns, such as the El Niño phenomenon (Hansen et al. PNAS, 2012).

Warnings of human-influenced climate change have been around for decades now, long enough for most of us to become comfortable with the fact that nothing extremely bad has happened yet and, therefore, might never happen, at least before we conveniently die of something else. This sense of complacency pervades the entire political spectrum, left to right, even though political groups on the right, and the media they control, have taken it a step further, convincing a minority of the public that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are involved in a worldwide leftist conspiracy, projecting catastrophic scenarios that are “only models” to advance their careers while snuffing out capitalism.

They are right about the limitations of models. No model can predict with certainty the future of something as complex as the global climate and ecosystem, and climate models are particularly problematic to test. But it turns out all of science is based on models, including the science that led to smartphones or cancer drugs. The important thing is that the models themselves are based on real data and any inherent assumptions are supportable. The acceptance of one model or another – whether quantum mechanics, evolution, or climate change – is a matter of consensus by the specialists in the field about which best accounts for the data. And though there is a healthy and necessary debate over global climate models, the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming is that it is not only happening, with the likelihood of dire consequences, but humans have had something to do with it.

But according to most polls, the majority of us do believe that climate change is real, even if we don’t understand the scientific models or debate. That’s because it is occurring right before our eyes. Elevated air and sea temperatures, rising ocean levels and acidity, increasing weather severity – manifest in everything from the loss of life-sustaining coral reefs to devastating storms, prolonged droughts, record forest fires, and rising food prices – all these things are not simply a future projection of some complex model. They are happening now. And it is not a big leap for most of us, when it is explained in simple terms, to connect the climate trends in the last century to the concurrent rise in carbon dioxide levels – levels not seen on the globe for over 400,000 years. This extra heat-trapping and ocean-acidifying CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels and is compounded by increasing deforestation, removing the natural recyclers of carbon dioxide, and human land use, which now accounts for over 40% of the planet’s dry surface. There are indeed cyclic climate changes on the planet that are astro-geophysical in nature and have nothing to do with humans. But there is nothing “cyclic” about 7 billion carbon-burning, deforesting, and water-guzzling humans living on this planet – at least not yet.

So ignorance and disbelief, in spite of a small group of influential naysayers, are not really the problems. Nor is the only problem the corporations that benefit from fossil fuel extraction and pay well for that benefit before every election. The bigger problem is the rest of us. We are the great majority who can see what’s going on but do nothing about it. Our complacency is the problem, our convenient cynicism about what can be done, our finger pointing without action, our hoping that someone else will do it for us. Unfortunately, even if we are not concerned about the chaotic collapse of our societies and the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, it appears that conveniently dying of old age before life on earth radically changes may no longer be an option.

Chuck Gasparovic is a biophysicist living in Spain.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]