by John Harvin
“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas,” supposedly said Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, first woman governor of Texas, in opposing the teaching of foreign languages in Texas schools. In fact, the college-educated Ferguson probably didn’t say it. But the misquote endures because it captures pretty well one particular segment of the American population – those who are almost always against learning and science, particularly when that science is “inconvenient.”
Whether it’s evolution or landing on the moon or daylight savings time or climate change, there is always a group of people who are just plain agin’ it. It’s a lot of fun for those of us with a smattering of education to make fun of these rubes – at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, you can have your picture taken riding a saddled triceratops. But there are also anti-scientists who aren’t rubes and should know better, like George Will, who has jumped on the climate-change denial bandwagon.
97% percent of scientists around the world believe that climate change is occurring and is at least partially caused by man. According to Wikipedia, every single scientific organization worldwide of any standing has taken the same position.
As for the other 3%, it’s understandable why those who design SUVs and drill for petroleum should be reluctant to admit that global warming is occurring. My client Michael, who retired from Philip-Morris after thirty plus years, only recently acknowledged that smoking might play a role in lung disease. But why are George Will and my friend Chris, a CEO educated at Oxford and Harvard Business School, climate-change denialists? With George, I assume it is just simple cynical expediency. I’ve done enough big-time public speaking to know the only way to get paid is to tell the audience what it wants to hear and there are audiences for this stuff. George and Rush Limbaugh have mortgages and prescription bills just like the rest of us. (In kind, not in degree.)
With Chris it’s a mystery why he cares so much, but he has invested countless hours cherry picking the data to “prove” that global warming is a data blip. Is it simply pro-growth reflex?
Who knows? Not that it really matters. Whether George and Chris buy into it or not, overwhelming scientific evidence suggests anyone who asserts man-made climate change is not occurring is either A) a fool or B) completely blinded by self-interest.
The problem is this: I do believe in the climate change science. That takes me out of Category A, thank goodness. But I am pretty sure I am still a climate-change denialist. I am just in Category B.
Don’t get me wrong. At our house, we meticulously sort every bit of garbage for recycling. We compost. I ride public transportation to work. We have instructed the architect for our new home to install solar panels and a geo-thermal heat pump. Our new refrigerator has the highest energy rating possible. We bought a first-generation hybrid car. We support climate change legislation like the Waxman bill (HR 2998, such as it is).
But the inconvenient truth is we also have three vehicles, including a rather large Audi that my eco-friendly wife drives. We have two houses and are building another (for two people.) We have a television on every floor of both houses, including three flat panels, each of which soaks up as much energy as a refrigerator. We fly to Barbados in the summer and Tahoe in the winter.
In other words, sorting our garbage to reduce our carbon footprint is like pissing into a hurricane. At best, it is naïve and ridiculous tokenism. At worst, it is just a cynical as George Will’s denialism. When Al Gore justifies his massive mansion and fleet of cars by saying he purchases green energy and carbon offsets, that is pure sophistry.
Here’s the bottom line. If reducing global warming depends on reducing carbon emissions, the planet is screwed. Consuming the same amount more efficiently, i.e. driving a hybrid car, is just fiddling around the edges. It’s like obese people who drink diet soda with their fried chicken. In fact, carbon intensity will probably increase going forward, not decrease. For example, the computer you’re reading this blog on. That takes energy. In Japan, the hot new items are electric toilets with stool analyzers, heaters and music players in them. That takes energy. Organic food means fewer chemicals, but often requires far more tillage. That takes energy. Most of the new and wonderful things we routinely incorporate into our lives take more energy than what they replaced.
Is it possible to substitute non-carbon emitting energy sources for those that emit carbon? Yes, but a colleague of mine who is in the business of building windfarms claims that best case, alternative energy will replace 10% of carbon-sourced energy. Assume the best case: we are able to find enough efficiencies and alternative energy sources to hold steady. It’s not at all clear that holding steady is enough. Reducing carbon emissions per capita would mean consuming less food, less electronics, less transportation. And that’s just not very likely.
George may be anti-science, but if I believe washing out milk bottles makes up for driving an eight-cylinder Audi to the store to buy milk, I am anti-arithmetic. My grandkids will be screwed just as badly by my good intentions as by his Know-Nothing-ism. (Note to George. I know the Know-Nothings were really an anti-Catholic party. I’m making a point here, dude.)
Gulp. I am a climate-change denialist, just like Chris. And George. And Rush.
God help me.
John Harvin is the pseudonym of a prominent business executive and writer. He has traveled and worked in forty countries.
John has written for numerous national and international magazines and journals, and written and had published five books, including one non-fiction bestseller and two novels. (He’s actually written nine books, but that’s a different story.) He writes because it is the only way he can sort through the maelstrom of crap careening around inside his skull and figure out what he really thinks about anything.
When not working or writing, you can find him having dinner with his long-suffering wife, walking the dog, training for triathlons, skiing, ultra-cycling, scuba diving, motorcycle riding, hiking, working on his farm, worrying about his two grown children or yelling at the Cubs on TV. (Open your eyes, Alfonso. It’s a baseball, not a piñata!)