Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
For 15 years, we’ve been scolded and cajoled. As the December climate summit approaches, global warming rhetoric has grown seriously threadbare.
According to a story in New York magazine, 2015 is “the year humans finally got serious” about combating climate change. In the rosy assessment of writer Jonathan Chait:
The technological and political underpinnings are at last in place to actually consummate the first global pact to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with…astonishing speed.
Chait is one of those journalists who can write 5,000 words about climate change and not once mention that ordinary people consign it to the absolute bottom of their list of pressing concerns. He’s also the sort of educated person who fails to grasp the rudimentary concept that the climate has always changed. Here he is, simple-mindedly declaring that “Climate change has already begun.” Hello, a mere 20,000 years ago, 97% of the country in which I reside was covered by ice.
Reinforcing the-universe-revolves-around-America stereotype, Chait further imagines that the entire “world is racing to decarbonize before the Republican Party…can regain power over the U.S.”. Evidently distraught, he believes that a few degrees of potential planetary warming “is a question literally of life or death.”
But let us return to the idea of being serious. Is humanity finally and sincerely committed to fighting climate change, or will 2015 be just another year in which we talk, talk, talk about how we seriously need to start getting serious. There is, after all, a long tradition to uphold:
In the view of National Geographic, 2004 was “The Year Global Warming Got Respect” by capturing “widespread media attention.” An August cover story at another publication reported that business was already taking global warming “so seriously.” Nevertheless, in December science historian Naomi Oreskes felt it necessary to insist:
We need to stop repeating nonsense about the uncertainty of global warming and start talking seriously about the right approach to address it.
Unfortunately for Oreskes, more than a decade on, bona fide climatologist Judith Curry continues to assert that uncertainty is central to the climate discussion.
In the autumn of 2005, as the US struggled with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Washington Post ran a story that began thus:
While much of the world has reacted with shock and sympathy to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, senior government leaders in Germany warned the United States to expect more natural catastrophes if it did not get serious about global warming.
In 2010, under the headline It’s time to get serious about global warming, a columnist for a Colorado newspaper wrote:
the deniers need to pull their heads out of the sand, open their eyes – and their minds – to what is going on in the world around them.
…An overwhelming majority of the legitimate scientists on the International [sic] Panel on Climate Change, and climatologists, who study climate change almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming.
But the fact that the world has been gradually warming since the end of the Little Ice Age is a trivial point that tells us zilch about what might happen in the future. Moreover, science is not a democracy. Throughout history, the majority of scientists have been wrong about many things. See the role of hand-washing in maternal deaths and the controversy over plate tectonics.
In April 2014, following the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s third installment of its 7,000-page report, the largest circulation newspaper in my county ran an editorial with the stunningly original headline: Canada needs to get serious about climate change. That same month, south of the border, a gent named Matt Miller – who’s running for Congress – declared that “Getting serious about climate change is a moral imperative.”
Perhaps my favourite illustration of the seriousness with which climate change has been discussed across these many serious seasons appears in a column attributed to the editorial board of New York’s Newsday newspaper. It seems the number of local lobsters has declined dramatically. Less than three weeks ago, the newspaper consequently declared:
Overfishing has been a problem in the Sound, but the bigger culprit could be warming oceans driving the lobsters north. [my italics]
Could. It’s a small word. And not a very important one, apparently. It was obviously insufficient to prevent the editorial board from proclaiming the lobster shortage yet “another reason to get serious about climate change.”
Well, then. I’ll seriously get right on that.
read another perspective on lobsters and climate change here