Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Fashionable dogma. Religious zealotry. We're bigger than that. (This blog is written by Candian journalist Donna Laframboise)

Getting Serious About Climate

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 2001, the activist Natural Resources Defense Council called on US President George W. Bush to “Get Serious about Taking Global Warming Seriously.”
  • In 2002, the activist publication Grist declared that laws “to control global warming” should have been passed “years ago” – in an article titled It’s time for the U.S. government to get serious about global warming.
  • In 2003, the president of Canada’s Shuswap Environmental Action Society urged “industry and government to get serious about climate change and the Kyoto process.”
business_wk_Aug16_2004cover

August 16, 2004 edition. Image appears here in a fair use context.

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.

Interesting, isn’t it, that a major hurricane hasn’t hit the US since, even though we’ve collectively emitted another decade’s worth of carbon dioxide.

  • In 2006, John Holdren (currently a White House science advisor) co-authored a newspaper opinion piece titled Time to get serious about climate change.
  • In 2007 we were told that “the world’s largest and most innovative cities” were getting serious about addressing it.
  • In 2008, the activist Vermont Natural Resources Council had a message for the entire state: Let’s Get Serious About Climate Change.
  • In 2009, the host of a science radio program produced by the publicly-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) declared that it was time for folks living in Southern parts of the country to “get serious about northern climate issues.” Meanwhile, the publicly-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) assigned the title: Time to get serious on climate change to viewer feedback concerning its own climate coverage.

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 2011, Oxfam declared that “Canada must get serious about climate change.”
  • In 2012, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York state, argued that the death and destruction associated with a series of storms “demand that we get serious once and for all” about climate change.
  • In 2013, the activist organization tcktcktck urged New Zealand residents to sign a petition addressed to that country’s climate change minister. “Experts” were insisting that the minister “get serious” about emissions targets, public consultation, and climate funding.

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.

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read another perspective on lobsters and climate change here

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