The truth is that climate change denial is primarily a failure of the U.S. Government (and other governments), from – at a minimum – the Reagan and then George H. W. Bush Administrations. Government scientists as well as government supported academics in the meteorological/atmospheric, oceanic, geological, and energy sciences all had combinations of observational data and computer models that clearly showed the advance and effects of global warming/climate change. The first definitive modern peer-reviewed scientific publication (in the journal Nature) describing the mechanism of CO2-caused global warming (the inability of the oceans to absorb all the CO2 being emitted, hence its buildup in the atmosphere, hence the growing heat retention by the CO2-laced atmosphere, hence the continuing rise in average air-ocean-earth temperature) was published in 1955.
By 1988, when James Edward Hansen (NASA’s chief scientist on atmospheric modeling and global warming at that time) gave his testimony to Congress – stating that global warming was man-made by CO2 emission – essentially all physically and mathematically reasonable computer models of the atmosphere and/or oceans, internationally, gave the same overall result: the more CO2 in the atmosphere, the higher the global average temperature; and the observed rise in global average temperature with time tracked the rate of increase of CO2 (and other organic gases and vapors) in the atmosphere. The National Academy of Sciences, as well as every real scientific and engineering professional society also agrees with this conclusion and states so.
The failure of protecting the public interest falls squarely on the political leadership class, who populate succeeding administrations of the USG and who collectively chose not to face the obvious facts presented by America’s (and the world’s) scientists, because that political leadership class did not want to accept or act on the clear societal implications of the scientific facts. Why? because the political leadership was more concerned to protect the financial self-interests of currently entrenched and very wealthy capitalist combines (in particular fossil fuel industries and the financial industries associated with them) than it was concerned to protect the long-term interests of the majority of the public for survival and well being (workers, wage earners, “ordinary people” relatively few of whom one could consider as “investors” in stocks, bonds and paper securities).
In brief, our politicians have for decades preferred to sell out the long term survival (and sustainable prosperity) of “the people” in favor of protecting the exploitative profitability of capital-intensive CO2-polluting industry and economic gamesmanship, and the super-wealthy (who are invariably corporatists and investor/speculators banking on those capital-intensive CO2-polluting industries). So, while it is true that the energy companies were very deceitful in funding P.R. campaigns of climate change denial while their own scientists/technologists knew that climate change was real and caused as a result of using their fossil fuels – just to keep raking in huge short-term profits – we had ample ways of knowing the truth without needing the fossil fuel companies to admit it, because we have had the publicly funded and publicly available scientific results of world-wide modern geo-science for decades.
American cities trying to sue energy companies for lying about climate change and hence “causing” damage to such municipalities has some legal logic to it as a way for these cities to “recover” financial compensation for their climate change-related “damages.” However, as noted here that is really a rather limited, petty, and at least partly hypocritical finger-pointing response to the accelerating climate change crisis, because that crisis is essentially the direct consequence of a willful (intentional!) failure of American (and other national) government, which was in cahoots with the CO2 polluter industries (and especially the Pentagon) and related finance capital industries.
Basically, capitalism is a fossil-fueled political-economic parasite feeding off the public good, both in its societal and environmental dimensions, and the US government (and others with similar energy and finance capital policies) is entirely in the business of protecting capitalism (the economic parasites) against the personal and societal interests of the majority of the national population (e.g., the ensuring of sustainable environmental security and long-term habitability, and having national political power controlled by popular and populist democracy rather than institutions of concentrated wealth).
And that’s where it stands today. We are on an accelerating plunge into extinction by climate change induced disasters (vast wildfires, collapsing agriculture, desertification and the poisoning of aquifers, the expanding range of disease pathogens, very destructive wind and rain storms) from the bottom up (first the poorest, last the richest) driven by a mad obsession to further concentrate the financial wealth of the wealthiest. It’s really all just a mass psychosis, and all our wars and military rivalries (nuclear armed no less) and political forms of oppression, repression and cruelty, and all our myopically fanatical exercises for maintaining control of factional and personal advantages parasitic to the public good are just ripples on the surface of the one great oceanic reality of our time: the survival of organized human life in the face of accelerating (and still out of our control) climate change.
Collectively, we humans just don’t want to face the fact that to have any useful (for our survival, and for social equity) impact on the present course of climate change we would have to change EVERYTHING, and NOW. Hypothetically, humanity has the capacity to do this, but realistically, based on the observation of past human behavior, it seems that the high degree of long-term cooperative altruism required to make such a complete change of world society (i.e., “the revolution,” or the “instant” conscious evolution of humanity’s super-ego) may be beyond the capacity of our collective social psychology. For now we each remain the randomly surprised victims of the sporadic disasters that erupt from our accumulating karma of obsessive-compulsive fossil-fueled climate change denial.
As an engineer, the only wild-ass guess of a solution that I can think of today is to hope for a miraculous “world satori” – a collective spontaneous and consensus-forming waking up of “everyone” to the same new vision of world society – and this then leading to our world buckling down to doing the numerous (and monumental) technical tasks of transforming all the structures of our civilization into a new paradigm in harmony with nature. Admittedly, this is an extremely fuzzy and rarefied engineering solution. What’s your idea?
* (Thanks to Michael Huff of Philadelphia, for the reference to the Wired article.)